Meet Dana Ryan – A Woman Who Never Gives Up
When Dana walked into the room to be interviewed for this article, it was hard to picture her in her previous life – homeless, addicted, bedraggled, disheveled, sick in body and mind. Now, she exudes positivity, joy, and health. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out, who has completely turned her life around and is embracing life in all its richness. Dana hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to keep on trying and never give up.
Before prison, the low point –
I was an alcoholic. I was in and out of recovery but my pride and ego got me into a lot of trouble. I wouldn’t ask questions. I wouldn’t admit I was struggling and needed help. Going to prison was a direct result of my alcoholism. I was homeless living under the bridge. I went from being a homeless drunk on the street to being suicidal. I knew that low point, the “incomprehensible demoralization” that they talk about in the big book. I had burned every bridge. The shame, guilt and failure that I felt at that time was overpowering everything. Prison saved my life.
During prison, making changes –
I knew I had to change. Church ladies came into the jail and talked to me. One lady wrote to me all the time. Dennis, Lawana, Julie and June – came into the prison every other Monday and ran our AA meeting. They brought the paperwork to work the steps. People wrote to us, encouraging us. I went to church. I worked. I went to AA meetings. People helped me and believed in me. They gave me hope. I got involved. I took a textiles program and learned how to make quilts. I made nine of them while incarcerated. I got sober. Right before I got out, I said to myself, the only thing I’m going to change is everything.
After prison, struggle –
September 2015, 21 months in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, I was released. I didn’t know where I was going, what my housing would be. My parole officer set me up at The Estates, a clean and sober living facility, on their transitional housing floor for six months. Since then, I’ve had quite a struggle to succeed, but it’s been amazing. I made my way to RTC within a few days of release. Ailene has been my navigator, and she immediately set me up with clothes, bus passes, eyeglasses so I could see and dental work. Then I went to Luby for help with employment. She set me up with computer time and assistance. I applied for several jobs – Joanne’s Fabrics, the Zoo, the Convention Center, a landscaping company. They all liked me, hired me, but then denied me weeks later due to a background check. They just would not hire felons. It was incredibly frustrating and discouraging to be turned down so many times. Luby helped me see this as “interview practice.” I just kept going, never gave up hope, kept checking. That hope came from my faith. I have this amazing God, who guides me and directs me and keeps me strong when I’m not very strong. Then I had hernia surgery in November, and was out of commission for several weeks.
RTC kept in touch, calling, checking in, sending me to job fairs, etc. In October, I applied to New Seasons Market, and they told me they hired from within for that position, but said they would keep my info on file for other opportunities. Soon after, other New Seasons stores called me with open positions, and finally the Sellwood Store interviewed and hired me for housekeeping. They are an open-minded, generous business, with diverse employees, and they treat their employees well. Housekeeping is an amazing job. I run all over the store. I’m right in the middle of customer service. I keep everything clean. I do cart runs. I bag groceries. I’m responsible for all sorts of things. God put me in the most amazing position that I could ever want to be in. I love my job, my team, and they love me. I work hard. On the 1st of June, I’m going to have benefits, for the first time in years. I’m so grateful.
I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I’ll have three years sober in October. I go to meetings. I have a sponsor. I stay sober no matter what. People have to want to get sober more than anything in the world. Through all the struggles, I didn’t drink. I continued to stay clean and sober, to do the next right thing. I don’t have another recovery in me. AA gives you an extended family. If I can give back even a little of what’s been given to me since I got out. What I would tell someone who’s struggling is that I’ve been there, and there’s hope. I’d guide them, let them know that they have a friend, let them know we can succeed. The biggest thing is I didn’t give up. You get discouraged, you get shot down. You just gotta keep going. Trust the process and trust God that it will all fall into place. That’s the advice that I can give. I was there.
Support & Advice –
Portland has so many resources. Coming out, you’re lost and you’re scared. All you need is a little bit of hope, someone who believes in you. First thing I tell someone struggling is go to RTC. I send people there all the time. I can’t stress enough what Luby and Ailene have done for me. Ailene has gone above and beyond; she gave me her son’s bike that he outgrew, work boots for my job. Luby still checks in on me. If it wasn’t for Ailene, Luby and RTC believing in me, I don’t think I would be in this place. What these people do for people coming out of prison is fantastic. I’m so grateful for that. The Estates, where I was living, is part of Central City Concern who also provides employment access, Clean and Safe, with volunteering leading to paid work. My case manager, Jeff took me to food banks and got me connected to a jogging group. Also, my parents are a huge support. They visited me in prison. When I got out they were wary. It took a while, but I did gain my parents’ trust again. I would love everyone to know that there is hope. Leave pride at the door. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s the only way to make it. Even when it seems like there is no hope, there is hope. I’m happy if I can just give a little bit of hope to people by sharing my story, letting them know I’ve been there, that I understand and relate, or by giving them something, anything, to give them a bit of help – a blanket, shoes, a bus pass, pots and pans, whatever they need. I have God, I have recovery, I have a roof over my head, I have a job. What more do I need?
The Good Life –
I recently moved into Brite Spot recovery house, in beautiful Damascus, living with 7 strong and inspiring women, 1 dog, 3 cats and a bunch of chickens. I joined a biking club. I also get amazing love and support from my fiancé, Andy and cat Joey. We just got our fishing poles and licenses – we love to fish. I’d like to get married. I want to run Hood to Coast. I love my job, and would like to stay with New Seasons forever and I envision myself advancing within the company. Right now, I’m good right where I’m at. That’s what’s up!