By Jason A. Smith
Laurie Spratlin said she has a message for women who are struggling with addiction. "Drugs and alcohol will rob you of everything you've ever loved, cared for, or valued," she said.
Spratlin is among the women who were recognized Tuesday, for their success in Shining Light Ministries, a program geared toward women convicted of drug and alcohol offenses in Henry County.
Spratlin celebrated her completion of the program, with county leaders, during the inaugural "A Day on the Bench" program conducted for the Henry County Board of Commissioners.
Shining Light works in partnership with the county's judicial system. Spratlin said that, prior to entering the program in February, she had been "in and out" of Henry County Superior Court since 2002.
"I was into drug possession, and the whole drug scene," she said. "I became a drug dealer. I had been through boot camp two different times. I went to prison after that."
Spratlin's last drug arrest, she said, came in October of 2009, when she lived in Jonesboro. She was convicted of possessing methamphetamine in February, and sentenced in Henry County Superior Court, according to Spratlin. "I had been given a 15-year sentence, with seven of those years to serve in prison," she said.
However, Spratlin added, she was given the option of participating in Shining Light Ministries, rather than going to prison. Her first exposure to the program, she said, came in the form of its executive director, Teresa Bestwick.
"Teresa had spoken with me, and I expressed interest in coming to her program," said Spratlin. "Instead of doing seven years in prison, I got to come to Shining Light. It totally blew me away, and changed my life. It's something I never expected."
Participants in Shining Light are involved in a six-month program, to deal with their addictions, according to Bestwick. She said she developed the concept for the 16-bed facility, after meeting women in the Henry County Jail who "had no place to go," after being arrested.
"I've been going into the jail for nine years, and I've been sharing with the girls, because I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict," said Bestwick. "I asked one of the ladies, 'Where are you going to go now?' She said, 'Back to the drug dealer, because I don't have a place. I don't want to do this anymore, but there's no place for help.'
"That is why I opened up Shining Light," Bestwick said. "I wanted to give the girls one more opportunity to make it right."
Bestwick's program, she continued, includes 12-step classes, Christian counseling, education on drug addiction and alcoholism, and three Bible studies per week. The director added that the women in her care are given a "structured" lifestyle, to help them get back on track.
"At 6 a.m., they get up," Bestwick said. "They're on a time schedule, and they're in bed by 9 p.m."
She said she strives to instill within the program's participants the values of courage, integrity, and character, while helping them to transition back into society.
Completing the program at Shining Light, Spratlin said, is "the hardest thing I've ever done. In Shining Light, you have to go back through all your pain, and face your problems," she said. "I had to deal with all the stuff I had been running from for the last 15 to 17 years."
She credited Bestwick with helping her reach her goal of being drug-free.
"Teresa's super-tough, but she's one of the most loving people I've ever known," said Spratlin. "I had lost homes, I had lost jobs, I had lost the respect of both of my children. My family wouldn't talk to me anymore. Being in Shining Light has given me an opportunity to make amends on some of my past mistakes. Shining Light has given me hope."