By Kimberly King
In 2006, when Laci Lindsey gave birth to her youngest son, doctors found a tumor on her lungs. Laci described the news as "damaging" to hear:
She was 6 years old when her mother died of cervical cancer and her father died eight years later of lung cancer. The same year Laci gave birth, the sister who had raised her after the death of their parents died of cervical cancer.
"It was scary," said Laci, now 35, on Tuesday afternoon. "It was a turning point for me. I was so scared of what could happen, I didn't want to deal with life and drugs made me feel better." As a teenager, Laci had turned to alcohol following the death of her parents. Following her 2006 diagnosis, she turned to drugs.
While her husband worked outside, Catherine Mitchell sat in the living room of her La Porte home on Tuesday afternoon. Several large windows were open and allowed the late September air to fill the room. The home has several house plants scattered throughout, and numerous family pictures fill the spaces on the walls. There also are family pictures on the mantel over the fireplace. There are family pictures atop the oversized entertainment center, which is filled with movies: "Gladiator," "Kiss of Death," and a collection of John Wayne movies.
Wearing a shirt that states "Our faith makes us worthy," the 52-year-old woman looks up from an oversized chair that seems to swallow her small frame and says something unexpected: "I have been in jail for two-thirds of my life."
Catherine said she was jailed for being a habitual offender after she received two DUIs in less than a year. She was most recently jailed more than a year ago, which is when she began to question her life. "'Why? I'm in jail again,'" she recalls thinking. "'I've done this again. Where am I going to go from here? What will my family think?'"
With her two sons, ages 14 and 16, at school and her youngest son, who is almost 3 years old, just tucked in for a nap, it is obvious listening to Laci that her life is exactly where she wants it to be right now.
She pauses before taking a step back in time to a former life. When she begins, she uses words some people never recover from: cocaine, alcohol, jail. Laci credits the Moral Reconation Therapy program, run locally by Daniela "Sonshine" Troche, for the transformation in her life.
Laci said her life was "fixed" through the program, which has been taught by Troche at the La Porte County Jail for some time, according to La Porte County Sheriff's Department Jail Commander Capt. Scott Bell.
Through the program, Laci said, she was able to look at the negatives of her past life and see what she could have done differently. "I could have gone on to college and gotten a good education," she said. "I could've found support groups. Instead I chose the coward way out." The "coward way out" according to Laci, began when she started drinking alcohol.
In later years, Laci began to use cocaine, which led to her being incarcerated at the La Porte County Jail in May 2008. She was in jail for almost 2 months before she was told by fellow inmates about the MRT® program.
One inmate who had been jailed for check fraud told Laci the program would show her how to change her behavior and not make the same choices that got her into jail. It is at this point of her story that Laci proudly declares, "I have been clean for 484 days."
Scattered throughout both Laci and Catherine's stories are words like coping, investigating and freedom.
"I didn't know how to cope," Laci said about her reaction to learning she had a tumor on her lungs. "So many women feel they are being pushed against the wall and they have nowhere to go." The MRT® program, Laci explained, teaches women how to choose what is important to them. "I loved it," she said. "It's such a turning point to see how my life pattern had lived out up to that point."
Catherine echoed Laci's feelings about the program.
"When I started investigating my life, I found out that other people have some things in common and it was okay," she said. "I wasn't unique. Once I got over one hurdle, I realized I could do this." Catherine explained there was a group of five or six women who stuck together through the class. "We wanted healing," she said.
"We wanted to live differently. We ran around being angry all the time. It helps when you have someone else there with you."
The class, she said, "helped us figure out how to cope and we figured out some things."
Catherine said her husband has noticed the difference in the new Catherine. She can tell in the way he looks at her, for example, when she doesn't go off the deep end if things don't go her way. "It makes me feel like I'm free," she said. "I'm not stuck in my own prison. It's all up to me."
After being released from La Porte County Jail, Laci moved with her three boys to Valparaiso.
"I went back to work and took myself out of situations that could have brought temptation back," she said. "I took my kids out of what was familiar to me." For the year and a half Laci was doing hard drugs, she said she wasn't mentally with her children. "I was there, but my mind wasn't with them," she said. "It's astounding that my kids are so much happier. I do everything a mom is supposed to." What does she enjoy most about her new life with her children?
"Now, just to sit down and eat dinner together. Go to the movies or walk around the neighborhood." And since Laci also received her G.E.D. while serving time, she is able to help out with her children's schoolwork. "Now I can sit down and do homework with them," she said. "I'm more involved in their daily activities."
As for the tumor found on Laci's lung, she said Tuesday she doesn't have the health insurance to get it treated. She said that in 2007, when she did have health insurance, doctors were monitoring the growth. "When it gets too big, it will be removed and checked," she said.
While sitting at her dining room table Tuesday, Catherine looked at the books she used throughout the MRT® program. Titles include "Coping with Anger" and "How to Escape Your Prison." She said she sometimes goes back through the notes she wrote as she was studying the books on days she feels they may benefit her.
Catherine begins to cry as she recalls the pain her son and daughter, both in their early 30s, endured from her actions. "My children are beautiful. They have kind hearts," she said as she wiped tears from under her glasses. "They were mad at me but that will take time. I'm not hopeless to them." Above the table, on a wall leading to Catherine's kitchen, is a wooden cutout heart with a painted message: "Listening hearts hear angels sing."