When someone calls Jennifer’s phone, a song plays in place of a ring. “I love music!" she says with joy. She exudes that same joy as she recounts her heartbreaking and hopeful story.
Jennifer is the youngest of 12 children from Dayton, OH. She attended a Catholic school and church and, although her family was active in parish life, her father was a violent alcoholic who, when was he around, would use physical abuse as a form of discipline. She also remembers her uncle sexually abusing her when she was young and in seventh grade, she beginning smoking marijuana. Within a couple years, Jennifer started frequently running away from home.
She was heavily involved in the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" scene. She met a man, and when she was only 17, was married and pregnant. Although she didn’t use drugs during this pregnancy, as soon as the baby was born, she picked up where she left off. Jennifer's drug use escalated to include cocaine and heroin.
She worked in a “massage parlor” and eventually resorted to street prostitution to fund her drug habit. She said she was “spiritually broken" and used to cut herself. At her lowest point she remembers her ex-husband putting her head through a widow after a heated fight. Jennifer knew she had to find a better way of life.
Returning to her Catholic roots, she went to confession and told the priest her story. The priest, a recovering alcoholic, told Jennifer he would help her find a recovery program. After she left confession, she told her sister the news, but said, “I need at least two years, and it needs to be in another state.” The very next day, the priest called to tell her about Magdalene – a two-year program in Tennessee.
Though there was a two year waiting list, Jennifer was persistent and called Magdalene everyday. After only two months, a bed was available and Regina Mullins, Magdalene’s Outreach Director, called and asked “when can you get here?” Jennifer moved to Nashville last May and became a resident. In September of the same year, she started working at Thistle Farms where her specialties are making thistle paper, hand soap and candles.
Jennifer thanks God for giving Becca Stevens a vision and for Becca having the courage and strength to see it through. Jennifer says Magdalene works because “you get to work at your own pace. They keep loving you until you love yourself and they’ve shown me that love really does heal.” For new women entering the program, Jennifer says, “welcome home. Take a deep breath, relax and know this is the first day of the rest of your life.”
photos by Carolyn Snell