"My biological parents struggled with drug addiction, and my sister and I were adopted when we were young. I was raised in a Christian home by my adopted parents, but I was a teenager who liked to party. My adopted mom passed away when I was right out of high school, and that’s when my life got out of control.
I’ve spent most of the last four years of my life in jail because of my drug and alcohol addiction. Before my last time in jail, I was sober for a couple months but fell back into addiction, selling drugs, and that lifestyle. My family helped me bond out of jail, and I agreed with my sister to go to rehab.
I got into Redeemed and Restored in Hopkinsville, and they helped me get sober and told me about Hope House. I knew Hope House would help me with my relationship with Jesus, and I’ve been in Program Living since June. I’m trusting that God is working in my life through this program.
I got to golf with my dad and sister at Swing for Hope, which is something I haven’t done since I was young, and I will get to participate in Affordable Christmas. I have one biological daughter, and she has three siblings that live with her mom. 2014 was the last year I got to spend Christmas with the kids, and my daughter was so young she doesn’t remember it.
I sent money for Christmas gifts when I was in jail, but I don't even know what gifts were bought for them from me. I’m excited that I can pick out my own gifts for them this year and that I can be the one to give them to the kids on Christmas morning. I’m looking forward to making memories with my daughter, and I know she’ll remember this Christmas."
By his own admission, Richard Smith’s life wasn’t going how he’d imagined it would.
“I was on drugs, and having a hard time with life,” he says.
Smith is standing in a hallway at Hope House Ministries in Bowling Green, Ky., a local advocacy organization that assisted him with getting back on his feet following years of substance use issues. He’s wearing his work uniform, his first name stitched in cursive on a badge on his chest. He seems at ease with where he is now, and looking forward to where he wants to be.
“Pretty much, if it wasn't for these people to give me the opportunity to come here to Hope House and straighten my life up, I’d probably still be in jail today,” says Smith, a native of Morgantown.
Smith first came to Hope House in June 2019, and after six months was required to get a job to help continue his recovery. That was when he first met Meredith Hester, a job entry and retention support specialist with the Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment (SITE). Hester was able to quickly connect Smith with a new job, and that job has played an important role in helping him plan for his next steps.
An initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. and funded by the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE), SITE is designed to bridge the gulf between recovery and workforce for individuals active in their recovery. SITE provides valuable career, training, and supportive services while actively cultivating second-chance job opportunities.
In her role as a support specialist, Hester cultivated a working partnership with Hope House to assist recovering individuals there with employment opportunities. She received Smith’s case as a referral, and she quickly connected him with a position working at the Bowling Green operation for Bando, a leading producer of automotive parts.
“Basically she did all the footwork. I just had to say yes, I want the job,” he says. “She sent them my résumé and stuff, she did all that. It was just a blessing for me.”
Those sorts of connections are important, Smith adds, especially for himself and his fellow SITE participants at Hope House who may have backgrounds that could prevent some employers from considering them for open positions.
“We’re convicted felons, most of us are,” he says. “It’s kind of hard to get a job because most places of employment don’t like to look at felons.”
Smith began working full-time on Dec. 16 making serpentine belts for automobiles. It’s the first time he has a job that offers eight hours of work per day and benefits like health insurance. It represented a big step, and one he may not have taken had he not been able to work with the SITE program.
“It’s quite a blessing to have a job in my recovery because now I’ve got something to look forward to every day instead of just where I was going to get my next fix,” he says.
For more information about SITE in the South Central Kentucky workforce area, contact Meredith Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-991-7248, or find program updates on Facebook at facebook.com/siteky.
This article was originally published by EKCEP.
"God has taught me to be more open minded through Program Living because, in my addiction, I never trusted or opened up to anybody. But now in sobriety and following Christ, I’ve seen that you can lean on others. You don’t always have to look over your shoulder thinking someone’s out to get you. It’s okay that we have problems, and it’s okay to talk about those problems with people you trust. If you don’t talk about them, you won’t ever get through them. I’ve realized that I don’t have to use drugs to have a good time."
Brandon Johnson is a Program Living resident at Hope House and will graduate the program in late February. We have been so blessed to see how the Lord has worked in his life to change his heart and restore his relationships. He has been an employee at Bando for nearly six months, and we're excited to share that he was recently baptized at Christ Fellowship Church! Watch his testimony below:
“I’ve been in and out of jail since I was 18 years old, and I’m 38 now. My life used to be an endless cycle of drug addiction, depression, and anxiety. I felt stuck, and I was paralyzed by fear. I had very little self worth, so I made self-destructive choices based on lies. I believe I was saved when I was young, but I never really started a relationship with Jesus.
Two months after my most recent arrest, I was introduced to Jobs for Life through the Warren County Regional Jail. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the ladies who volunteered with the class made me feel human again. When you first come into jail, you’re stripped of so many things and dehumanized. Jobs for Life gave me hope that once this was over, I would be able to find a job and start again, even as a convicted felon.
I learned about honesty, integrity, and work ethic, and I liked that the class was Christ-centered. Jobs for Life was my first introduction to actually having a relationship with Jesus, and it set the tone for the last two years of my life. It was the first program I completed, and it encouraged me to pursue other faith-based programs. Now, I have about 30 certificates to show that I was productive during my time in prison.
I’m looking forward to gaining employment and having responsibilities, so I can start my own life. I’ve always been in a relationship, so I want to be able to take care of myself. On Friday, after I was released from jail, I found the post-release checklist from Jobs for Life for finding employment and resources to help me start over. If I just came back out on the streets without that, I would be pulled in so many directions. It’s so easy to get off track without any kind of structure. I’m grateful to Hope House for giving me direction.”