The Carnie Kid: Rachel’s “Round and Round She Goes” Roller Coaster Life -Part 2
In which Rachel does “horrible, disgusting things”… and has them done to her. She faces 35 years; that is, until a judge plays “Let’s Make a Deal” and Rachel chooses the door with the winning prize.
The Devil Under the Bridge
As is often the case, when Rachel’s husband left with their daughter, instead of that being her “come to Jesus” moment, it became her “run from Jesus” moment. Adding meth to her prescription pain meds was a killer cocktail that pushed her over the edge. Soon, she began doing things she never thought in a million years she would do.
“I started doing horrible, disgusting things—some of which I can’t even talk about,” says Rachel. “I robbed people and stole from stores. My addiction turned me into a criminal. I may not have lost my mind completely, but I for sure, lost my morals.”
She also never thought she would be homeless. But she was, and it “was the scariest time in my life,” says Rachel.
“At one point, I was living under a bridge. And there was this guy who lived on the other side. He was so scary; I’m sure he was demon possessed. He was always praying to the Nazis and never wore any clothes—just like the demoniac in the Bible. And I was beaten up. I was raped. I was robbed. When you’re on drugs, everyone will take advantage of you, because you’re so vulnerable. They prey on you, knowing that you can’t take care of yourself. It was pure hell.”
“It’s okay with Jesus cus’ I’m stealing this stuff to help other people.”
Despite her newfound life of crime, Rachel did have a moral compass. When she was a child, her grandmother would take her to the Mission for meals and the bread giveaway. Afterwards, they would stay for chapel and she would tell her granddaughter about Jesus. And that’s how the seeds of salvation were sown in Rachel’s heart. Although those seeds weren’t watered enough to produce a healthy and thriving life, nonetheless, Rachel could never completely escape what she knew to be true: that Jesus loved her, no matter what.
“I believed in Him. And I knew He loved me, but drugs, I’m telling you, they change your way of thinking. I mean, the way you start rationalizing your behavior, of trying to justify stuff, is crazy! At one point, I remember thinking, Jesus is okay with what I’m doing, because I’m stealing this stuff to help other people.”
Becoming Robin Hood to help the “down and out” sounds heroic, but Rachel knew it was wrong. She just couldn’t seem to stop stealing. She even stole toys at Christmas to give to her daughter. Not surprisingly, her life of crime caught up to her and she went to jail. The first time she was in there for 355 days, charged with robbery. It wasn’t because of the amount stolen, which was actually under $950 (under $950 is considered petty theft; over that amount is considered robbery) but because of the nature of her crime.
California’s three strikes law is complicated, but the upshot of it all was the last time Rachel was arrested, she had hit a retail security protection agent in the face with a metal water bottle. Suddenly, she was facing 35 years in prison.
Beatty’s Bet: Let’s Make a Deal!
By God’s mercy, Rachel found herself in front of Judge Beatty and in true game show fashion, the judge “was dealin.” Beatty offered her three options: Door #1: Go to prison for eleven years, and probably be out in seven. Door #2: Go to a recovery program and be on probation for three years. Door #3: Serve the full 35 years, IF she opted out of a recovery program, or went, but didn’t complete it. If that were to happen, then the 11-year sentence would be off the table and Rachel would be in prison until her daughter was almost 40 years old.
Door #2 was clearly her best option; however, it also meant she could not screw up—not even a little. To make matters worse, even her own attorney didn’t believe she could make it through a recovery program. Therefore, he advocated for Door #1—against Rachel’s wishes. Rachel believed she could be successful in recovery. And there was a good reason why:
“By that time, I had been in jail for a long time,” says Rachel. “While I was in there, I met an amazing woman, Chaplain Margaret. She gave me a Bible and I was reading it every single day. And through that, I came to believe that God had a purpose and a plan for me greater than what my attorney, or even myself, could ever imagine. And I knew that as long as I followed Him, staying true to what he wanted for my life, then I was going to be okay.”
So Rachel went through Door #2 and ended up in a recovery program, though it was not The Mission’s New Life Recovery Program. Ultimately, she would end up at New Life, but through a circuitous route. She didn’t fail the other program—she just had some differing opinions on how much any program should intervene in a student’s family life.
Rachel parted the first recovery program on good terms and credits them with giving her the foundation she needed to succeed at New Life. And succeed she has. “I absolutely love New Life, says Rachel. “I’ve been clean and sober for five years. And just as important, fear is no longer part of my life. Before I was in fear almost every day—it ruled my life. But not anymore, because ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ And that ‘perfect love’ is Jesus.”
The Fight For Me Club
Understandably, Rachel was petrified when she first came to New Life. After all, she had a lot riding on her success. Because of her failure to complete the program at the other recovery place, she almost wasn’t accepted into New Life. And that would have meant going straight back to prison, facing a possible 35 years. But God gave her a champion.
“One of the case managers, a woman named Trish, really believed I was supposed to be there and so she fought for me,” says Rachel. “I mean, she’s like that…she champions people whom she believes in. And I never had anyone do that for me.”
One of the other ways Trish fought for Rachel, was to help her get guardianship over her daughter, Kira, restored—something she had lost when she was incarcerated. During her time at New Life, they were working towards family restoration; however, only her husband was the legal parent of Kira–that is, until just recently, when her name was finally put on the adoption papers alongside her husband’s. Rachel was overjoyed. She had waited for 14 years long years for this day.
Besides the case manager, Judge Beatty and the prison chaplain, there were numerous others who helped Rachel along the way. One of those people was the then-director of the Mission’s Academic Center. Because of her, Rachel was able to learn the basic skills she needed to start college. She also went through a deep “What do I want to do with the rest of my life” reflective process that helped her to identify her dreams and what she needed to do to achieve them.
About the Author: Jenni Keast is the Mission’s marketing content coordinator and a lover of jean jackets, the Great Outdoors, photography and all things Mid-century Modern. Her favorite authors are Holy Spirit (the Bible) G.K. Chesterson, C.S. Lewis, Leif Enger and Walter Isaacson, to name just a few.
On March 31, 2022, Jenni was in a near-fatal auto accident. Miraculously , she survived and is finally back to doing what God has called her to do and what she loves best: storytelling…especially writing stories of transformation of people who were once stuck in cycles of homelessness and addiction but are now living free from the shame and bondages of the past. “So if the Son sets you free from sin, then become a true son and be unquestionably free” (John 8:36)!