Work, family and faith help Sarah Andrews rebuild her life after incarceration.
By August Frank & Kaylee Domzalski
When Sarah Andrews learned she was pregnant with Suzanna, something changed. It was the moment she knew she needed to take the first step down the road to redemption.
The 38-year-old, who lives in Eugene, said she was determined not to fall into old habits— specifically, an 18-year methamphetamine addiction. Her first two children had been taken by Child Protective Services 9 years earlier. She’d been in and out of homelessness and abusive relationships. She was wanted on a two-year warrant for failing to appear in court for a drug charge.
“With a face flushed with tears, I dropped to my knees, and I cried out, Lord, please take my life and make it yours,” she said. “He took my addiction, he took my depression, my self-hatred, my fears, and he gave me a new will to live.”
Three weeks after her baby was born, Sarah voluntarily visited the probation office to turn herself in. She spent six months at Wilsonville’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, without Suzanna. She qualified for early release and a year-long program with Sponsors Inc. “But now, I had a mountain to climb,” she said.
That mountain is particularly steep for women like Sarah. According to the National Institute of Justice, 76.6 percent of Americans who spend time in prison are arrested again in five years. Sarah is determined to overcome what the statistics predict.
Sarah cuts Suzanna’s nails before topping them with polish. Sarah counts Suzanna as her primary motivation for overcoming addiction. “She was like a new chance to be a parent and prove to the world and to myself that I really was meant to be a mother,” Sarah said.
Suzanna bursts into a fit, sparking Sarah’s commitment to provide emotional support. “I should have already been there with my other two,” she said of her teenage children who now live in her mother’s custody. “But I’m an addict.”
Each night, Sarah and Suzanna eat dinner on a small plastic folding table. The two have lived in their Eugene apartment since Sarah completed the sponsor’s program about 8 months ago.
Sarah sits in a digital design class at Lane Community College, where she enrolled last year after completing her final GED test in the Sponsors program. In pursuing a degree in multimedia and graphic art design, she sees a path forward. Sarah earned a 4.1 grade point average in her first term, and is looking to transfer to the University of Oregon.
Sarah walks down the hallway while performing housekeeping duties for Willamette Family Inc. The treatment facility provides a space for people to detox. Serving the patients is a motivating, stabilizing force in Sarah’s life, and it’s helpful for those overcoming addiction to interact with someone who has been in the same shoes, she said. “I can say: If I can do it, you can do it.”
Sarah takes a break from work to phone her mother. Sarah said their relationship, now on the mend, is scarred with years of personal hurt stemming from drug addiction, theft and betrayal of trust.
Sarah sits in the Marcola Christian Church with her cousin Violet Gott. Sarah called Violet after turning herself in, and they began attending Springfield’s Celebrate Recovery meetings together. Sarah and Violet share a history of using drugs dating back to their teenage years. Today, the two share faith, a force that drives their commitment to recovery.
At two years old, Suzanna is too young to remember Sarah’s life before she found stability. But for Sarah’s other children, Lukas, 16, and Jillian, 13, the memories remain. Lukas and Jillian live in the custody of Sarah’s mother, but Sarah is determined to be their rock— “Someone that’s immovable and will always be there,” she said.
Violet recounts her transformation from methamphetamine addict to future missionary during a Sunday church service. “I look at those eyes and think that the lights are out,” Gott says of her inmate photo. She spent ten days in the Lane County Jail for theft, possession of a controlled substance and a variety of misdemeanors.
Sarah and Suzanna quiet the apartment before dinner. “The purpose of a tragedy is that there’s something to be learned,” she said. “There’s kind of glory in your troubles. You have to be thankful for your troubles. I’m thankful for mine.”