Graduating from Addiction: Local woman finds freedom through determination, faith

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - 14 felonies. Eight overdoses. Two suicide attempts.

It's a lot to go through in only 27 years of life, but after 13 years of drug abuse, Chelsea Jones says she's done.

Jones, who's from Suffolk, graduated from Youth Challenge of Hampton Roads, a year-long, local addiction program, on February 22.

Chelsea Jones and her four-year-old son

“I was 14 [when I got into drugs]. It started with prescription pills and quickly went to heroin," Jones recalled. "I think I had some depression I was self-medicating for [and] I didn’t fit in at school... My mom, growing up, was an addict.”

Run-ins with the law, broken relationships with her parents and numerous failed attempts to get clean followed. Even giving birth to her son four years ago wasn't enough for Jones to break her addiction.

It wasn't until her last stay in jail in 2017 that Jones' aunt suggested trying something faith-based.

With a newfound determination, Jones walked into the Youth Challenge women's home in Downtown Newport News fresh off nine months behind bars; at the end of a year where the National Institute on Drug Abuse says U.S. drug deaths hit 70,000.

Related: Hope for the holidays: People fighting addiction spend Christmas in recovery 

"It was kind of peaceful when I first got here," Jones told News 3 from the women's home two weeks before her graduation.

Despite its name, Youth Challenge helps adult men and women break their addictions. The program requires participants to live away from their families and largely from society for an entire year.

"We are God-centered," said Sandy Shaal, Director of the Youth Challenge women's home. "Chelsea was ready for change the day she came here."

The program consists of three phases: Phase one consists of building a relationship with God and months of classroom work with a teacher. Phase two brings more responsibility and self-study for participants. Phase three focuses on transitioning back into society.

That's where Jones when News 3 spoke with her. Is she nervous?

"Absolutely," she said. "I've never successfully lived a life outside of addiction."

She insists this time is different, however.

Jones is finding support everywhere, including her new job at a local small business, World Class Solutions, where she works primarily as an embroiderer.

Jones met her boss, Sharon Owens, when Owens dropped by the women's home.

"I would always see young ladies sitting on the porch," said Owens.

Jones says Owens asked if anyone needed a job and was unfazed when she learned about Jones' record.

"People need a second chance. Just because they're a convicted felon doesn't make them a bad person," said Owens. "[Chelsea] has been awesome ever since [I hired her]. Dependable, happy, does everything I need her to do."

It's a job Jones plans to keep, on top of staying at Youth Challenge where she will assist her mentor, Shaal, in helping others break free.

Related: Recovering heroin addict has message for anyone who feels hopeless in their substance abuse 

"It's very emotional," said Shaal. "It's like seeing your child graduate from high school. It's just very exciting to see what God has done in her life."

It's that new-found faith that keeps Jones on track, she says. That, and the little boy whose pictures cover her room.

"I have a 4-year-old son that is the light of my life and I know I'm going to be a good mother," she said. "My mom is clean now. My dad and me...we've just had a relationship that we've never had before."

Each step across that graduation stage on February 22 marked another step away from a dark past.

"There was a point that I really didn't feel like I'd ever be more than a heroin addict," said Jones. "I believe I'm worth something now."

Click here for more information about Youth Challenge.

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