How one small decision changed Khristeen’s life forever
Estranged from her mother and father, Khristeen’s teenage years were turbulent. By the age of 12, Khristeen had run away from home and ended up in a detention facility. After her release, she lived with her best friend’s family for several years. “They took me in as their own,” she says. But when she was 17, Khristeen met Kyle* who became the father of her first 2 children. “He was 8 years older than me, and he had numerous girlfriends.” Eventually, Khristeen lost custody of Hazel*.
But when her second child, Molly* came along, Khristeen, “was really determined to do the right thing, because I didn’t want her to be taken away from me.” Molly was about 3 years old when Khristeen met the father of her youngest three children. “That was a domestic violence situation, and that’s when I got into drugs.” As family life became increasingly unstable, both Molly and her 18-month old sister, Megan*, were taken away from Khristeen. “That’s when I hit the drugs even harder. I started dealing drugs, and ended up in prison. For the next 10 years I was in and out of prison, and I tried everything to get clean. I tried rehab and programs, but nothing worked.”
But 3 years ago, Khristeen made a decision that turned her life around.
“It was my darkest time in prison. I used to watch the women go to their Bible study, and something just drew me to them. So I went in one day and I just sat there and listened. Then I said to one of the girls, ‘I want you to read me the whole Bible from the beginning. I just want to know it all!’ As she read to me, I just broke down crying. I didn’t know what was happening, but the other girls told me that I’d received the Holy Spirit.”
Many people in the prison were shocked by Khristeen’s sudden transformation. She was well-known for her anger and aggression in the prison, and both the inmates and the staff could see how much she had changed. “I went back into the prison community [after the Bible study] and I was telling everyone what had just happened to me. They couldn’t believe it. For days and weeks I went on about God.”
“All of a sudden I started getting letters and visits from family. I had never had visits or letters before. It was like God said, ‘Here you go, have all of this back.’”
With 5 young children on the outside, Khristeen met with a prison chaplain who encouraged her on her journey. When she requested that birthday and Christmas gifts be sent to her children, the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree team took care of everything. “They kept the connection between me and my kids alive.”
Back in the community, church has been an important part of Khristeen’s life. “I have people I can call on. It’s like having another family.”
For the last 7 years, Khristeen has been estranged from her father. “I put him through a fair bit as a teenager,” she says, “So we got distant.” But when he flew into town for his father’s funeral, Khristeen met him at the airport, and it was as if the air was instantly cleared. “It was like old times. He spent time with Molly too. It was great to be all together.”
“God’s brought family back into my life. He’s brought joy and housing and employment. He’s given me the willpower to fight for these things.”
Someone Who Cares
Having someone on the outside to rely on and trust made all the difference. As Khristeen explains, “In prison, I used to have one-on-one mentoring with Pat who was a Prison Fellowship volunteer. We’d open the Bible together. The Prison Fellowship mentors were more than just mentors, though – I could talk to them about anything in the prison or outside the prison. At Christmas we’d make gingerbread houses with them, and they would send them out to our families.”
“I think [prison] would have been a very dark place without those volunteers. They brought a lot of love and care into the prison. The girls would be lost without them. They brought the rainbow back into the prison.”
When Khristeen was released on bail, a Prison Fellowship volunteer, Helen, would pick her up and drive from Hobart to Launceston for her court hearings. “It was so important to have Helen in my life. There isn’t anything we can’t talk about. She’s our foster-nan.”
One Custodial Officer also played a key role in supporting Khristeen during her sentence giving her counselling and being a supportive figure. “When I said I was doing this interview, she said, ‘Make sure you mention that I’ve learnt something from you, as well as you’ve learnt something from me.’”
It hasn’t happened all at once, but Khristeen is rebuilding her life after her release from prison.
“I reconnected with my best friend from school, the one who took me in when I was a teenager. We hadn’t spoken for 7 years. But she and her husband and their kids took me in, and I lived there for two and a half years. With their support and love, I was able to gain a fresh look on life.”
“I started some seasonal work, and I got clean from the drugs. I was going to church every Sunday. I felt strong enough to stand on my own two feet. So I moved out and got my own rental.” Khristeen now has a home of her own, and her daughter, Molly, is living with her.
“I feel like I’ve been reborn – I look back and think, was I really that person? It’s like a movie.”
However, finding work has been difficult. “If I tried to get a job, no one was going to hire me. I had to rebuild my reputation.” So she began volunteering at local markets to build up her resume. “I wanted to build up rapport so I could get a paying job,” she explains.
“I really felt I was giving things back [to the community] that I took over the years. I used to steal, and did some horrible things. Since my eyes were opened, I had to give back to show I wasn’t that person. I had remorse from all those things.”
Khristeen has been working part time in forestry, and is so pleased to be able to have a house of her own and the independence it brings.
“It Has to be God!”
As Khristeen enjoys her life back in the community, she continues to grow deeper connections with her children. “I’ve started having weekly visits with my girls. I can be a mum, and [Child Protection is] happy to close Molly’s case!” Molly has almost finished high school and is excited for the future. But most of all, Khristeen is just happy to have Molly living with her again.
“I’ve just got to keep plodding along,” she says. “There’s no way I’ll ever go back to the old me. I’ve had a blessed life for the last 3 years. It has to be God – I’ve tried mentoring and programs before and it hasn’t succeeded. But something is different this time. Drugs don’t interest me anymore. I just have this sort of power behind me. I’ve got God and my daughter, and they’re the only two people I need.”
“Without that Bible study I would be doing the same old things. I tried every rehab program, I tried every other mentoring program and nothing seemed to work for me. If I didn’t go in there that day, I wonder where my life would be now.”
“I’m amazed at the life I’m living now – being reformed from drugs, having my family back in my life, working part time, and having Molly home.”
“I’m blessed to have the Prison Fellowship people in my life. I have made a life-long friend in Helen. She has never left me while I’ve been on my journey. She has fulfilled her role in Post-Release support with Prison Fellowship perfectly. I have God in my life, and I’m doing the right thing.”
*Names have been changed