Homeless Court provided a new freedom in Anna’s recovery from opioid addiction

Who the Son Sets Free

Homeless Court provided a new freedom in Anna’s recovery from opioid addiction

Law provides the guardrails that keep a society together. But there comes a point when law becomes so complex, when fines from old infractions and missed deadlines begin to stack and trigger new fines and deadlines, that those guardrails begin to act more like bars – giving people without means little means of escape.

“I see individuals coming in with 10-year-old unpaid parking tickets that turned into a suspension on their driver’s license."

Karen Sadler is a representative of the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County. “A suspension also means they aren’t able to register their vehicle, which quickly turns into an abandonment of vehicle fee because they can’t move it. And, of course, if they have warrants for those unpaid tickets, finding housing gets a lot tougher. These things can compound very quickly.”

It’s what happened to Anna. When she came to the Mission, her compounded fines totaled just under $2,400 – an insurmountable debt for someone with little more than a duffel bag to her name.

Addicted, unemployed, and in debt, Anna was trapped in more ways than one.

Unlike many of the men and women we serve, Anna didn’t come from a broken home. She wasn’t abused or overcome by peer pressure at a young age. Anna was a victim of Arizona’s opioid epidemic.

She suffered from Arteriovenous Malformation, a fusing of arteries and veins that, in Anna’s case, required a series of hand surgeries over the years. Ironically, the painkillers prescribed for surgery recovery would require a recovery of their own.

“At that time, if you had a pain doctor they’d give you whatever you want. Mine had a reputation. We found out later that he was known as ‘The Candy Man.’ And looking back, yeah, it was a disgusting amount of pain medication I was given every month.”

Despite the reckless amount of drugs that were prescribed, Anna honored the recommended dosage for years. Then, tragedy.

“My husband had an affair and left me and my daughter. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time and it was a little too much to take all at once. I caved. I caved hardcore.”

Anna turned to her medication for comfort. It’s a move that, in short order, cost her her home, her relationship with her family, her daughter… even her freedom.

“When my parents kicked me out, I sent my daughter to live with her father. I was bouncing from couch to couch for a few years, shoplifting to get by and pay for pills. Then I got arrested.”

It turned out that was the best thing that could have happened to Anna.

“I found out about Phoenix Rescue Mission through the Bridge Program [our inmate outreach program]. One of the girls I had buddied up with in jail was super religious. She talked me into going. I kinda went as a joke at first… but every week I kept going back ‘cause I found it more and more interesting.”

When Anna’s time in jail was up, she enrolled at the Mission’s Changing Lives Center for Women & Children to continue the recovery she began behind bars. Thanks to your support, what she’s experienced here has transformed her life.

She met Jesus Christ and his indescribable forgiveness and transforming love. She found her sobriety, thanks to months of counseling and peer support. She’s even salvaged broken relationships with her family thanks to God’s grace and the encouragement of staff.

“My parents literally feel like they have their daughter back – and I have my own daughter back!”

But despite finding freedom in so many areas, there was still something standing in the way of her new life. With fines and fees factored in, three old traffic tickets had increased over the years to just under $2,400.

“One was a speeding ticket,” Anna recalls. “The others were for driving with a suspended license.”

The Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court allows those with back fines to make resolution through time spent in recovery programs.

It’s not uncommon for fines and court fees in the range of thousands of dollars to stand between those we serve and their path back to self-sufficiency. For these men and women, a collaboration between Phoenix Rescue Mission and the Maricopa Courts system makes all the difference.

“Resolution through the Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court is a service we offer to anyone in discipleship or higher (about 5 months into our recovery program) to pay back fines that impede them from moving forward,” says Melody, Lead Case Manager at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Karen Sadler, Maricopa County’s Homeless Court Coordinator, explains, “Instead of using traditional community restitution, like cleaning up a highway or something similar, they can apply the time spent working on their mental and behavioral health through counseling, housing and job search, going to interviews and more. It fosters the applicant’s path out of homelessness and benefits the community as a whole.”

For Anna, that was exciting news.

"We started applying at Homeless Court last January because, with COVID, we knew it would take a while. They added up the time I spent working on my recovery, and including the time in the Ministry Training program, I had 1,240 hours to apply towards my fines."

