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Alpha House: Jail to joy

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Oliver Springs program gives women second chance

By Cindy Simpson

Inspired by jail ministry, a cheery Oliver Springs house offers a second chance to women who have been part of the criminal justice system.

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Four women at a time are allowed in the six-month Alpha House program. Most have drug addictions and have come from broken families and abuse.
“It has completely turned me around,” said Missy King. “It has shown me all the energy and effort I put into staying high I can put all that energy and effort into doing something good.”
King said she reached out for help after she attempted suicide. Her family told her she needed to find help.
She recalls with pain what she did to herself and her loved ones.
“I was doing just unnecessary things to people to feed my addiction,” King said. She said she almost caused her sister to lose her job.
It was the growing number of jailed women and the impact it has on their families that inspired four sisters to found Alpha House ministries.
“The rate of women being incarcerated is growing leaps and bounds. Looking at that, we really wanted to be able to serve as many woman as we can,” said co-founder Teddi Dison. “When you help a woman and restore her life, you impact her children and the generations to come.”
Dison and her three sisters started the program after Dison was touched by jail ministry and felt called to do more. The doors to the first house opened in December 2008. They hope to eventually expand the program into other counties.
The program is free to those approved.
“If she has a heart to really change we don’t want it to be (hampered) on her ability to pay,” Dison said.
So far the program has helped 69 women, and Dison said they have a 97 percent success rate.
“By that I mean that people who have been in the program have graduated and went on. We continue to maintain contact. They are employed, housed, reunited with children and family,” Dison said.
The faith-based program is approved by the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole.
King is not the only resident who sees real change in herself since coming to the home where they participate in meetings such as Celebrate Recovery that help them deal with issues such as addiction.
Each week a woman has a Bible verse to memorize, most often one selected because it pertains to some troubles the woman has at that moment.
Bible study, attending church and preparing to return to normal life are all part of their weeks.
A typical day starts at getting ready for the day at 7 a.m. and breakfast around 8 before daily activities begin.
Denise Lee comes from Indiana, and she said the judge where she grew up thought she wouldn’t make any progress at rehabilitation if she stayed close to home.
Drugs have been a part of her life since childhood.
“I came from a broken home. That is how I was raised with drugs around me ever since I was little,” she said.
Lee said she was in court for escape when she got the opportunity to go to Alpha House, but she also has other charges such as possession of the narcotics and was an intravenous methamphetamine user.
“God has definitely changed that. He’s definitely freed me from that,” she said.
“I quit smoking (cigarettes) on the program. I smoked since I was 12  years old.”
She has to go back to Indiana to deal with court, but she hopes to bring her family back to East Tennessee.
Lee and her co-residents Julie Wilson and Brittni Watzlawick each have a son and daughter.
Wilson has been fighting addiction for about 30 years and said she’s been abusing meth the last 11 years.
“I sat in jail for four and a half months this last time,” said Wilson, who said she was introduced through jail ministry to the program.
She said Alpha House has helped her overcome much.
“I grew up in a very abusive environment. I was living with a man 20 years who was very abusive. I married into a very abusive relationship. I’ve had a lot of trauma, but I’ve really overcome so much in my life since being in Alpha,” Wilson said.
She hopes to do jail ministry when she is done.
“I’m hoping I can reach someone through what I have been through. They can see God can change anybody. It is amazing,” Wilson said.
Watzlawick, who was incarcerated in Anderson County, is the newest of those currently at Alpha House, so she’s not experienced the program at its fullest yet.
“I got so overwhelmed when I got here. The girls were really good. They showed me around a little bit and told me what to do. You can definitely just feel (love) from all of them,” Watzlawick said.
“It is like a big bottle of perfume, and you can’t help getting some on you,” Wilson said.
She said she looks forward to a completely different life.
“I also have children so I would love to be there for them,” she said.