PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER HALSTEAD
Wednesday, March 22, 2023; Edna House for Women, 2007 W. 65th; Jennifer Halstead, an alumna of the drug recovery program at Edna House, standing next to the sign of the residential building. Women reside at the Edna House for six months regardless of their ability to pay where they become sober and productive. According to the website, “Our vision is that every woman who desires sobriety has the opportunity to achieve it.”
PHOTO BY ERIK AULT
Tuesday, March 21, 2023; Edna House for Women, 2007 W. 65th; the facade of Edna House, which is housed in the former convent at St. Colman’s. Edna House took over the convent in April of 2006 and has helped over 1500 women tackle their issues and learn necessary life skills. Many alumnae return to the Edna House as volunteers to help current residents on their path of recovery.
by Erik Ault
It can happen to anyone.
Jennifer Halstead was a teenager from Trumbull County with a promising future. She had a loving and supportive family with both parents at home. She was following the typical life plan: College, kids, a quiet home in the country. Yet she woke up twenty years later wondering, “How did I get here?”
None of them dreamed it would strike their family, least of all Jen. She had heard the stories of people lost to addiction but never considered she would succumb. She thought she was just partying and living life. But inch by inch, she lost control.
It started with smoking marijuana as a teenager. She would smoke it when hanging out with friends. But these people would slowly introduce her to stronger substances.
Despite trying harder drugs, she still felt she was in control of her behavior. She had a life and a future, but she also enjoyed partying which did not interfere with her life plans. Even having a child at seventeen did not hinder her desire to build a future. In spite of her increasing drug usage, she maintained a normal life: She graduated high school, had a job with the federal government and went to college supported by her parents and boyfriend.
She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 18. To manage the pain, a doctor prescribed her opioids. This was in the early 2000s when knowledge of the harmful and addictive nature of painkillers was not as widespread. But the prescription was just the bridge she didn’t need, one that would link her from partying to addiction. She already knew how access to street drugs, but she was always too inhibited. After taking the doctor’s prescription, now she knew what she wanted.
She increasingly took stronger narcotics yet still never viewed herself as a drug abuser. But as time went on, she became increasingly involved in the drug lifestyle. She would have periods of stability but would often fall back into destructive behaviors. She got caught up with a guy who pushed a riskier life. While with him, she denied that she had a problem. But this denial came to a head in 2006 when she was arrested and incarcerated for complicity in a bank robbery. Her parents, aided by her now sober ex-boyfriend, took custody of her children. Now Jennifer had a record.
This was when she reflected that something had gone wrong. She had dreams and ideals. She wanted a good job in finance and wanted to work with autistic children. She desperately wanted to get back on track in life to be a good mother and a member of society. But now she was in her mid-twenties and in prison. “I have wasted so much time,” she realized. It was time for a change.
She got out in 2011 but still struggled with sobriety afterward. She thought that willpower alone would drive the necessary changes. She was exercising, going to school for social work and sincerely trying. But it was not enough. Again, another doctor prescribed her opioids for pain management, even though she was an established user. It was all too much. She never learned how to cope with the stresses of life without drugs. She relapsed again.
After her incarceration, she maintained only periodic contact with her parents and children. They thought the prison sentence would be enough to break her bad habits. Four years after it, she was using and trafficking again. But she was far from just partying and having fun. She was trapped entirely by addiction: “It starts out by thinking, ‘I’m going to have fun’ or for the social aspect. But it’ll end up usually using by yourself in a dark place. It’s not like you’re using to go out and have a good time. You’re using to get through the day,” she said. No one knew what to do.
She was caught by a police officer with having a personal amount of fentanyl, and Jennifer had convinced herself that though she was only using a small amount, it was not enough to cause damage. But she was wrong. She kept using to the point of no return.
Narcan brought her back. In 2019, a police officer found her overdosed and administered the opioid antagonist to clear her system and revive her. They took her back to the station and put her on probation. Trumbull County probation sent her to Edna House, a drug treatment house for women on W. 65th in Cleveland, to await her charges.
She entered Edna House hopeless, riddled with guilt and shame. “Where did my life go?” she wondered. She was convinced that, at 38, she had burned through all of her chances in life, so being sent to a halfway house in an unfamiliar city was pointless. The charges of her probation violation came in: Ten more years in prison. She felt that she finally had enough and was ready to do whatever it takes to give up her addiction, but it was too little too late. Now she was to live with the consequences of her actions for a decade behind bars.
But surprisingly, in the summer of 2021, the judge showed mercy and lowered her felony charge to a misdemeanor. She no longer faced the threat of a prison sentence. He had no reason to grant her leniency, but now she was given one final chance to set things right. She considers this to be a miracle that allowed her to turn her life around.
Edna House was the key to this turnaround. Living with other women who faced similar issues showed her that she is not alone and how to live a healthy life. “Edna House was probably the best thing that happened because it took me out. For six months, I was surrounded by other women who changed their lives. There’s just something really special about Edna. When the Edna alumni come in, it’s not just that they’re sober, it’s that they’re successful and doing really well for themselves which is super encouraging,” she feels.
Once she had been in the program for six months, she started working as a parking lot attendant at the United Bank Building on W. 25th. She has been doing this now for a year. She even found a second job working at MetroHealth with women in recovery. She was surprised that MetroHealth would hire someone like her, given her background. But her background is the exact reason why they hired her: They wanted someone who can show struggling women that recovery is possible.
Falling into the mire of addiction can happen to anyone. But so can redemption. Jennifer is living proof of this. She will soon enter Cleveland State to finish her degree in social work. She is committed to helping other women recover. Despite all the trauma her addiction has put her family through, she is still close to her parents and children whom she visits on the weekends. She is grateful for the opportunities she has received since coming to Cleveland. And she is not afraid to confront the choices she made in the past which made her who she is today. But most importantly, she envisions a bright future for herself and her family. She can now be an attentive mother to her children and productive member of society: “I’m not fearful all the time of what’s going to catch up to me. I can be a good example to people. I can’t change anybody, but I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and be supportive.”
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