Once you have been incarcerated it can seem like that is all you will ever be defined by. But for the women in the faith based transitional program, New Beginnings, in Abilene, they have found a way to make a new life for themselves after serving in prison or jail.
New Beginnings started in Abilene five years ago, and program founder and director, Missy Denard, says it was a spiritual calling to help women make a better life for themselves after serving time behind bars.
“They don’t even believe in themselves, they have no hope, and the odds are against them when they get out," says Denard. "They need someone to believe in them and give them hope to know that, hey, I can be a different person”
Meet, Ronda Russell, a prime example of how New Beginnings has helped change the life of so many women who have had trouble with the law.
She first went to jail in 1991, and has spent 23 years of her life in and out prison for theft and drug charges.
“I just thought that prison was my life, I did it for so long that when I would come out into the world I couldn’t adjust," says Russell. "I was never willing to accept anything other than that.”
But Russell needed some guidance.
“If I just had a helping hand, not a hand out, but a hand up.”
And that is about the time she heard about New Beginnings, and reached out to Denard to see if she could join after her release.
“Low and behold I ended up in Abilene Texas, and I never thought that my life could be….," says Russell.
Speechless at times when she thinks about her new life, Russel says she is forever grateful for what New Beginnings has given her, and over 30 other women.
“I don’t even know how to describe the feeling that I don’t ever want to go back to that life," says Russell. "Now, I know that I don’t have to go back to prison, I don’t ever have to live there.”
And spending so many years in jail, and growing up without a family, Russell says she now appreciates new things in life she had never experienced before.
“I've got a job that I've got health insurance, I've never had a job long enough to even have health insurance," says Russell. "I have a car, I’ve got goals, and I would dream big but would never accomplish anything, my accomplishment was always to go back to prison because it was easier to live.”
New Beginnings has given Russell a new life, and also a new support system.
“It's family, I now have a family," says Russell. "I can say that I love myself now a little more than I normally would.”
For now, Russell plans to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and striving to improve herself one day at a time.
“Today I might be sweeping a floor, in the future I might be answering a telephone," says Russell. "So long as I stick to it, stick to it and be persistent, and be obedient.
And Russell says there is one thing she hope everyone can learn from her story.
“You can change, all it takes is someone to give you a chance.”