Women find refuge at Hillsborough House of Hope

- Female drug offenders are getting help when they leave jail at Hillsborough House of Hope, and may say the help is transformative. 

"I remember the first time I came in here," 42-year-old Aretha Whitfield recalled. "It feels peaceful to me."

Now, she is in a place of refuge and comfort, to help remove the pain in her life.

"I had to grow up at a young age," Aretha explained. "At the age of seven, I had to take care of my sisters and brothers and stuff like that."

Aretha's unresolved childhood issues took her down a path that led to jail.

"I turned to using drugs, alcohol, anything to ease the pain," Aretha said.

That was before she found Hillsborough House of Hope. It's a faith-based halfway house for woman who want to stay off drugs and change their lives.

Linda Walker said, "It's a great place for women to come and begin to build a whole new foundation."

Walker worked for USF in graduate admissions as a supervisor. Today, she is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who runs the programs at House of Hope.

"I can relate to just about every situation they are having," Walker said, adding she also ended up on drugs and in jail when the pressure of being a single mom overwhelmed her.

"That took over my whole life. I began to spiral down to an avenue that I have never experience and, of course I lost everything I had, down to the clothes on my back and my girls," Walker recalled.

Part of the House of Hope program includes becoming employed and maintaining the house. Women who come can stay at the house for six months.

"On the days when I feel like I don't want to go out... I always got somebody to say, 'You need to. You need to,'" Aretha said.

It's been tough for Aretha, but she said she is glad she came.

"It's been a blessing. It's been a blessing and I just know that it is God-sent that I am here," she said.

The program has a 65-percent success rate. For more information about Hillsborough House of Hope, visit www.hillsboroughhouseofhope.com.

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