Featured Thistle Farmers
Meet JenniferWhen someone calls Jennifer’s phone, a song plays in place of a ring. “I love music!" she says with joy. She exudes that same joy as she recounts her heartbreaking and hopeful story.
Jennifer is the youngest of 12 children from Dayton, OH. She attended a Catholic school and church and, although her family was active in parish life, her father was a violent alcoholic who, when was he around, would use physical abuse as a form of discipline. She also remembers her uncle sexually abusing her when she was young and in seventh grade, she beginning smoking marijuana. Within a couple years, Jennifer started frequently running away from home.
She was heavily involved in the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" scene. She met a man, and when she was only 17, was married and pregnant. Although she didn’t use drugs during this pregnancy, as soon as the baby was born, she picked up where she left off. Jennifer's drug use escalated to include cocaine and heroin.
She worked in a “massage parlor” and eventually resorted to street prostitution to fund her drug habit. She said she was “spiritually broken" and used to cut herself. At her lowest point she remembers her ex-husband putting her head through a widow after a heated fight. Jennifer knew she had to find a better way of life.
Returning to her Catholic roots, she went to confession and told the priest her story. The priest, a recovering alcoholic, told Jennifer he would help her find a recovery program. After she left confession, she told her sister the news, but said, “I need at least two years, and it needs to be in another state.” The very next day, the priest called to tell her about Magdalene – a two-year program in Tennessee.
Though there was a two year waiting list, Jennifer was persistent and called Magdalene everyday. After only two months, a bed was available and Regina Mullins, Magdalene’s Outreach Director, called and asked “when can you get here?” Jennifer moved to Nashville last May and became a resident. In September of the same year, she started working at Thistle Farms where her specialties are making thistle paper, hand soap and candles.
Jennifer thanks God for giving Becca Stevens a vision and for Becca having the courage and strength to see it through. Jennifer says Magdalene works because “you get to work at your own pace. They keep loving you until you love yourself and they’ve shown me that love really does heal.” For new women entering the program, Jennifer says, “welcome home. Take a deep breath, relax and know this is the first day of the rest of your life.”
Chelle, Thistle Farms Administrative AssistantLaRonda Rochelle Waller, better known to her friends as Chelle, grew up in the projects of Nashville, TN. She remembers herself as a child being popular and protective of her three younger brothers and sisters. After her parents split up when she was 13, she went to live with her aunt. Hungry for attention, Chelle starting experimenting with marijuana and pursuing the “bad boys” of her neighborhood.
She was driven though and persevered. After high school, she entered cosmetology school and opened her own shop as soon as she was able. Though successful, Chelle had to close her shop because she hadn’t filed the right paperwork. To pay the bills in the meantime, Chelle resorted to selling drugs. She also starting using and soon going after paperwork to keep her shop open became less important than the drugs.
In order to support her habit, she began selling her body in exchange for money for the drugs. She was arrested several times but would always return to the streets when she was released. At eight months pregnant, Chelle found herself in jail again. When she was ready to give birth, she was transferred from the jail to the hospital and had her daughter in shackles. It was at that point, she knew she had to stop.
In 2003, Chelle entered Magdalene and graduated in 2005. She was a perfect example of the benefits of the program: she worked at Thistle Farms part time, she saved her money which was doubled at graduation and she opened her own hair salon. But as time went on, Chelle’s involvement with Thistle Farms dwindled and she found herself trying to handle life on her own again. Over the next few years, Chelle slowly started to retreat to her old ways of selling drugs and eventually, using again.
This dangerous cycle stayed true to its nature and Chelle found herself, once again, in front of a judge. As part of Chelle’s probation, she was ordered to go to Magdalene three times a week… which was just the home she needed.
Chelle will be clean two years in May and returned to Thistle Farms as the Administrative Assistant to the Managing Director over a year ago. Chelle says, “You’re never alone when you’re in Magdalene. Once you come in, you’re a sister for life. You’re always welcomed back – and I’m living proof!
