“As a child, I always wanted to belong and I never felt like I fit in. But here at BTS, and specifically Alternative Sentencing, I belong and I am loved,” Jen G. shares in the Beit T’Shuvah Teen Lounge.
Born in Burbank, California, Jen’s parents divorced when she was very young. Following her mother’s remarriage, she was adopted by her new step-father and spent the rest of her childhood in Reseda, California with her parents and a little half-sister who came along a few years later. Growing up Jen suffered from self-esteem issues as well as behavioral problems. “I started drinking alcohol and smoking pot when I was fifteen to try and fit in with my peer group,” she explains. That early drug and alcohol abuse led to Jen getting severely drunk one day at school and attacking another girl with a baseball bat. The incident sent her to juvenile hall and was an ominous portent of events to come in her life.
She did manage to graduate high school but then, “I went straight to the streets and almost immediately entered the world of sex working,” Jen relates. It was 1993 and, over the intervening twenty-five years, she would go in and out of this life wrought with brutal violence, sexual assault, robbery, and even kidnapping. And not surprisingly, this experience ratcheted up her drug addiction, more specifically crystal meth. “Over that early period of my life I was also in and out of jail between cycles of sex work,” she recalls.
But in 2000, an event occurred that would plant a seed of future healing that would manifest itself some two decades later. Jen was introduced to Beit T’Shuvah for the first time. “They came and found me in jail, picked me up, and brought me here. I fell in love with the place immediately,” she exuberantly describes. She stayed for four months and for the first time in her life she felt safe. But, as is the case sometimes for first-time residents at the “Shu”, she wasn’t completely ready to let the experience take her to a total place of healing.
“I went back to the street and returned to the only life I knew,” she remembers. But she didn’t go back alone. “Whenever things got difficult or triggering for me out there I would always hear Rabbi Mark’s voice in my head saying, ‘Intentions will get you loaded and feelings aren’t facts,’’ she shares with a smile. In 2002 she began a relationship with a drug dealer she had met and, of all things, he wanted her to leave her world of sex work and get clean. And she did. She also got a real job at Toys ‘R’ Us and then promptly left him.
She began going to N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings and was making some headway in her recovery and life. But as many addicts can relate, she began a rollercoaster ride of relapsing, getting clean, rinse and repeat. Following her stint at Toys ‘R’ Us, Jen briefly worked for a mortgage company before landing a job at Life Alert as a dispatcher in 2008. “I loved the job and I was good at it,” she recollects. However, she continued her dance of relapse and getting clean over the next eight years and was eventually fired in 2016 for using on the job and falling asleep.
Losing the best job she had ever had, Jen quickly spiraled downward and went back to life working on the streets. And then in 2018, she was arrested and eventually sent to federal prison. “This may sound crazy but going to prison was an answer to my prayers. I had asked G-d to help me get clean and, ironically, incarceration was exactly what I needed to get sober,” she relays. She was able to sit still and work on herself with no outside distractions.
She was released on June 25, 2021, but only made it four months before relapsing for the final time. “It got so bad so quickly that I even attempted suicide,” she painfully shares. Desperate for help she reached out to her parole officer and she told Jen she needed to go to treatment. “I called Beit T’Shuvah on a Sunday and eleven days later on October 26, 2021, I was accepted into the program,” she describes with that huge and infectious smile she has become known for at BTS.
“This place has saved my life. It has been so great for me,” she says. Overwhelmed at times with the kindness and love she has received during her stay, “I’ve been moved to tears with how much the staff and my treatment team see in me that I’ve never seen in myself,” she relates. To add further to her BTS experience and give back to the community that has given her so much, Jen is now an intern in the Alternative Sentencing Department at Beit T’Shuvah. “The trust and faith Carrie N. and Janet M. have placed in me and my abilities have been so incredibly positive. I want to do what they do and they have immediately given me responsibilities I thought would come much later,” she excitedly describes.
And as mentioned earlier, she now feels like she belongs and is part of a community that adores, respects, and needs her. But none of this would’ve ever been possible without the steadfast love and unrelenting dedication of one person – her mom. “My mom has been my rock and has always, always believed in and supported me. I wouldn’t have gotten through all my life struggles without her in my corner,” she tenderly reminisces. She also has two additional loves in her life that motivate her and provide non-stop love and special meaning to her life. “I have a beautiful little bundle of energy and light named Odatt (One Day at a Time), my precious Yorkshire Terrier. And when I’m not loving on him I’m doing the other thing I love to do – crocheting,” she explains.
She concludes by saying, “I’m so much more connected to my Jewish heritage now and it just feels like I’m part of one big awesome family.” If Beit T’Shuvah was a high school and someone had to be voted “Most Enthusiastic” it would undoubtedly be Jen and there wouldn’t be a close second. We’re so blessed and thankful that you kept fighting and getting back up every time you fell. Because the halls, rooms, gardens and patios would be much dimmer and less colorful without your ever-present smile and your authentic passion for your recovery and BTS family.