Two years ago, Dara, one of our graduates, began participating in Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars by telling her story to a Truth Be Told class of women incarcerated in the GEO Lockhart Unit. Since then, she has given generously of her time in this way and inspired many women. This month, Dara graduates from Austin Community College with an Associates Degree in General Human Services and a GPA of 3.8. She is already registered for classes to earn her bachelors degree.
The story of her journey was one of our most popular blog entries, so we are bringing it back this week.
Since I was a little girl I have been involved in some type of abusive situation. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. I was sexually and physically abused by my step-dad and step-brother until the age of 11. My first intimate relationship was at the age of 14 — he was 28, I now know him to be a predator. I thought because he hurt me ( beat me up, raped me, held me hostage) he must love me and couldn’t live without me. Every relationship I have been in has been abusive. Growing up in the home I grew up in taught me that pain equals love. If you hit me or abused me you must love me.
I was a little girl that felt ugly, unloved, unwanted and abandoned. A little girl who knew nothing that was safe, or stable, or about love. When I was 14 years old I ran from yet another children’s’ home and into the streets of Houston, where there were no rules, no schools, and where I had found what I thought was freedom. I was introduced to methamphetamines and this started my 25-year dance with death.
It was fun for me, at first, living in that drug-induced life. I started doing things I thought I would never forgive myself for. Methamphetamine, sometimes referred to as speed, became my everything. I was a slave to that drug, at its total mercy.
I became what I hated: I stole from people, I lied to everyone, and I started selling my body to support my habit. My obsession with methamphetamines overrode everything moral in my life. My ability to make good and healthy decisions was shattered: my need for dope stole that.
I have been in and out of juvenile detention and have been in prison 5 times, all because of the choices made in my drug addiction. At the age of 37 I sat and soaked up my surroundings for the first time, really seeing where I was: sitting in an aluminum barn with no air conditioning. I witnessed old women dying in prison and I realized, “This is not what I want.”
At that moment I felt a shift, literally, a shift in my heart. From that moment on my life has been different and it is because I realized that I wanted something different.
In November of 2010, I was released from prison to Austin, Texas. I chose to go into a transitional home for women. A month after release I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and was told I was going to have a radical hysterectomy and that I would have to endure aggressive treatment. The treatment would include two rounds of internal radiation, five weeks for five days a week of external radiation, and four rounds of chemo. During the treatments I felt a deeper level of that shift of wanting to live. I looked back on my life and realized that I had wasted so much time. Through the addiction, breaking the law, the cancer, and living life like I had a million lives to live, I was determined to speak out and seek out others that wanted the same thing in life.
I enrolled in school, though I was intimidated and frightened of doing something I had never done. I was confused because I did not understand the college talk. I am approaching the end of my second semester, anxiously awaiting my third. I have a 3.5 overall GPA.
Today, I am in remission from cancer; I have 19 months of sobriety from all mind altering chemicals; I volunteer and I have shared my experience, strength, and hope at the juvenile detention center, at several events for Truth Be Told that works with women behind and beyond bars, and at the Center for Success in Houston. Today I LOVE MY LIFE and where it’s going.
You can further share Dara’s story through this video: