At the age of 9 I snuck to smoke my first cigarette. At the age of 13 I drank my first beer. At 14 I smoked my first joint. By 19 I had graduated to a harder drug (cocaine). With two jobs and a new addiction I quickly spiraled out of control to working one job and then finally not working at all. After abandoning almost everyone I knew in a few short years with this addiction I began another life of committing various crimes. I shoplifted to support my habit and by the end of 2002 I picked my first and only offense, Theft of Property II with a misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana as a companion. My life as a result of my drug addiction had changed forever. I continued to shoplift and use drugs. It had become my life. From the moment I woke up to the time I went to bed (which incidentally could have been three days at a time) I was getting high or strategizing on how I would get high. My addiction began to steal more than just my energy - every year that went by was a waste. I was arrested every year until 2008 for failure to appear in court. At this point I was living in another state and got arrested after being pulled over and taken to jail for another failure to appear. After an extradition to Alabama, I was sentenced in July 2008 to five years at Tutwiler Prison for Women. From August 2008 until November 2008 I stayed in Dorm 9 better known as "the jungle" before being released on the Supervised Re-entry Program (SRP).
This came after being denied work release because I was considered a flight risk. While being transported to the Lovelady Center on Monday November 24, 2008 I was nervous about what would happen next in my life. (I knew that prison was definitely not the place for me but I didn't know how to go about living this new life. I was heavily supervised and the rules for SRP were very different than the other residents at The Lovelady Center. By December 2009 I had achieved the goal of getting my first job while in the program. It was the first time I had had a job in over eight years. I felt good about myself. I also attended the classes that they had available. Some of my favorites were Celebrate Recovery (a faith-based 12-step program), Looking for Love in the Wrong Places (a relationships class), and my all time favorite Anger Management. I took Anger Management the whole time I was at the center and even sat in on classes after I graduated. Devotions were an amazing learning experience that I still use in my daily life. Waking up Mon-Fri and getting a word of encouragement that could help me through my day did a lot to build my foundation of faith. Wednesday night bible studies and Sunday church was something that I had not encountered since I was around eight years old. My schedule was always full between work and classes at the center but I decided to go to college for dental assisting.
In 2009 it was pretty unprecedented for someone on SRP to go to school but I had stopped going to college years earlier and knew that it was something I needed to do. The courses were very challenging and I thought about giving up several times but I was persuaded to continue by my family. Another area that I found very helpful at the Lovelady Center was its counseling program. I took the counseling very seriously and even did extra sessions on top of what was required. Counseling did not enable me to come in and just throw up all my issues on my counselor, but it allowed me the ability to hear what God said about my situation and the tools to learn a new way to handle certain situations. I loved counseling and my counselor who has been my pastor since I left the center in 2010. I graduated the Lovelady Center program December 18, 2009 which was also the same day that my sentence with the State of Alabama ended. I signed the papers that released me from being the property of Alabama State Dept of Corrections. I decided to stay in Birmingham and signed up for the Shelter Plus Care program and in July 2010 I moved out of the center into my first apartment since I was a teenager. I continued to work and in January of 2011 started taking classes at Jefferson State Community College part time; in my spare time I would go to the Lovelady Center as much as possible just so that I could stay connected to the staff who influenced my life.
In June of 2011, I began a job as a client representative at the Lovelady Center and determined to use what I had learned and experienced while I was there to help other women. I will stop here and say that I learned so much while working there. I learned how to help women just like me and make them feel loved and accepted despite their pasts. I was a tough client representative and used a lot of my military upbringing, my experience in the streets, my knowledge of the system, and love for helping others while doing this job. During all of this I was still going to school part-time. I would take at least one class per semester but never went full-time because my job was very demanding. In June of 2013, I took on a new position at the Center as the first director of a newly formed Phase I program. My supervisors (Ms. Brenda and Miss Melinda) trusted me to design this program with their guidance. It was a learning experience and very hard work but I enjoyed it. By the summer of 2014 I was finally able to enter into the Birmingham Work Release Program and minister to the women there and try to spread the hope of what God had done in my life to them. It was around this time that I also began volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. I made the decision to go back to school full time January 2015 and since my schedule would conflict with the hours designated for my position I was allowed to begin work in the counseling department of the program. Since my major was in psychology it was very fitting. During this time of going to college full-time at Jeff State I also began to attend classes at Ambassadors College. After a year of studies there I received my license to preach and preached my first public sermon August 30, 2015. I still continued to go to school during this process and in August 2015 I started the fall semester at Birmingham Southern College; after receiving a transfer scholarship to attend BSC I am now one semester away from receiving my bachelor's degree in psychology (May 2017). My plan is to continue my education from there and get a Master's in Education. I would like to become a high school psychology teacher and pour into the lives of young people and help them to not go down the same roads that I did as a child. I have also begun work on a prison reform ministry that will be available for women.
