You don’t shut the door to your past.
Candace Durham said this while discussing the red and purple rose tattoos on the back of her right hand and forearm. The bright flowers cover up a variety of older tattoos — musical notes and hearts and a symbol of eternity — all inked in black.
You’ll hear these called jailhouse tattoos.
Candace did get some of these during her stints of incarceration. Others came from late nights before her recovery when people who shouldn’t have been tattooing on her did.
“As I was sitting there, getting them covered up, all the thoughts of who I was with, where I was, the things that I was doing when I got the tattoos, that all flooded my mind. And it was so gratifying to say thank God that’s not where I’m at now. Thank God that’s not who I am anymore,” the 35-year-old said.
On Oct. 25th of last year, Candace celebrated her fifth year of sobriety. Hers is a story of family and faith as well as restoration and renewal, not only for herself, but also for others who are still struggling with substance use disorder.
“Something you are taught in recovery is that you don’t regret the past. You learn from it,” she said. “You always remember where you came from. Because if you don’t remember where you came from, it’s very easy to go back.”
Candace still returns to where she came from. Most every Friday you can find her at a local jail, assisting others in finding sobriety as a Certified Recovery Specialist for Lifespring Health Systems.
“Recovery isn’t cookie cutter for anybody. There are multiple pathways to recovery. There’s no wrong door,” she said. “If I can help someone find whatever their pathway is, then I’m going to do it.”
In 2015, she was incarcerated at the same jail.
In what she defines as a God-moment, her hearing date was postponed a week. This allowed her to attend Residents Encountering Christ (REC), a Christian-based program offered at the jail two weekends a year.
“When I was in the program that weekend, I surrendered. I remember hitting my knees in the jail with the pastor and just kind of crying out that I needed help and I knew I didn’t want to use anymore,” Candace recalled. “I didn’t know what that was going to look like. I just knew that what I had been doing was not what I was going to keep doing.”
A few months at The Healing Place, a no-cost recovery program in Louisville, earlier in 2015 guided her way. The facility had offered her contacts, connections and a blueprint on where to begin. After her experience at the REC, she was ready to try sobriety again.
But roadblocks existed along the way. Given probation in her Indiana cases, Candace was transported to Louisville Metro, where she eventually received home incarceration as she awaited trial. She went to live with her dad and her two children.
“I started out of the gate with these barriers, which is actually why I like to help people now navigate the system,” she said. “I know how complicated it can be from experience.”
While it keeps you out of jail, being on the bracelet can be tough. Through time, Candace was approved to attend functions outside the home. The first two were for employment and intensive outpatient treatment. She entered into both, eventually working two jobs.
The more she succeeded, the more releases she earned. AA meetings followed and then she decided to try something new and enter a sober living house. Fearing downtime and the prospect of relapse, she stayed busy, enrolling in college and working the 12 steps.
Friends who also were in recovery helped her along the way.
“I found my tribe in recovery. Which is what I tell people now you have to do. Find you a support group. I don’t care if it’s one person, 20 people, 50 people,” Candace said. “Because I know when I fall short, they are going to pick me up.”
Step by step she built back her life. After a year, she moved out of the sober living house and into an apartment where her kids stayed the night with her for the first time. She found love with a man also in active recovery, and together they brought a healthy baby girl into the world.
The now 3-year-old has only ever seen her parents sober.
Kennedy lives in a house with her two siblings, Cheyenne and Anastasia, that her parents own. And in addition to earning her associate’s degree, Candace is pursuing her BA in social work.
For almost two years, she’s used her experiences to help others find recovery through her work at Lifespring, sponsoring others going through AA, and her volunteerism with the local advocacy organization Clark County Cares.
“I want to be able to help people like me. I want to be able to show people that there is recovery. That there is hope,” Candace said. “As long as you are still alive, it doesn’t matter the situation that you are in, there’s always hope.”