"I just got the call last Friday; it was enough to satisfy every single fine! That’s a huge load, gone. You have no idea!"

Today, Anna has been set free in more ways than one – and she knows it. She’s eager to give back for the amazing blessings your support has given her.

“I just really want to pay it forward,” says Anna, who is going back to school to become a case manager. “This place has done wonders for my world, and I want to help the people that come in after me.”

Without the partnership of friends like you and the amazing work of our case managers, none of this would be possible. Your support helps provide a true path off the streets, breaking the bonds of addiction, hopelessness, and even the financial burdens that serve as roadblocks – keeping so many on the fringe of society.

For Anna and countless others like her, thank you! Your support is proving yet again, “Who the Son sets free, is free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Meet the Staff: Cierra Peña, Lead Case Manager

When Cierra came to Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center in 2012, she had been struggling with addiction since she was 13 years old. Through your support, we welcomed this mother of four as one of the first 20 women to experience all the hope and healing that our then brand-new women’s campus had to offer – and it changed everything for Cierra and her family.

“I had been through 45-day in-patient programs but nothing helped. I knew I needed a year-long program to change my life. And it did; I’m going on 9 years in March that I’ve been clean and it’s thanks to this place.

But Cierra wasn’t satisfied with finding sobriety, she wanted to help others find the same gift that she had been given. Just 90 days after enrolling in our recovery program, Cierra began serving other women as part of the intake team. When the Mission began creating the intake triage program we now call Rescue-Assess-Place (RAP), Cierra was able to lend her experience to help build the program we now use today.

For the past 9 years, hundreds of women looking for hope have been surprised to find Cierra, a woman with genuine concern for their wellbeing, waiting to meet them in RAP.

Those who have enrolled in recovery have found a friend ready to advocate for them in court, help them set doctor appointments, obtain IDs and birth certificates, get fines reduced or eliminated – knocking down each and every barrier that stands between them and success.

As a result of her hard work and extensive experience receiving and providing assistance, lives have been forever transformed and, she’s recently been promoted to Lead Case Manager. There couldn’t be a better fit for the position!

“A lot of these women come in with no hope, many with a Department of Child Safety case weighing heavy on their hearts,” says Cierra.

“At one point in my life, I was there. I thought I couldn’t do any better. I love to share my story and help them realize that there is hope. Seeing them go from dark to light brings me so much joy!”

Cierra is another shining example of what God’s grace and your support can do in a life – and by extension, the lives of hundreds of others.

Sweet, Sweet Recovery | Maggi’s Transformation Story

God used a little sugar to transform a bitter situation.

Drugs have been a part of Maggi’s life as far back as she can remember. Both her father and her older brother were avid users. Her mother, though not addicted, enabled the behavior by financing them both.

Maggi seemed all but destined to follow in their footsteps.

By the time she was 16, she was hooked on heroin. By 20, she was homeless. By 28, she had lost custody of kids, possessions, and even broken ties to family because of her growing addiction. Squatting alone in an abandoned house in Sierra Vista was a bitter way to live life.

She had no idea something sweet was waiting for her just around the corner. In her wildest dreams, she never would have imagined that God would use cookies to turn her life around.

“I always thought that God had forgotten about me or that He hated me,” Maggi admits. “I didn’t know anything about grace or redemption. I was just so done. I was tired of being homeless and I hadn’t seen my son in months. I knew I needed to do something.”

That “something” found her quicker than she thought. Police surrounded the abandoned house Maggi had been calling home. She was arrested, but thankfully, instead of jail time, the judge sent her to the Phoenix Rescue Mission for recovery.

“When I came here, my hair was breaking off and was matted; it was bad. Then I met a friend, Rebecca, who came from a Christian family, and she helped walk me through what grace is and taught me that hope is possible and that God hasn’t given up on me.

As she continued her recovery, little by little, Maggi started to change. Our staff equipped her with tools designed to help her effectively deal with cravings and avoid triggers. Counseling sessions helped her zero in on the root of her addiction and find healing. Weekly Bible studies brought her closer to a Savior she had never known and through that relationship she began to find transformation. That change only accelerated when she joined our social enterprise team.