I am so thankful for the Lovelady Center and the foundation that it gave me. Being there gave me the support that I needed to start a new life and to move forward. It was so much easier being there and getting a start on life than being released from prison and going back to where I had come from. I will forever be grateful to the Center and all the people that played a part in helping me to become all that I need to be. Although I have not worked there since April 2016 (I took a leave of absence to concentrate on my studies even more) I still am able to do morning devotions and services there to help the women. I have been blessed beyond measure by the Lovelady Center and I am so glad I was sent there eight years ago. This place will forever be a part of my heart and life.
Amy Brekle graduated from The Lovelady Center in 2008. While at the center, she enrolled in barber college and graduated from the Alabama School of Barber Styling and has been licensed for 7 years now. She was on a path to a new life - or so she thought. Amy had a personal encounter with God, however, she had yet to fully surrender to Him, and soon she fell back into her old habits. Her relationships with her family, even her children, had become estranged. Amy was in desperate need for a second chance. Amy's sons, Justin and, Austin had been praying for their mother for nearly 10 years. On Easter Sunday 2015, Amy's four-year-old daughter Bella went to the altar on behalf of her mother.
The day after Easter, Amy reached out to the place of second chances. She re-entered The Lovelady program on April 9th 2015. Through her second stay at Lovelady, Amy learned that though she had changed she hadn't fully let go of her past and become a new creation. This time God took her through the process of Ezekiel 36:26 "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you." Amy was washed by the blood of Jesus and became a new creation. After struggling with addiction for 25 years Amy was finally free!
All Amy's old ways were buried once and for all, and everything that had been taken from her was restored. She now enjoys a wonderful relationship with all her family, and couldn't be happier with the relationship she has with her prayer warrior children. While in the program Amy saw the opportunity for another new creation in The Lovelady salon. Amy is now the onsite stylist and overseer of New Creations Salon. She enjoys being able to connect with all those currently in the program by celebrating their inward transformations with an outward one. Through Lovelady affiliates Amy will move into a new home by the end of 2016! We are so happy to have her as part of The Lovelady Center!
Renita Fluker's Story
This morning, like every other morning these days, Renita Fluker woke up praising God. However, that wasn't the way it always was for her. Renita's life has been riddled with abuse. Suffering from drug abuse, as well as domestic violence, she had been left with a multitude of injuries. Renita graduated from The Lovelady Center in 2011, but it was her return in 2015 that really changed her life.
"I wasn't honest with myself the first time around," she reflects on her first visit. There was still a lot of demons she needed to confront. Upon her return, she sought medical care for some injuries that had contributed to her long suffering. For 15 years Renita had written off pain in her foot as arthritis, but an examination showed a bone spur, which she recently underwent surgery for.
Renita enjoys the social interaction she gets to experience while working in the kitchen department of The Lovelady Center, and eagerly awaits her return after she recovers from her foot surgery. When asked what message she would like to leave with those following after her in the program she said, "If you lie about your recovery you're not going to be healed." For someone who was once shot and drug by a car, a life walking with Jesus is the one she's always dreamed of.
Connie Farrell's Story
"There's no rehabilitation for you," the judge said to Connie Farrell after the second time she appeared before him. The very same judge had sentenced Connie to 2½ years a few years earlier, and he was so set on her serving a full term that he handed down two consecutive sentences: one sentence of 10 years and another of 15. Connie faced the 25-year sentence with the mentality that it would be better if her life would just end. When she arrived for her sentencing, the same judge who desired for her to spend the rest of her life in prison held in his hand a letter of acceptance from The Lovelady Center. The judge gave her the option of going to TLC for a period of 3 years as opposed to the previous sentence of 25 years in prison. After taking the TABE (The Adult Basic Education) test that all Loveladies are required to take upon acceptance, her strong educational background became evident. She was immediately placed in the Education Department of The Lovelady Center. Around that time one of the instructors, Dr. Bob Hall, brought in Judson College, and the Education Department entered a new season. In a bizarre twist 2 years later, the order by the judge of a 3-year stay at TLC was changed to "completion of the program." Connie was encouraged to go ahead and graduate the program but she chose to finish out the 3rd year as she had committed. Shortly after her graduation, Connie was chosen as the new Director of the Education Department. As Director of Education, Connie oversees the weekly TABE test that helped change her life years before. Being an innovator, the first thing Connie did was to institute 34 required course hours of continued education courses, which has greatly benefited the clients of The Lovelady Center. One important mission of TLC is to help those clients without a diploma get their GED. This year, 12 of our clients have done so, but Connie doesn't boast of that statistic (her record is 28)! We are blessed to have Connie's services at The Lovelady Center.