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Promise of Hope

"Promise of Hope" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Scheduled wakeup comes at 6:30 a.m. every weekday. By 9 a.m. the women have had two devotional quiet times, finished breakfast, and worked on a first round of chores. The women attend classes and groups during the day and end their evening together at 11:30 p.m. with lights out.

I attended "Peer Review" at 3:30 on Wednesday, sitting in the corner as the women trickled into the administrative building's boardroom by ones and twos. Long, thin windows let in the light of the warm, lazy day outside. Brenda Yawn, the ministry's certified addiction counselor, began the meeting by asking everyone's permission for me to stay; everyone agreed.

The meeting began by focusing on Tammy. One by one, the other women in the room noted a positive aspect of her actions in the last week, followed by a negative. "I saw you working real hard," said one woman, following with the admonition: "But you need to open up more, tell other people what's going on inside." Other comments noticed "having an open mind" or "being more joyful," while criticizing isolationism, defensiveness, or bluntness. Dawn-mirror still dangling from her neck-sat next to Brenda Yawn and silently wrote her remarks into a spiral-bound notebook for her neighbor to read aloud.

After all the comments, the woman in the hot seat had a chance to respond, thank her critics, and promise change. Then it was another woman's turn. When one woman received criticism for being "passive-aggressive," she used her response time to ask her critic for clarification or examples. In Dawn's response time, she waved her hands and grinned as the other women chorused, summing up each of their own responses, "Thank you very much, I promise to work on it."

After a resident has lived on this schedule for three months, the program finds her a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. Once she's earning money, Promise of Hope charges a $150 weekly rent, although operating costs run the ministry about $300 a week per woman. Some of the residents have a difficult time with the employment: "I come from a family that's well-known here," said Emily, a petite woman who started using drugs when she was 12 and now has two young daughters. "It was hard."

Diane Turner, a member of Promise's board of directors, said she knew Emily before and after. Married to a professional athlete, Emily was used to luxury: "She went from riding in a limousine, buying $500 bottles of wine, to working at Wendy's." But Emily said she needed the dose of tough love. "I'm learning responsibility, self-discipline-stuff that I've not ever done before in my life, and I'm 33 years old," she said, thumbing a cigarette. "I'm very grateful. I had to go through all that to get to where I'm at today."

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