Prisoner. Addict. Homeless. Drunk. When we use labels, we miss out on seeing people for who they really are. We confuse peoples’ actions with their identities.
Looking in from the outside, people might have labeled Shannon Duval a druggie, a jailbird, an unfit mother or even a loser.
When she was 21, Shannon gave birth to Evan, who was born prematurely. For 2 months, Shannon was unsure whether Evan would live. She used drugs to deal with the fear and uncertainty.
When Evan finally did get better, Shannon stopped using. Over the course of the next three years, she had two more children and earned her college degree.Within weeks of graduating, however, Shannon started using again, and her addiction became insatiable. “I just lost my mind—that’s what drugs do.”
Shannon protected her three kids from the reality of her addiction as much as possible. But eventually, her poor decisions caught up with her. “It got pretty bad to the point where I was in danger, my kids’ lives were in danger. My kids were taken away.”
Shannon’s kids were taken by Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home while she went to jail. That’s when her life began to change.
In jail, she heard about the LIFE Recovery program at the UGM Center for Women and Children and recognized it was exactly what she needed. She wanted her children back, and she was determined to work hard and do what she needed in order to be with them again.
“I think everybody was skeptical of me, saying, ‘You’re not going to see those kids for years.’ That’s not what happened at all. I got [to the Center], and when they saw that I really wanted to be here, that I wasn’t here just to get my kids back, that I was really doing my work in the program…I got my kids back full time [five months later].
“I felt like I finally did something right… like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders… like life was worth it.”
Shannon spent nearly two years at the Center, not just recovering from her addiction, but learning how to be a good mom, how to deal with stress, how to manage time and money, and how to recognize her inherent value as a woman, created in the image of God.
Shannon’s value was never the sum of her actions. Her true worth can only be seen when we look with the eyes of God…or perhaps, when we look through the eyes of the three little people who call her, “Mommy.”
“There are times when [Evan] will come sit with me on my bed at night, and he’ll say, ‘I’m so glad you’re not sick anymore.’”