Tracey, the Manufacturing Manager
Tracey, the Manufacturing Manager at Thistle Farm has a smile that can light up a room. Her compassion and perseverance are innate qualities that survived the hardships she endured while growing up in public housing in Nashville. Her first experience of a relationship was watching her Dad abuse her Mom and cheat on her with other women. “I thought that’s what love was,” Tracey says. Eventually, Tracey’s Dad left the family and Tracey began acting out by drinking, smoking marijuana and being promiscuous. When her youngest brother was killed in a drive-by shooting at age 13, Tracey’s grief-stricken mother turned to drugs as well.
At 17, Tracey dropped out of high school and in a short time had three children. Her drug use escalated when her feelings of abandonment led her to crack cocaine. To afford her habit, Tracey got into a cycle of prostitution and selling drugs for nearly 16 years. Eventually in the midst of a fight outside a crack house a man was shot and Tracey was charged with second degree murder. Sometime soon after, Tracey entered the Magdalene program. At her sentencing almost a year later, she was surrounded by a community of women who had lived with her and helped her fight her case. The judge ruled that she would serve no time and instead sentenced her to eight years of probation and allowed her to continue to live in Magdalene, in a home centered on unconditional love.
Tracey has been clean since October 2004, is a graduate of the Magdalene program and is the Manufacturing Manager at Thistle Farms. In addition, she is the Supervisor for Housekeeping at Tennessee Performing Arts Company and is a grandmother of three.
Karen from Detroit, Michigan – Thistle Farms Store Manager
Tell us about your story. I am from Detroit Michigan. I have one cousin in Nashville, and he’s 9 years clean. He would come back to Detroit occasionally asking me if I was ready yet. It was not until the death of my only son that I really wanted to make a change in my life. December 13 is the last day I used drugs. On December 14, 2007 I left Detroit and came to Magdalene. I am so grateful and I know that I’m blessed to be alive today.
What is your job description? I'm the Store Manager for Thistle Farms. I pack and unpack products for our Thistle Farms parties and sales events, check inventory, make thistle paper and service customers as they come into the Thistle Farms store.
What do you enjoy most about your job? It is teaching me to be responsible. I love meeting people from different backgrounds. It's a wonderful job to me.
What do you want to be doing in five years? I would love to be doing some type of work in the computer field. Some day maybe create my own business. I don’t know what type of business yet; I’m just open to anything dealing with computers or sales.
Where do you see Thistle Farms in five years and what are your ideas for the future of Thistle Farms? Nationwide! I see the products becoming as popular as Bath and Body Works. Within the next five years I see a whole lot of recovery programs being started as a result of Magdalene and Thistle Farms.
What are your personal goals? I have accomplished quite a few personal goals since I’ve been here. One of the last goals I accomplished is getting married on June 4, 2010. Now I’m living life. I brought my mom here from Michigan to live with me. I’m working on getting a car. My goal is to continue living a drug free, responsible, productive life.
I came to Magdalene from jail. When in jail, I remembered a woman who was volunteering with Magdalene. I remembered meeting her at an outreach event on Murfreesboro Road. I wrote the judge a letter and asked if I could enter the Magdalene program. My life has changed since Magdalene. I own my own home; I am married, and I have a baby. I am cancer-free. I had breast cancer while in the program. I am currently on staff with Magdalene. My life is full now. Magdalene is what gave me my life; it is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
Favorite Song: God Bless the Broken Road
My name is Grace, and I am 53 years old. I have four children and eight grandchildren. I came to Magdalene in 2004. I was on drugs and prostituted for 23 years. I have an illness, as a result of my drug use, called COPD. My life has changed since coming to Magdalene. I am an artist; I draw, I write poetry. Magdalene has given me a wonderful life-- the best life I've ever had. I am blessed to live in the brand-new transition house. I give thanks to God and Magdalene.
Favorite Song: I Couldn't of Made It
My name is Katrina, and I am 39 years old. I am the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter named Ebony. I walked the streets of Nashville, TN prostituting and using off and on for 20 years. I have been clean for 2 years. I have been HIV positive for 13 years and I now live a happy, healthy and productive life. I went from living with my mom to living on the streets to owning my own brand new home. I love walking in the door of my house. It's my world. I never thought my life would be this amazing.
Favorite Song: Still Holding On