In addition to her work with Mission Possible Cookies, Maggi helps tutor children at the Changing Lives Center, allowing their mothers to concentrate on their own recovery.

“Joining the Mission Possible Cookies team was the best thing that could have happened to me. You get to go off campus; it feels like a real job. Instead of just rehab, I felt like I was working towards something and learning new skills that I’d be able to carry out with me.”

Maggi learned how to work in a team setting, how to do inventory, receive orders, package those orders, and more. She earned her Serve Safe certification, qualifying her to work in a large range of areas in the food industry. She thrived. She did so well, in fact, that it wasn’t long before she was promoted to a leadership position.
“Leading a direct team of people to complete a project was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but Michelle was by my side through it all. She takes her job as a role model very seriously. Whenever anything happened, she helped walk me through it. She would encourage me not to give up and taught me to find joy in everything I do.

Today, thanks to God’s ingenuity and your support, Maggi is a recovery graduate and a new creation in Christ. She’s sober, she’s earned back split custody of her son, and even has the skills to build a bright new future.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the time, talent, and treasure you give! Thank you for the prayers and support that continues to change lives, one sweet story at a time.

“Cookies changed the trajectory of my life!”

The Gift of Freedom & Family | Demetria’s Story

Demetria and her daughter were both prisoners in different ways.

Demetria was caught in a no-win situation. On one hand, she had an abusive boyfriend who would regularly break her phone to keep her cut off from help. On the other was her daughter, who Demetria felt needed a father.

“I felt like I was supposed to put up with the abuse for my daughter’s sake,” says Demetria. “He abused me constantly until Leah was about six years old.”

On top of it all, Demetria was addicted. The stress of her situation drove her deeper and deeper into her drug use. When her car was repossessed, she stole one in order to get to her dealer. It was that move that landed her in jail.

You would think things couldn’t get worse. But in a strange way, incarceration turned out to be a gift – one that would serve as the starting point for a brand-new life.

“The judge allowed me to come to Phoenix Rescue Mission for rehabilitation. I wasn’t a believer at all. I kept thinking that I didn’t want to be here or do this program. But I stuck it out, decided to give it a try.”

That little bit of faith was all God needed to begin reshaping Demetria’s heart and changing her life. He wasted no time.

“When I started my program, Pastor Will was doing a new believer’s class on Saturdays that I started attending. I learned about sin and how we’ve been given a second chance, and I started connecting the dots.” The lightbulb clicked on. “That’s why God sent me here!”

While she was in the program, Demetria accepted Christ as her Savior and things started to change.

“I came into the program really angry and that’s one of the main things I prayed for after I got saved; for God to ease my anger and give me peace. Not only did I want to do that for myself, but also for Leah, my daughter. I know the only way I’d become a good role model and a good mom is if I seek God in everything I do.”

Thanks to you, Demetria found the direction and support she needed to learn how to become the best mom she could be – and we saw it take shape right before our eyes. Thankfully, the courts saw it, too! Just six months after she arrived, and right before COVID hit, Demetria earned back the custody of her daughter.

“It was amazing! His timing was just right. I couldn’t speak the night before, because I was so excited! All I could really say is that it’s all God’s work. I would not have been able to stay sober this long without Him.”

While working through the recovery program, Demetria joined the Mission Possible Cookies team, honing her baking skills and helping deliver sweet treats during the holidays.

“I loved it! I went in right before Christmas so when all the orders were coming in it was crazy!” she says with a huge smile.

Today, Demetria is sober, has a solid position working at the Salvation Army, and is looking forward to graduating from our recovery program very soon.

“I love my job! I love it because I get to be around kids. The best part about it is I leave home with God and I go to work with God, because it’s Christ-centered there as well. The Holy Spirit is with me at home and there, and I need Him. I need Him with everything I do. And that’s the biggest blessing.”

This Christmas, Leah has a brand-new mom and Demetria has found a brand-new path forward, full of hope and bright possibilities. It’s the perfect example of the transformation you make possible through your prayers and support for hundreds of families here every year.

“Something they say all the time here is, ‘There’s the easy or the hard way. I’m already at rock bottom. And the only way from rock bottom is up!’”

