Member Agency Story

“Who Will Believe in Me?”—A Young Mother Coming Out of Prison Finds Encouragement, Support and Healing

A story about Advocacy and Social Policy Initiatives featuring Catholic Social Services Columbus

When Shawna got out of prison, she was determined to get her children back and make a better life for herself and them. But she was nervous. Who was going to have as much faith in her as she did in herself? She called around for parenting classes and everyone told her no except for Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Columbus, OH. They let her in right away.

Shawna enjoyed the classes, learning and practicing good parenting techniques with supportive teachers. When she found out that CSS offered counseling, she was eager to start. “I wanted to keep talking and seeking help.”

Shawna’s counselor gave her the tools to understand her life in a different light. She had grown up in a way no child should have to. Her mother was addicted to drugs and mired in a dark and vicious world, which, as a young child, Shawna was exposed to.

“I had guns held up to me. I saw my mom shot at and handcuffed to a car while they drove around,” said Shawna.

When her mother would disappear for weeks, Shawna would stay with her grandmother. Both physically and verbally abusive, her grandmother told Shawna that she was going to be a “whore” and a drug abuser just like her mother.

“People don’t understand that when they instill that in you, that’s what you know,” said Shawna. Her mother didn’t believe her when she told her, at age 8, that she was being sexually abused. When her grandmother found that it was true, she had Shawna come and live with her for good. About two months later, Shawna heard on the news about a woman’s body that had been found.

“I knew it was my mother. I loved my mother. It didn’t matter that she was a crack whore,” said Shawna. “She loved me and showed me affection.”

Shawna ended up in foster care, but could never let herself get close to anyone. As time went on, she began following in her mother’s footsteps—using drugs, going in and out of jail, having babies. It’s what she knew—it was normal.

When she was sent to prison, something clicked. She was on the wrong path. “I wanted something different, something different for my kids,” said Shawna. “When I walked out, whatever brick was on me fell to the ground. I wasn’t going to give up on my children.”

Today, Shawna is working toward her goals. “When you’re a child and go through a lifelong trauma, you don’t come out of it just like that. You need the help,” said Shawna. “I’m not all the way together, but I’m trying. I’m getting there.”

Having the support of her friends at Catholic Social Services has given her strength to keep moving forward. “Believing in yourself is good, but it’s even better when you have others believing in you, too.”

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    Columbus, OH 43215

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