Kelli Elliott is a twenty-six year old woman who paroled in March 2010 from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. Kelli participated in an alternative incarceration program (AIP) which is an intensive accelerated release program that allows qualified participants to reduce their prison sentences under the condition of increased supervision for 90 days upon release.
The following is Kelli’s story, in her own words.
My story has to come from my heart and nowhere else. I often find myself wondering what makes a person’s life experience a story, and very simply I find that a person’s life struggles and successes are a story in itself. I’m honored to have the opportunity to share mine.
I grew up as many children do today with only a mother to rely on. My mother raised my older sister and me alone. She worked full time and went to college when I was about 8. She never wanted for much, just to provide the best she could for my sister and I. I found myself at about the age of 12 seeking a world that was unknown to me and I began wanting more than my mother could provide, so I found that I could steal whatever it was I was wanting. It became my very first addiction and little did I know many would follow. I met my childrens father within those years and became sexually active at the age of 13 and then pregnant at 14. I gave birth to our first child at the age of 15.
My first success came about the year my daughter turned 2; I graduated high school. At that time in my life things were so good for my daughter and I, and then I was given a choice to move back East with my family or stay with the father of my children and his family. I decided to stay with the father of my children and this was a decision that changed all the years to come. I made a decision to grow up too fast. I lost a lot of my youth to an addiction I never knew existed.
I became pregnant again at the age of 18 and gave birth to my first son and again at 19 gave birth to my second daughter. I was now 19 with three children to raise and an addiction I still had no clue existed. I did what I thought I had to do in order to survive. I began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I recall it being fun at first, but very quickly it became too much to bear. I started putting the needs of my addiction above the needs of my children. I got my first DUI on my 21st birthday.
By the time I had my second son, my fourth child overall, I had already been in three in-patient centers and had been in and out of jail ten times. I had lived in three different homeless shelters with my children and every time I seemed to make some type of valuable step in my life the disease of addiction always took back over. I was at my bottom but I refused to see it. Then came one night I will never forget. I left my children with a babysitter to go out seeking whatever it was I felt I was missing in my life in the streets and got in a car accident while under the influence. It was January 2008. I sat in Inverness Jail for about seven months before I accepted I was going to prison. While in jail I took the first parenting group they offered, attended church services every week, and attended NA and AA meetings. I knew from that point on I wanted something more for my self and was willing to give anything a try. I arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility sitting on a 60-month sentence with the possibility of AIP after a mandatory 18 months.
By the time I had served the 18 months, I got to see my children and hold them for the first time since the night of the car accident. That moment changed things for me inside those walls…I wanted to go home. I got a really good job as a carpenter and earned my way into the Turning Point treatment program that would allow me to go home early. In the treatment program I knew there was so much to be changed and change was and is the hardest thing for an addict such as myself to have to face. I found myself day and night reaching for the person I truly wanted to leave prison as – an honest, willing woman who would no longer allow her past to control her and her childrens’ futures.
I paroled March 9th, 2010. I struggled to face the reality that I was placed in a state unknown to me and still so far from my children and family who were on the other side of the state line. So much was still hanging over my head. Mercy Corps Northwest’s Reentry Transition Center (RTC) was there to lift my when I felt down and encourage me when I felt hopeless. For me, it is a home away from home. I have never felt judged, but so safe with all that I’ve become, and so able to share myself and the most important goals I was striving to achieve. In the time that I have worked with the RTC I have regained full custody of all four of my children, completed my outpatient treatment, and been awarded with my DUI certificate. I have also talked to many panels about my life experiences in hopes of helping those who follow.
Life is still a daily struggle for me as I strive to always, no matter what, do the right thing and be a living amends to my children and family and to stay connected with those I have set long-term goals with. Through the struggle of getting my children back, regaining housing and staying in compliance with parole, it has all been worth it, especially when I hear my children tell me they love me as they wrap their arms around me. I have tremendous gratitude for the services offered to me through Mercy Corps Northwest and the Reentry Transition Center and still today they remain beside me in all I go through. I am most proud of regaining custody of my children, but more importantly that I didn’t run when things got real tough for me through that process. For many years I ran from anything that was out of my control, but today I know something more – I ask for help and seek out support.
My advice for those who face similar experiences is just be real with yourself and all else will fall in its place. Give life of recovery a chance. It is worth every moment.