God bless you for this priceless gift – it’s the best one you’ll give this Christmas!

Through Jace’s Tears: God Gave Him the Strength to Forgive

Growing up in church, Jennifer knew the power of Easter. She knew that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, grace, transformation and forgiveness were offered to all who would accept them.

So when life spiraled out of control and her decisions cost her the custody of her children, she knew there was a way back. Like so many prodigals before her, Jesus promised to forgive and welcome her back home, if she returned.

What she wasn’t so sure of was if her own son, Jace, would do the same.

When the Department of Child Safety (DCS) showed up at her door, Jennifer knew firsthand the terror and confusion her children were about to go through. She had lived it. When she was two years old, she too had been removed from her parents’ custody. Other than a short-lived, abusive, reuniting with her mother when she was five, Jennifer stayed in the foster care system and never returned to her birth parents.

It was a past she did her best to put behind her. She settled down, found a place of her own, had a son, and in 2010, she was hired on here at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center.

“I knew this place was being built and I thought to myself, that would be a cool place to work. I’m a Christian, I love Jesus, so I got a job here before any women moved in. I was working in the day care center, to help set it up.”

Then everything went sideways. After so many years of being suppressed, the scars of her past suddenly welled up inside and refused to stay hidden any longer.

“One day I just broke. I couldn’t mask those years and years of trauma anymore. I became clinically depressed. Then a friend introduced me to meth. It made me a different person. I was suddenly outgoing. I had energy. I loved it. I thought I could do everything. I thought I was a super mom… which was not the case, but that’s the way it was in my head. My son was three years old at the time.”

Not even her oldest son Jace noticed anything wrong, until DCS showed up at their door.

“I remember getting taken away to a facility,” says Jace. “I waited there for hours. Then a random family walked in, took me and put me in their car. I didn’t really know what was happening.”

It was a traumatic night for Jennifer on multiple levels.

“Growing up in foster care, you always tell yourself you’ll never let your kids go through that.”

Thankfully, Jennifer not only knew she needed help, she knew exactly where to find it.

“I should have come a lot sooner, but I was embarrassed to come back as a guest after being an employee. But that was just my pride. I thought I was going to come here and they were going to give my kids back to me right away. I was very wrong. It took a lot of work.

Thanks to the support of friends like you, Jennifer was able to work through the trauma of her past, find the root, surrender it and put it behind her once and for all. Back on her feet, she found freedom from her addiction, graduated from our recovery program, and earned custody of her two kids, Jace and Jedidiah, nine months after she arrived.

“It was amazing to get them back. I’ll never forget that day. I know in my heart, from that moment on, I could never turn back. I can’t. Just looking at their faces, knowing what I put them through, I could never do that again.”

But just because Jennifer had changed, didn’t mean it was smooth sailing between her and her boys.

“When I got back, at first, I really didn’t want to talk to my mom,” Jace admits. “She wasn’t there and I thought that she left on purpose. I thought she wanted those people to take me. I thought she didn’t want me anymore, that she gave me away to someone else. It was hard to talk to her.”

But your support of our Changing Lives Center for Women and Children gave this broken family time to heal, time for God to mend the fractures and allow his Son to work in the hearts of Jennifer’s boys.

“God gave me the strength to forgive,” Jace says through tears. “I learned here that I could forgive because I was forgiven for my sins and I could forgive other people.”

That’s the power of Easter. Today, Jennifer has her own place once again and her two boys are thriving. She’s even rejoined the staff here as part of our R.A.P. (Rescue, Assess, Place) intake program team to help other families find the same kind of hope and healing.

“My favorite thing about working here is watching that transformation happen before your eyes. I’ve only been here for three months, but even in that short time, their faces change, their demeanor changes, their attitudes change."

"I gave a walking tour to a woman the other day and we came to the chapel and she says, ‘I don’t believe in God and I will not believe in God.’ She was really angry. Three weeks later she tells me, ‘I prayed in class today!’”

As we celebrate the gift that keeps on giving this Easter, thank you for the prayers and the financial support that continues to pass it on to those who need it most. On behalf of all of us, we wish you a very blessed and safe Easter celebration!