What can a former addict who was incarcerated teach others about success? Clearly a lot.
Take Alicia Wells of South Bend, Ind., for example. Alicia became addicted to drugs after a series of surgeries related to sports injuries. And as a result, she ended up incarcerated three times for prescription drug fraud.
During her final stay, her business technology teacher gave Alicia a copy of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. It changed her life, she says. And Alicia wanted to share what she learned with others, as well as use the information to improve her own employment prospects. She began by creating a workshop to present to other inmates.
From scooping poop to helping people get treatment
Upon release, Alicia Wells became inspired by our book to take the first job that came along and build off of that. She began scooping poop at an animal shelter for $8 an hour and did that for six months. But that was just the beginning. “It’s safe to say I’m making four times that now four years later,” she says.
Her next job, working the front desk at the Varsity Clubs of America – South Bend hotel, came to an abrupt end because she had a record, even though the hotel manager knew about it when she started to work there. She wasn’t directly employed by the hotel, however, but by Manpower, an employment agency.
When the company running that hotel wanted to hire her to work at the front desk of one of their new properties, Alicia had to apply for permanent employment. At that point, the company turned her down because of her record, even after her exceptional work performance made it onto the South Bend evening news. She was disappointed, but that didn’t stop her from finding her true calling – working with addiction treatment as director of public engagement for U.S. Addiction Services.
An ideal job
Her next employer, Recovery Centers of America, hired her early this year as a substance abuse treatment advocate. The company’s facility is in Indianapolis, and Alicia is the representative for the South Bend area.
“I place individuals into treatment in our facility. We get the individual connected and into treatment for long lasting recovery,” she says. “They sought me out, and it was a position I didn’t even have to apply for.”
For Alicia, it is the type of job she’d been waiting for, and her experience makes it a perfect fit.
She earned an MLE
“I have an MLE – a masters in life experience – when it comes to addiction and being able to meet an individual where they are. I know the highs and lows. And I can take my actual life experience and show them that they are not an anomaly. I can show them success, because I’ve been there and succeeded. And they can too.”
In addition to her job, Alicia Wells is continuing to grow FANS (Fresh Attitudes for New Success), the organization she founded after her release. She launched the organization with a series of eight two-hour workshops that included a workshop on our book, one on resources from local staffing agencies and another focused on a responsible mothers workbook.
Although FANS started by offering workshops, Alicia has turned the nonprofit’s focus into one-on-one mentoring. The reason is partly due to Covid, but also because the workshops didn’t turn out as she had hoped they would.
“I used to think that everyone could become successful but now realize that people have to want it and work hard. I was very gullible in the beginning and thought that I could help and change everyone,” she says. “Year two was the hardest, because I had to draw hard boundaries. I realized that the classes weren’t working. That’s when I started working one-on-one. It happened at the same time as Covid.”
From groups to one-on-one mentoring
Last year she started doing one-on-one mentoring with four recently released individuals. “It’s a lot fewer than what it was, but it’s also a lot more effective,” she says. “I do the mentoring, and if it’s a financial thing, I pull in people to help. If it’s sober-related, I pull in those people.”
Alicia begins with an initial conversation to see if people are a good fit. If they’re goal-oriented they are a good fit, she says. They’ve got to be willing to put in the work, which includes 20 hours of community service.
“They always get a copy of the book. I work alongside of them to go through the book,” she says. She’s a big believer in the Turnaround Talk and using “however” and not “but” when telling your story. And she also emphasizes that your addiction or incarceration does not define you. You are much more than the worst thing you ever did.
Even when Covid restrictions are lifted, Alicia plans to continue her one-on-one mentoring with occasional talks and seminars at the local jails.
What she’s learned from her workshops
“I learned that felonies don’t define our future,” she says. “From the workshops, I see so much potential. The skills that we learn and adapt to while in prison become transferable skills when we leave. Watching that lightbulb go on for individuals when they realize that they can use these skills to become successful is pretty awesome.”
In addition to FANS, Alicia created the Recover Michiana Fest, a yearly festival during September, which happens to be National Recovery Month. The event, which was cancelled last year because of Covid, brought together 600 people in 2019 to celebrate recovery and provides access to resources of support for those personally – or caring for a loved one – battling substance abuse.
Alicia Wells has gone through a lot lately, including health issues she encountered and those faced by family members. And, on the bright side, she got married to a parole officer last summer. She acknowledges that her faith and being blessed with knowledge and power are what give her the strength to keep going.
Suggestions for those encountering challenges
“Seek out resources. Do not isolate yourself. Isolation is a breeding ground for negativity,” she says. “Surround yourselves with like-minded individuals who are where you want to go. You can have a tough day and hang around someone who is negative or someone who helps you get through it and on to where you want to go.”
And pay attention to the lessons of Jails to Jobs, Alicia Wells adds. “Jails to Jobs is not just a book. Jails to Jobs is a mindset, and you have to get yourself into a mindset that you are going to succeed.”
Get our book for free: The first 100 people who contact us will receive a free copy of Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed.