Debra was arrested for the first time when she was 28 and it wasn’t the wake-up call you’d expect. Her life spiraled out of control and jail seemed to become a second home. She was soon known as, “Denise the Menace” and drugs became a part of her daily routine. It wasn’t until her first prison sentence that her destructive behavior came to a halt. She was sentenced a few weeks before her 32nd birthday and had four years to think about turning her life around.
In 2010, Debra fell down again. This time, however, she made a conscious decision to change. She immediately went to a treatment program where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“With this new insight, I discovered that change would only happen if I allowed it. I knew then that I was ready. Ready to live a life outside of prison walls; ready to begin loving myself,” said Debra.
Debra knew a job was necessary and she wasn’t going to stop until she got one. Despite filling out dozens of applications, she was never called for an interview. There was no doubt in her mind the lack of calls was due to her drug convictions and felony.
Fortunately, her Mental Health Association referred her to Goodwill of Orange County’s EmploymentWORKS program, a supported employment program providing individualized job placement to adults living with a mental health diagnosis.
Once there, she was assigned an employment specialist who accompanied her to job interviews and acted as an advocate on her behalf.
“Having this kind of support meant that I was worth a second chance. My employment specialist really went to bat for me and it felt good knowing that someone had faith in me,” Debra said. “Goodwill offered me so much support. It didn’t matter to Goodwill that I was black, a convicted felon and bipolar. I had a fighting chance for change.”
Then, while on her way to a soup kitchen, she received a call from Human Resources at Goodwill, where she’d previously interviewed for a store position. She was told to bring them two forms of ID and as she entered the office, the Human Resources person stood up, took her hand and said, “Welcome to Goodwill.” Debra felt like someone was finally giving her a chance.
As a participant of Goodwill’s EmpoymentWORKS program and now a part of Goodwill’s retail team, Debra was able to move forward in reaching her goal of becoming independent and succeeding in the workforce.