I need treatment?
An overwhelming sense of dread, mixed with embarrassment, filled me. I pulled on the heavy door, shifting the duffel bag of everything I owned in the entire world into the other hand. I realized there must be a buzzer or something I should ring to let someone know I was there – found it. I pushed the buzzer, pulled on the door again, and was across the threshold where people were bustling around inside the main area of the facility. As they noticed me, they smiled. All of them. I figured they were sizing me up, wondering what they could get out of me, maybe chuckling to themselves inside.
A young woman at the main desk showed me how to round the corner and “go to intake,” so that’s what I did. Looking around, I realized the place was pretty nice, not at all like anything I expected it to be. I followed the directions the smiling woman had given me, rounded a corner, passed a beauty shop on my left, and read the sign, “New intakes may have hair cut or nails done for free the first visit.”
A large, framed area with before and after pictures loomed on the wall ahead, with “Prisoner to Princess” above it. I mean, I had seen the “Faces of Meth” before and afters, but these were different. These showed the “before” pictures of when the women were strung out or pictures of their mug shots, compared to the “after,” their beautiful new faces, smiling and drug-free.
Was it really possible?
Some of the pictures looked worse than my own worst days on drugs. I guess I was just looking for reassurance that I could really do this.
The directions took me into the Intake Department, where I was once again greeted by smiling faces. A woman stood from a desk in front of me. She appeared to be in charge and was also smiling. She asked if I was Melissa, I answered that I was. Her desk was covered with letters and I figured it was other women trying to get into the program, just like me. Some of them had been stamped by the Alabama department of Corrections.
“I’m Miss Shay,” she said, “and you’re gonna be ok, girl, just put your bag on the floor there.” I’m not one who cries. Crying is a weakness. But when this woman rounded her desk and approached me it was like she read my history. She knew I had left my son to go out and search for pills. She knew I had stolen money from my parents. She knew I had sold my body for dope. But she still cared. I broke.
I dropped my duffel bag beside me and she wrapped her arms around me and I cried. I think it was the first time I had cried in a few years, and it just wouldn’t stop. She started sharing her story with me. She had been in prison about 16 years, began heroin when she was eleven…. Good God, if this place can change her…. Maybe there was hope for me.
That was my first day. That was where I started.