A new jail diversion program for women is seeing its first success stories in Hamblen County.
The Helen Ross McNabb Center’s Jail-to-Work program takes women addicted to drugs out of jail and puts them in a support group where they receive counseling, help finding work, and a new lease on life.
"I have a positive outlook. A year ago, I wouldn't say that. A year ago, I didn't care," said a woman named Tracy.
She is a graduate of the program and a victim of domestic violence, which is why we are concealing her identity.
"Now I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and I go to bed with a smile on my face and I know that there is going to be something better."
A year ago, Tracy was locked away in the Hamblen County Jail, serving a sentence for possession of methamphetamine. She was in an abusive relationship where drugs tore her life apart.
"I had to hustle to make my other half have his high. It was an everyday thing, or deal with the consequences," she said. "I don’t want it anymore. That life is done. I can’t go back. I won’t go back. I have too many things that I want to do, things that I should have finished a long time ago, and I will do."
At 14, Tracy was addicted to drugs.
After 35 years of an endless cycle of getting high and searching for her next high, she chose to change her life.
Tracy is one of the first graduates of the program in Hamblen County.
Eight women at a time leave jail and come live in this apartment. They receive counseling, support, and help finding a job.
"You learn all of the tools that are needed to change your mind to not be the addict, but to be the recovering addict," Tracy said. "And that is something I am forever going to be grateful for."
The program runs for 12 weeks and all of the women live in one apartment. Six weeks into the program, participants are encouraged to find a job.
"They’re successful, they’re working, they have jobs, they can sustain themselves, they can feed themselves, they’re paying rent," said Sharon Reid with the Helen Ross McNabb Center. "The first thing that we have to do is take very broken women and teach them how to believe in themselves again."
Tracy has now been clean for 11 months now, but it’s not her past she focused on, it’s her future.
"It’s a hard road. It was a hard road. But I am very proud of myself. And I’m going to be even prouder as I keep going," Tracy said. "To me this is a pay it forward situation. I will continue to pay it forward."
Tracy indeed wants to pay it forward; her dream is to become an alcohol and drug counselor for teens.