Chrystal Kinsey was back in the Oklahoma County Courthouse last week, only on this occasion she wasn't wearing orange and she had a smile on her face.
Kinsey was one of four women to graduate Tuesday from the second class of the ReMerge program.
ReMerge is a yearlong diversion program for women who are facing prison time. Those who are eligible avoid that prison time if they complete the program.
Kinsey had multiple felony counts including manufacturing narcotics, child endangerment and firearms violations.
“There were nine felonies behind my arrest,” she said. “I was looking at 10 to 15 years.”
As Kinsey sat in a courtroom, the irony of the moment wasn't lost on her.
“This is a much happier occasion,” she said. “It's a lot different being on the other side of the wall. There is a lot less anxiety and stress.”
A tough year
That's not to say the last year has been a walk in the park. Her mettle was tested May 20 when a tornado destroyed her son Eric's school, Plaza Towers Elementary, while he was inside.
For those grappling with drug addiction stress is often a trigger. Her memory of that day is one of fear and comfort, when the family was finally together again later that night.
“When we got out of our shelter and saw everything was OK, we turned on the radio and heard Plaza Towers had been hit,” Kinsey said. “My cousin and I jumped in the car and we tried to get over there. We got as far as Fourth Street and Telephone Road.”
To get there Kinsey had to go through a creek that was neck high, swimming across, and running the rest of the way to the destroyed elementary school where seven children died. What she saw when she finally arrived took her breath away.
“I found devastation,” she said. “I dropped to my knees and started crying because I didn't think any kids were going to come out of there alive.”
By the time Kinsey arrived another family member already had picked up Eric.
“It was very challenging,” Kinsey said. “I've had a lot of tragedies this year that would normally lead me back to my addiction but I've been able to stay strong and focus on what I needed to do,' she said. “Focusing on my kids has been very important to me.”
Kinsey said the best thing about ReMerge was learning life skills.
“I have gained a sense of self,” she said. “You have to know what will make you go back to your addiction. You have to figure out what your triggers are and work on them. The counseling and group sessions they give you are amazing.”
On the right track
Kinsey is working at an Oklahoma City area movie theater and enjoys it. She would like to work at OU Medical Center some day.
“I'm on the right track and I'm going to fight to stay on it,” she said.
There are currently 42 women with a combined 97 children that are in the program, director Terri Woodland said. Since its inception four women have flunked out of the program but the overall success rate remains high.
“We've learned that it's hard work and it takes a long time,” Woodland said. “We've learned it won't work for everyone and we've learned we have an amazing community that has pulled together to make it a success.”