Sometimes we get so busy with all the things we have to do every day that we forget that miracles can happen and that special people are all around us if we just choose to see them. Last week, late one evening, I met Marcy, and then deeply remembered the passion I felt years ago when I committed my life to helping others.
I was tired. It had been a long day with meetings in Austin, back to SA for a 6:30 meeting with our web designer, a quick hi to my family, no thought about dinner because of this late 8 o’clock meeting I instinctively knew I didn’t want to miss.
Walking up to the sweet front porch, I enjoyed the beautiful rose bushes on both sides of the walk and manicured front lawn in front. The precious grey cottage made me feel like I was back at my grandmother’s house all those years ago.
I had only waited a second when she rounded the corner to meet me with a confidant stride, broad grin, great figure, and a great tan. She was dressed as cute as she could be. She shook my hand graciously and asked me follow her up to an office where we could talk.
Born in Joplin, MO her family moved to Waco, Texas in 1971. There she had a wonderful childhood until her Dad died suddenly in a car accident. Used to being her Daddy’s pride and joy, she was devastated and lost her way at that fragile age of 17. She still hung out with her old “nice” friends, but she added a new group of friends from the dark side that included “party people” and drug dealers. Angry, her life spun out of control into self destructive behavior and she turned to drugs. After an attempted suicide she ended up in a mental hospital where they diagnosed her as bipolar, with borderline personality and disassocaitive behavior…big serious words for a 17 year old who had just lost her father.
“I could have played on all of that and justified my drug abuse by claiming that I was self medicating”. And then came prison when she was convicted of burglary. She was stealing to fund the drugs. She was mad at God, mad at everyone, and not afraid to die in this place called prison.
After her 3rd time in prison, she got out and opted to go to a place called Woman at the Well in San Antonio. A faith-based residential community for women coming out of prison, this place provided a safe place for Marcy to live with counseling, food, clothes, in-house programs and access to community resources. There she could have everything from education to job training to medical and dental care there. She would be safe and she wanted to get better.
But, she wasn’t ready to change – so she got into trouble again. And she went back to prison. But this time something was different. After being convicted a total of 4 times, Marcy says that the judge could have given her 25 years to life because she was a habitual criminal – but for some reason he gave her only 5 years. Shocked at her good fortune, she realized God was smiling at her – there was something in store for her. “God’s grace touched me and I realized I didn’t want to die there. I had to learn to love myself, and that is what I planned to do.”
She spent those next 5 years in prison working on herself as much as she could in that place…the place you do not want to go. She kept to herself, trying not to attact any attention so she could concentrate on her own character. She told me stories about prison – stories of women getting their teeth knocked out and not having the opportunity to go to the doctor; 70 year old women having heart attacks inside; older women in their mid 80’s serving horific sentences and finally dying there alone. She knew then that she didn’t want to die there.
After a total of 7 years in prison, she got out and applied to have a spot at Woman at the Well one more time. Many of the women who leave jail have no one on the outside. Many are friendless, homeless and penniless. They are outcasts and may have medical conditions that aren’t addressed during incarceration.
She was accepted and began working with Carla Pineda who vowed to help her find out who she really was…you know deep down inside. She had peer support, and help from 2 wonderful counselors. There was Sally who advised Marcy about legal issues and special visits she might need, and Nancy who helped her with “all the things I needed to talk about – she helped me see my flaws.” One major flaw Marcy told me about was her ego – it was impossible for her to consider that she might be wrong. But instead of throwing that personality trait out the window, Nancy helped her turn a big ego into a huge positive – Marcy became a leader. “I learned to be humble and to be respectful and grateful for everything.”
She found work at Goodwill, where she progressed up the ladder fast. In fact, her work was so good she now carries letters of recommendations for her next employer.
Marcy, the cats and the proposal
When Marcy got to Woman at the Well, she confided that she had forgotten how much she loved animals. One day she brought back a bag of cat food and started feeding the neighborhood cats. She wondered if they were healthy, had their shots, and thought they should be neutered. Quitely and secretly she wrote a letter to Sheridan Harrison at St. Marks Episcopal Church. In the letter she wrote about recovery….how when you are prison you are full of fear….afraid to get close to anyone and afraid to open up. But now, at Woman at the Well, the women were caring for the cats, holding them, caring for them, and showing their capacity for love. The cats, she said, taught them how to give and how to receive. She wrote, “God couldn’t get a person to open us up…so He sent a cat!” In the letter she made a list of all the supplies they need to care for the cats. She even broke down the costs of everything.
She gave the letter, which was in reality a grant proposal in disguise to the Episcopal Diosesan Center, and then a copy to Carla Pineda and also to the Board. As if on cue, Lila Cockrell, the beloved ex-mayor of San Antonio stepped up with a check for $100 and became the first supporter of the cats. How could the Board refuse? It passed!
The next newsletter had an appeal form Marcy, and in 3 months over $1300 has been contributed. Marcy then became the steward and wrote thank you notes to everyone.
And so, just like the cats that Marcy and the other ladies ministered to, these women received care from Woman at the Well.
“I was a 4X menace to society – people locked their doors against me. I put up a façade of being happy and wondered every day why anyone would ever love me. But now I trust myself and I have integrity…and that’s my favorite word….INTEGRITY. With AA, the life skills I have learned, my spiritual self, and my religion I will make it.”
Marcy taught me some things.
June 22, 2007
The eve of her departure from Woman at the Well - Marcy is radiant and full of excitement over her future. She says she feels good that she can finally take care of herself…and she really likes herself. She knows who she is now, and she has dreams of going to Vet School. Ultimately her passion is to get into pet therapy at a hospice. She worries about the animals of the elderly and sick and wants them to be assured that she will be there to minister and care for their animals when in need.
In the end, the success or failure of Marcy is in her own hands, and the last thing she said to me as I left was, “I am doing the right thing this time. You know, good intentions mean nothing without good results.” On Friday she was to be picked up by her Mom to spend a night together in San Antonio - just the girls - bonding. And then she would return to Waco to see her long time love Renny who is remodeling a house. They have big plans for the future. Yes, she is radiant.
Another parting note about Jinx
Last week I also had the opportunity to re-connect with a friend from a long time past. Also a graduate of Woman at the Well…Jinx graduated 6 years ago. In a thank you note she thoughtfully sent to me for speaking to their board, she said she believes that this place performed miracles for her and has now taken her place at the table as a member of the Board of Directors. A more effective member there will never be. She will passionately tell her story just as Marcy will.
Keep up with Marcy’s cats and please donate to their welfare by marking your check to woman at the Well “for Marcy’s cats” and mail contributions to:
Woman at the Well - 221 Post Street – San Antonio, Texas 78215
The people at Woman at the Well believe that a woman’s faith can bring about her transformation, helping her to overcome her past mistakes and build a new future. It can also give her the support she needs to make the hard transition to life on the outside. We ask each of our women residents to find a church or spiritual community of her choice and to begin or continue her spiritual journey.
You must go visit their website at http://womanatthewellhouse.org.. Donors - Woman at the Well needs a new kitchen. You can imagine how tight a small kitchen can be with old equipment and 11 or 12 women using it at the same time. Plus, with a great kitchen, the ladies can learn a skill that might help them with future employment - cooking. They also need to find an angel to help them develop their back yard into a garden where they can learn to landscape. Another option for training towards future employment. They also need operating expenses to help pay for cherished staff, counselors, resident sponsors, etc. Put Woman at the Well on your list for memorials and birthdays and such.
While you’re there at the website, check out Jeanne’s recipe for Cranberry Coleslaw under Stories.