Tonia: Giving Back
Tonia
“It takes time to get back to the people we were. What we’ve done and what we’ve gone through is not who we really are. ... A lot of times, the ladies [at Guest House] just need a listening ear, just someone to talk to.”

JAN. 23, 2014 ... “Right before I got arrested, I was sitting in my hotel room and I was just tired. Tired of getting high, tired of shoplifting, tired of the life I was living. I didn't know how to get out of it. I prayed and I said, ‘God, whatever it is You have to do to get me out of this lifestyle, just do it, because I can’t do it by myself.’ And three hours later, I was sitting in the Newport News City Jail! It’s not what I intended,” Tonia notes, “but it helped: it actually worked.”

Today, Tonia exudes energy. She works at an Alexandria restaurant, where she’s on track to become kitchen manager; and in December and January, she held a second job at the nonprofit, Computer CORE, which hired her right out of its six-month job-training program. She is submitting applications and scholarship requests to go to college for an accounting degree. And she remains a very active alumna-volunteer for Guest House, especially as a public speaker. “An idle mind,” she says, “lets me go places I don’t want to go. So I try to stay busy.”

Tonia, 52, comes from the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. “I’ve been an addict since I was 15, with one drug or another. When I was 26, I started with cocaine. That kind of escalated. I got married in 1982, and my husband was a heroin addict. So it’s been basically all my life.” She turned to shoplifting and other nonviolent crime to support her habit. Over those years, she had periods of abstinence, holding down two and three jobs at a time; but her self-help efforts did not last. Finally, in December 2010, in Newport News, came the arrest and incarceration that she credits as her turning point.

“My kids [who are in prison] will tell me quickly, ‘Mom, it’s not what you did that put us here.’ They’ll tell me quick that it’s not how I raised them. My oldest son will tell me, ‘Mom, I don’t remember a time that you’ve not had a job and, most of the time that I was young, you had two jobs.’ But I still have some guilt. I look at myself and ask, what type of life would they have if I hadn’t had that lifestyle of the drugs and the crime?”
During incarceration, Tonia’s typical energy re-emerged. “I took all the classes I could take,” from Healthy Relationships and Inner Reflections to vinyl cutting, wood cutting and forklift operation, becoming certified in the last three.

In April 2013, she was released. That same month, she entered the Guest House Residential Program. In July, she began work at the restaurant and started class at Computer CORE. And in September, she graduated to Aftercare, moving into her own apartment.

Finally, there has been the hard work of addiction recovery. She pointedly distinguishes between “abstinence” as behavior change without addressing deeper causes—and “recovery” as the process of tackling causes and thereby truly changing. “Addiction is a disease,” Tonia explains. “It’s not just a choice we make, and it’s not easy to walk away from. It takes time to get back to the people we were. What we’ve done and what we’ve gone through is not who we really are. We have to retrain our brains to think rationally again. As an addict, your thoughts are about what you’re going to do to get your next supply of drugs, not about ‘if I do this, what is my consequence going to be?’” Tonia credits Guest House with providing the understanding and supportive structure needed to move into recovery. “A lot of times, the ladies there just need a listening ear, just someone to talk to.”

And Tonia gives back. Among her most important gifts is her openness—about her own journey and about her family—to help the community better understand the intertwined issues of crime, addiction and family/social environment. Tonia’s husband is now deceased. She has three grown children. Her two sons are incarcerated for drug dealing; and she considers her daughter, who turned to drugs at 13, to be an “active addict” because she is not in a recovery program, although she has been abstinent for the past six years. “My kids will tell me quickly, ‘Mom, it’s not what you did that put us here.’ They’ll tell me quick that it’s not how I raised them. My oldest son will tell me, ‘Mom, I don’t remember a time that you’ve not had a job and, most of the time that I was young, you had two jobs.’

“But I still have some guilt. I look at myself and ask, what type of life would they have if I hadn’t had that lifestyle of the drugs and the crime?”

 

 

 
 
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Friends of Guest House helps female ex-offenders in Northern Virginia make the difficult transition from incarceration back into the community.

Friends of Guest House, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) public charity: Federal tax ID #51-0201327. Gifts to Guest House are tax-deductible as provided by law.

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