While other children were playing at age 11, Erica was selling drugs.
“I come from a long line of convicted felons,” she explained. “I was molested at a young age, and I started doing drugs to cover up the pain. In my family, you weren’t allowed to show emotions; it made you weak on the streets.”
Erica was 16 years old when she caught her first criminal charge, which sent her to a juvenile detention center. She stayed away from drugs for a for a few years before being federally convicted at age 19.
“I did federal camp for a year, and then I was put on parole. I had three kids in the process,” Erica explained. “I was still a drug dealer but did not expose my kids to that world. I sold drugs, I worked, and I raised my children. I put them through college. My kids knew I did drugs, but I will still a mom. Most parents don’t go into the bedroom and stay there for an hour with the doors locked.”
Once her children grew up and moved out of the house, Erica adopted the mindset that she could do whatever she wanted. She was charged in 2003 with petty drug charges at a random traffic stop.
For the next 13 years, Erica said her life was “real hectic” – she started stealing guns and was arrested in 2016 for theft of firearms. She was let out on bail, but she “jumped” state and caught even more charges. That was when her drug addiction “really” took hold. In 2018, an entire SWAT team caught her – but it was a seemingly endless cycle.
“I knew how to play the system,” Erica said. “I was manipulative. I was selfish. I knew how to talk my way out of every situation. I was a chameleon.”
In 2020, Erica was kidnapped and held captive for five days.
“I escaped by the grace of God,” she said. “I got out, but nobody came looking for us. I was beat head to toe. I went and hid. I was afraid the people who kidnapped me would come looking for me. I called some people I trusted and told them I needed to hide. They took me to a campsite, where I spent most of my time. I had a man who beat me all the time. Everyone was afraid of him. My addiction to meth was really bad. If he was going to kill me, I wasn’t going to feel it. That’s what meth was for me – it was misery. I was finally brave enough to call the police, despite my warrants.”
Still, that wasn’t enough for Erica to beat her addiction.
“I was beat one more time. He caught me behind a gas station and beat my head against a wall. I was doing drugs in the hospital, while trying to heal from a brain injury.”
When she exited the hospital, she went right back to the streets, cut off all her hair and became “ruthless.”
“I started to care about nobody but myself. I hurt a lot a lot of people,” Erica explained.
Eventually, the father of her children chased her with a machete, and she turned herself in on May 2, 2021 – which is now her sobriety date.
“I hit my knees in the middle of a thunderstorm, screaming at God. The only thing I knew in that moment is that I didn’t want to die.”
The judge was planning to send Erica to prison, but due to her brain injury, Erica had a social worker with her in court. The social worker told the judge, “We can send her to prison. I don’t take up for many people, but I see Erica in a different light. If you put her in prison, you are just going to make her a better criminal. How about we try breaking the chains?”
The social worker encouraged the judge to send Erica to a lockdown facility where she couldn’t run … a place where she could change the way she thinks about the world and work through the trauma with professional therapy.
Erica was sent to the Healing Place in June 2021.
“I didn’t plan on changing. I didn’t even plan on sitting still,” Erica said. “I kept trying to call people to get me out of there, but no one would answer their phone. I was in Louisville, and I knew nothing about Louisville. I didn’t know how to get home, and I heard bad stories about girls who tried to leave. I decided to sit still.”
Knowing she was a runner, Erica’s new parole officer asked her, “What is six months of your life? You can just sit here. You don’t have to do anything.”
Eventually, Erica sat still long enough to start learning some things about herself.
“I started to meet people like me. When you are in the madness, you don’t realize other people are going through the same thing. You feel alone. I never liked women, but some women started to support me. They had been through some of the same things, and they were sober. They were happy. They had genuine smiles. I thought, if they can do it, I can do it. That’s how I programmed my brain. I have always been up for a challenge.”
Erica went to rehab for six months and eventually became a peer mentor supervisor.
“I got to give back to all the girls that were fresh, just coming in, in the first part of the program. I would tell them, ‘You don’t have to do a whole lot. You can just sit still. Eventually, you’ll want to do it.’”
When Erica attempted to find a job, no employer would hire her.
“I was a bail jumper; I had identity theft charges. I looked real unreliable to any company.”
Erica remembered going through Goodwill’s Reintegrating Individuals Successfully Every Day (RISE) program during rehab, so she reached out to her class instructor, Sam.
“I told her I didn’t know what to do. Nobody will give me a job,” Erica said, “Boredom is not good for me.”
Sam sent Erica to Goodwill’s Opportunity Center on East Broadway, where she met Amanda Milby. Amanda helped Erica – who was not good with computers – put in an application. Erica applied for a production clerk position.
“When I went in for my interview, I was kind of mute at first,” Erica said, “I had never been in a job interview. And this one happened to be on my one-year sobriety anniversary.”
The hiring manager, Chad, decided to have the assistant manager Jennifer do the interview, because Erica was more comfortable with her.
“Chad’s intuition is something else,” Erica said. “He can see someone’s worth through their brokenness. Thankfully, Jennifer saw I had skills, even though I never used them for anything good.”
Chad declined Erica for the production clerk position. Instead, he offered a team lead position!
“I said no,” Erica reflected. “I will lead your team into the ground.”
Chad, not taking no for an answer, told Erica he would train her personally.
“I knew I had to start trusting people,” Erica said. “Chad was one of the first people I trusted fully with helping me put the pieces back together. I started at the Northfield store and have flourished from there. There are not enough words in the dictionary to explain how grateful I am.”
Before Erica even hit her 90-day mark, she was promoted to assistant store manager! She now works at the Bardstown store.
“I am the voice of the people. I get to help women like me see their value,” Erica said, “No matter what kind of life you live, you can do something different. You can pick up the pieces and start over.”
Today, Erica is married (to another Goodwiller!), has reestablished her relationship with her children and is a grandmother.
“So many people think they have messed up their lives indefinitely, but I get to show them that you can lay that life down. You can start from scratch, especially at Goodwill. I made so many bad decisions. But Goodwill opened their arms. Now, I look behind me and show others the way up. I say, ‘This is what you can become.’”