EAST BEND, N.C.—The fire alarm goes off as a 21-year-old cocaine addict with little experience in the kitchen is cooking dinner. Amid the commotion—dog barking, two women shouting, one near tears—Paula Borton walks in. Tall, with shoulder-length silver hair held back by a black headband, Borton immediately takes charge. Twenty-five minutes later, 10 recovering addicts sit around a large wooden table eating charred chicken casserole and overcooked garlic bread.
Borton has come to expect a degree of chaos. As founder (with her husband Randy) and director of Solus Christus, a transition house where female addicts begin the healing process, she deals with women right off drugs while they’re waiting the typical 3-4 weeks it takes for them to gain admission to rehab programs. That’s much longer than the typical addict remains sober and willing to seek help.
In Paula Borton’s experience many addiction-prone adults struggle with authority and structure. At Solus Christus, addicts adjust to routine: Days begin with breakfast and devotions at 7:30 a.m. and end with nightly gratitude before bed at 9:30 p.m. In between, Bible studies, devotions, activities, and chores take place at regularly scheduled times.
Debbie Woolard stands over the sink pulling cooking directions off of a spiral-cut ham. Woolard’s parents never drank or did drugs, but she started using when she was 13: “It was like second nature, I mean we just sit around and start smoking pot. It was like normal.” Eight years into her addiction, Woolard became addicted to prescription drugs. To obtain Percocet, Valium, or Zyntax, she stole prescriptions from doctor’s offices. Her mother had a heart attack when she caught Woolard dealing drugs to her cousin.
During her 20 years of drug use, Debbie divorced twice and lived apart from her children. Her daughter is now 13, and her son is 17. The thought of her own daughter doing drugs terrifies Woolard. She wants to do a two-month rehab so she can “start being a good mom,” but Borton encourages Woolard to consider a six-month rehab that deals specifically with the problems of long-term addictions. Borton knows that lifelong addiction takes more than two months to heal and another relapse would be worse for Woolard’s children than an additional four months in rehab.
Solus Christus is a kind of “Jesus camp.” Bible verses and biblical images hang on walls. Three tattered hymnals lean up against an old piano. At 8:30 each morning, women gather in the activity center for Scripture recitations: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” Paula Borton turns to the room and asks, “What does that mean, the power of God?”
A young woman with blond hair and dark-rimmed glasses answers: “It means that because Jesus died for me, I can be saved.” Those words mean a lot because Courtney Hill, 22, came to Solus Christus hating Christianity. She’s out on $75,000 bail while awaiting trial on 32 counts of producing and possessing methamphetamine. If the court finds her guilty, it could sentence her to as long as 55 years in prison, but if she successfully completes rehab with a good report, she could get long-term probation instead.
Hill started doing drugs with her mom at age 12. When police raided her house on March 6, they found a full meth lab in her back bedroom. Hill used three different methods to produce methamphetamine, including two that the state hadn’t seen before. She bought everything she needed at Walmart and was making $100,000 a month as a professional cook: “I couldn’t tell you where the money went.”
Hill was also consuming six grams a day—even though, in her experience, most meth users can only tolerate a quarter gram every two or three days: “I was so caught up in my high—worried about how I was going to get high the next time—I didn’t have much time to worry about anything else.”
Nine years ago, to help women like Woolard and Hill, the Bortons began inviting struggling addicts to live with them in Winston-Salem, N.C. They wanted to help these women get into already existing, Christian rehab programs. Over the next four years, 20 addicts transitioned through their home.
The Bortons learned that living downtown made it too easy for some women to fall back into alcohol and drug use, so in 2007 they bought for $220,000 a little yellow farmhouse on six acres, about 20 miles outside of Winston-Salem. In 2008, Solus Christus officially opened. Since then, 511 women have come through its doors.
Solus Christus suggests that women pay $50 a week in rent, but the ministry accountant rarely sees a payment. Private donations and profits from Randy Borton’s bakery and the ministry thrift store sustain operations. Two women who went through Solus Christus and rehab last year work as volunteers alongside the Bortons.
Recently Courtney Hill spent three days in jail on an old misdemeanor and larceny charge. Her cell mate was an anorexic prostitute with arms covered in abscesses from shooting up. Hill says when she saw the deadness of the woman’s eyes, she scooped her up and held her for 30 minutes, praying that God would save her.
Being back in jail reminded Hill how much she does not want to spend any more time there. Before she came to Solus Christus, she believed producing methamphetamine was the only way to survive. Now Hill is learning another way. She carries from worship a bright green Recovery Bible and the Jesus Calling devotional. After lunch she does chores. Her job is taking care of the animals. As she carefully measures out grain for Moses the alpaca, she talks about trying to get her GED or going to technical school: “The way I’m living now is a whole new process for me.”
—Kira Clark is a World Journalism Institute graduate
• 2012 contributions: $57,985
• Thrift store receipts: $65,356
• 2012 expenses: $110,598
• Net assets at the end of 2012: $107,145
• Staff: Four unpaid staff members
• 2013 budget: $128,800
• Website: soluschristusinc.org