I took my first pill on the 13th

I came from a broken family, and in that brokenness we made a significant move from Louisiana to Dallas, Texas when I was nine years old.

My life was completely different. My stepfather insisted I was going to play football, which was not a good sport for me because I don’t have a confrontational bone in my body.

But I joined a great football team and we made it to the state championship playoffs when I was 13 years old.

I was very nervous. I was always worried about the game. The fear of failure and the fear of letting my team down was very real and I was physically sick. My soccer coach innocently offered me a pill to help with the nausea, nerves, and anxiety.

It gave me superpowers. I was unstoppable on the field. I didn’t care about being scared, I only cared about being unstoppable. I scored three goals in that game and became the most valuable player.

That night my life took a significant turn because with that pill I regained something I had lost: self-esteem and self-worth. But the desire to never lose that feeling again began, which led me down a dark path for a long time. That pill was Valium.

Rhonda Beer (pictured) is the founder of SheBrews Coffee and Transition Program and a board member of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He is a former inmate and advocate for prison reform.
Rhonda the bear

My teacher had pills, so I started stealing them from her medicine cabinet. I would also make friends with kids whose parents had Vali in their pharmacies and their kids would bring me. That’s how long my addiction continued.

Even when my mom eventually divorced my stepfather and we moved two hours east of Dallas, I made new friends, and my new friends’ parents had Valium in their medicine cabinets, so I was able to keep my addiction at bay.

My mother found out and tried to help me, but I secretly left the house at night. At that point, I wasn’t going to quit using drugs. So my mother gave me an ultimatum.

Either I could live at home or I would move out, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to live at his house and do drugs. He thought I would choose to quit drugs, but all I did was walk out the door and never come back. I was 14 and a half years old.

My drug addiction grew as I was introduced to more pills. I had to get creative to maintain that addiction, and I lied a lot. I worked hard to support my addiction, which meant I had to work as a prostitute, sell my body for money to buy drugs, and sell my body to doctors for free prescriptions.

I lied and told men I was 18 when I was 15 or 16. Sometimes they would hire me to work in their nightclubs and bars and later find out my real age because I had to show my passport in the end. . So I had to go find another connection that lasted a long time.

By 19, I was so low on pills and cocaine that I ended up in a year-long treatment program in Mississippi. Then I went to Oklahoma with a clear head on my shoulders to rehabilitate with my mother after the program was over and I ended up getting married.

My husband was using over the counter speed pills at the time. He told me that if I did them with him, he wouldn’t let my drug addiction get out of hand. That was a lie.

I was such a severe drug addict that there was no controlling the monster in me when he woke up. I had three children with him and raised them in chronic addiction, but I did not use drugs during pregnancy.

I had natural births for all three of my children because I didn’t want to expose my children to drugs, even through childbirth. But shortly after they were born, I would be back on drugs again.

I would be at home for a few days, then I would look back for days, until finally the father of my children told me.

He did not allow me to see my children. I thought. “I’ll just start selling drugs, then I’ll make enough money to bribe the justice, I’ll bribe the judge with the money I got from selling drugs, I’ll take my children with me.”

It was a very unfortunate situation because I met a rather violent person and I was constantly arrested. On Thanksgiving Eve 2000, I walked into an Oklahoma casino and noticed that the security guard recognized me.

I ran into an open field with a large brush pile and dove into it. The police were everywhere. I could see the lights of their cars. Dogs were brought out, there was even a helicopter. They were after me because I had been arrested in both Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Fortunately, there was an amazing downpour all of a sudden. I remember thinking. “Thank you God it’s raining because now the dogs can’t smell me.”

But the rain quickly turned to ice. Freezing rain and sleet began, and finally, hours later, the search was called off because the weather had turned too bad.

I laid on the bottom of this brush pile on this creek for four hours. I remember praying to God saying, “If you give me the courage to change my life, I will. But I can’t give up now. I want to see my children.”

I called the guy I was with at the time and told him to take me to a detox center. I told him it was time to let me go because I was mentally unstable.

I said: if you don’t leave me, it will be murder-suicide.

I was sad because I didn’t want to leave him without someone to watch his back, but I knew I wasn’t there for him anymore because I was in such a bad place.

After spending three days in that detox center, I called the district attorney and said, “I’m going to turn myself in.”

I told him all the circles that were looking for me and said: “I need you to get me a package deal. I’m not going to fight it. I’m just not going to compete. But I want to see my children and I don’t want anyone to arrest me in front of them. It would be traumatic enough for me to tell them I’m going to jail.”

I came out of detox on December 7, 2000, went to my children’s house and spent the day with them. On the morning of December 8, I walked them to the school bus and told them I was going to prison.

My daughter, who was eight years old, told me: “I can’t even cry because I’ve cried so many times telling my mom, please don’t leave me, and you always left me anyway.”

They heard calming words from an eight-year-old child. I was sentenced to ten years in prison, but the judge said if I did twelve months in a drug program, he would suspend my time and let me out after the drug program was over.

It was a good thing he did for me because I didn’t deserve it at all. I was grateful. It took me nine months to get to a prison with a twelve-month drug program, and when I finished, the judge kept his word and let me out.

When I came out, my husband gave way to my children. He took care of them when I was in prison. For many years I was in and out of their lives.

With the help of mentors around me, I started learning how to be a mother again. My children and I went to counseling so we could get treatment. I wanted them to be willing to give me another chance to be their mother because I had hurt them so much, but it was a long road.

To be honest, it took about 20 years to heal.

I remarried and had grandchildren. It felt like I was living the dream. But my husband told me one day. “I want you to pray because I believe there is something inside of you that you must do.”

That’s when I knew I wanted to help other women who were in a similar situation to me, mothers who couldn’t see their children because of their addiction.

I asked my husband if we could buy a house to integrate the women into the community. The plan was to hold rehabilitation meetings and help these women get their children back. And so we did. Things were going pretty well and I was able to go into prisons and jails getting people out and bringing them home.

However, employment for these women was slow as their addictions affected their lives. And so our cafe was created.

I wanted to create jobs for these women. What made the cafe thrive was that five women in the community came together and took my vision to hire other women who had just been released from prison to work in the cafe.

We started expanding our cafe in our small community of Claremore in 2012. As part of that process, in 2019, the governor granted me a pardon, which expanded my reach in Oklahoma in 2020.

The governor then appointed me to the Board of Directors of the Department of Corrections, and he also appointed me several times as a member of his task force on penal reform.

I feel like I’ve made a big mess of my life. But by turning my life around, which I believe God has had a big hand in, I have been able to grow and expand and help other women, especially women in our state, who have been affected by addiction.

Without the support of the mentors I met in prison, my story would have looked very different. They gave me responsibility, something I never had before. And they encouraged me to stay on the path to recovery.

We can all be that to someone.

Today, a person may face a difficulty or a problem, but this does not mean that his condition will be permanent.

We should never underestimate the influence of a mentor or spouse. they can help reveal inner strength, especially when one does not know about it.

Rhonda Beer is the founder of SheBrews Coffee and Transition Program and a board member of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. A former inmate herself, Rhonda is now an advocate for prison reform and programs for individuals, especially women, returning to their communities after incarceration.

All views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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