Jennifer Witherspoon: The Salvation Army Saved My Life

“MOM, I’M SO PROUD OF YOU.” These words are music to the ears of Jennifer Witherspoon. Actually, they’re much more than something Jennifer “is pleased to hear.” Support from her now 16-year old son, Zachary, and so many others has been central to Jennifer’s recovery from years of drug addiction that landed her in prison more times than she’d like to remember.

Jennifer was born and raised in Las Vegas along with her two brothers. Transience was a lifestyle for the family, and as a child she sensed that things in their household weren’t quite right. At age 10 she realized why: Her parents were addicted to methamphetamines.

At age 12 when her parents divorced, Jennifer started taking methamphetamines. She used her earnings from babysitting and holiday gifts to fund her habit. But it’s not like meth was hard to find: Her parents’ friends’ kids had it and were willing to share. She quit school at 13 when she was in ninth grade.

At 16 Jennifer “came out” and started using with her dad and mom and mom’s new husband. At 18 she married a gangbanger (i.e., member of a street gang). Though husband number one did not do meth (only pot), he physically abused women, including Jennifer, and ended up going to prison for robbery.

Jennifer was first sentenced to prison at age 20 for possession of meth. She spent two and a half years there, but went back to using when she got out.

When she was 24 Jennifer became pregnant with Zach. Not long after she “got in trouble again,” but was put on probation instead of being sent to prison. During pregnancy and after giving birth, she continued using.

At age 25 after she was honorably discharged from probation, Jennifer and her son moved to Texas hoping to get a new start. One requirement for probation was getting her GED, which she did with flying colors—her scores were above average in every subject. Jennifer loved reading and thinks she inherited her father’s aptitude for numbers: “He worked in construction and was really good at math.”

She remarried and stayed clean for a year and a half, but a vacation to Las Vegas proved problematic when she started using meth again. After two years of marriage to her second husband, she decided that drugs were more important, so she left him and moved back to Las Vegas.

Now in her mid thirties, Jennifer did not know how it felt to be clean. To support her habit she stole from stores and served time for theft. After getting out in 2008, she continued to use while living on and off with her dad, who expressed his disapproval. Her dad had quit drugs but was suffering from hepatitis and cirrhosis; he died in 2010 at age 58. Jennifer took his death hard and says she needed drugs to dull the pain—she wanted to “get numb.”

Even her responsibilities as a mom weren’t enough to keep her in check. She quit her cosmetology studies and had another stint in prison in 2010-2011. During this time Zach stayed with a friend of his from the neighborhood. Jennifer thanks God “he never got hurt or sick because nobody had custody of him.”

Then “God intervened”: Inside Jennifer started reading the Bible. She had never been religious but was a believer. Terrified at the prospect of a 20-year sentence under the habitual offender law, she felt that God was sending her signs, so she asked Him for help.

Jennifer entered The Salvation Army Southern Nevada’s Adult Rehabilitation Program (ARP) in November 2011. At this point in her life of addiction, Jennifer was low-hanging fruit for a program like ARP. “She glommed onto the program and held on and completely turned her life around,” says Leslee Rogers of The Salvation Army Southern Nevada.

Her first assignment was in the warehouse accepting donations. Later she got a job as a driver for kids in The Salvation Army’s after-school program for children ages 6-12, The Salvation Army Youth Club (SAY Club). She was promoted to youth leader assistant and began teaching Sunday school.

Now settled with her son in their own house, Jennifer is a youth assistant for one of the largest Army churches and runs all after-school programs there. She is a Salvation Army soldier and married one; they plan to go to The Salvation Army College for Officer Training.

After a long hiatus, Jennifer now has a relationship with her brothers and recently reconnected with her mom who lives in Oregon now. She is comforted that she has learned how to earn the trust of her son. Jennifer has one word to describe how she feels about the way The Salvation Army saved her life and gave her a new one: phenomenal.

Previously published in diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for The Salvation Army Southern Nevada.