Clean Slate Coalition gives hand up to women
Marsha Crites doesn’t believe in tough love. She believes in second chances — and even third and fourth chances if that’s what it takes to get someone back on the right track.
“We use the slogan ‘Love Heals’ and Clean Slate Coalition is about turning love into something that is contagious and helping people get back on their feet,” she said.
Along with Rev. Alice Mason, Crites is the co-founder of Clean Slate Coalition, a nonprofit based in Sylva that’s dedicated to rehabilitating women who are transitioning out of jail or prison, or women who are struggling to overcome addiction, mental illness or homelessness.
It’s that kind of unconditional love and support from Clean Slate leaders that has helped women like Anisa regain control of her life after struggling with alcohol and drug dependency for the last 12 years. She’s tried to get clean many times throughout the years, but her 18-year-old daughter’s recent engagement gave her the push she needed to make this the last time.
“This time around my recovery, my sobriety is all I want,” she said. “This place has given me a second chance at life. I’ve needed this for so long — to be able to work, have a safe place to live and get back to the person I was.”
Since forming in 2011, 63 women have gone through Clean Slate’s program, which includes housing, rehabilitation, medical services, job and life skills and most importantly, support and encouragement from the other women in the Clean Slate House.
From the beginning
The idea behind Clean Slate came about when Crites, Mason and other female chaplains started visiting women incarcerated in the Jackson County Detention Center.
“We’d go in every week and try not to preach but to listen. I loved being there — we played games, read scripture, did yoga — but I kept seeing the same women return again and again,” Crites said. “I thought about having a gathering place for these women when they got out of jail, but then I realized they don’t have a safe place to live. Each time they get out they’re going back to the same abusive guys or the same drug-infested places they were living before.”
A group of county leaders — mostly women — gathered together in 2010 to discuss the idea of starting a halfway house for women coming out of jail or overcoming other life challenges. The idea garnered a lot of support from the community and it wasn’t long before Clean Slate had its first house in Sylva.
“Our first resident had been in prison for 10 years. When she came to us she looked like she wasn’t going to live. She cried all the time and she was terrified to be out of prison,” Crites said. “The first thing we did was take her to get new clothes and have her hair done. Being out of prison after 10 years was a big adjustment for her, but now she’s 70 and retired, living on her own.”
The organization has since moved into another home in Sylva that with community support has been fixed up and able to house six women at a time as they embark on their year-long journey to recovery.
“We ask residents to commit to a year but sometimes people need to stay longer,” Crites said. “We never really throw someone out unless they’re misbehaving — people are a work in progress.”
Clean Slate Coalition co-founder Marsha Crites (clockwise from top) meets up with Clean Slate resident Anisa and former resident Angie to talk about their progress and success in the program. Clean Slate Coalition co-founder Marsha Crites (clockwise from top) meets up with Clean Slate resident Anisa and former resident Angie to talk about their progress and success in the program. Jessi Stone photo
Former Clean Slate resident Angie said it took her almost two years of living in the house to feel ready to be on her own again. Her husband had left her and her depression was debilitating to the point she had been admitted to the hospital four times within a five-month period. When she realized she could no longer live on her own, Appalachian Community Services helped her apply for a spot at Clean Slate.
“It got to the point I couldn’t work a full-time job in public. When I first came to Clean Slate I wouldn’t talk to anybody, but then I learned how to speak up when I was feeling bad,” she said. “They helped me with my depression. A year came up and I still wasn’t there yet so I kept working with Appalachian and going to counseling. Then on March 5, 2015, I moved out on my own again.”
Angie is now living in a low-level supervised apartment on her own in Waynesville. She said she doesn’t know where’d she’d be today if she didn’t have all the support Clean Slate provided to her whether it was counseling, job skills, applying for disability, guiding her through the divorce paperwork or finding an apartment. She said having people around that cared about her completely changed her perception of life.
“It gave me a different view with people there helping me through it,” she said. “Living there really changed my life.”
While Angie is on the other side of recovery, Anisa’s journey is just beginning. She’s been sober over 60 days and has been at Clean Slate for just over three weeks. Her move to Clean Slate was well planned out — she first went to ACS’s Balsam Center in Waynesville where she detoxed for 13 days before being admitted into a 28-day drug rehabilitation program in Black Mountain. Then she made arrangements to be in the one-year program at Clean Slate.
“I didn’t just want to detox for a week and go home,” she said, knowing she needed more support if she wanted to get clean once and for all. “I’ve been in jail in the past and I’ve been in abusive relationships that have damaged me mentally more than anything, but I seriously think if I hadn’t come here I would probably end up dead.”
Life at Clean Slate
Life at Clean Slate is busy. With five women currently residing in the home, it’s just like having a big family — there may be disagreements at times but the family members still cook together, are responsible for doing yard work and keeping the house clean.
“There are people from all backgrounds in the house and there’s a lot of laughter in the house — and that’s important,” Crites said.
All the residents have weekly meetings to talk about house rules and to address any issues they may be going through. They attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the week and they attend classes at Meridian Behavioral Health Services’ Recovery Education Center. REC offers classes for on trauma, anxiety, nutrition and self-esteem, which are often the underlying issues that lead women to drinking, using drugs and committing crimes.
In addition to helping them navigate the system to get the services they need, Clean Slate staff also helps residents come up with a plan for their future once they are out of the house. She’s still early in the process, but Anisa is already thinking about how she wants her life to be like in a year.
“I want to be a better person. I want to have a job and a house. I want a great relationship with my kids,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting back on my feet and enjoying my life without looking over my shoulder. I’m checking into going back to school — I’m nervous because it’s been so long since I’ve done this even though I’ve wanted it so many times.”
Clean Slate isn’t just about the emotional support, it’s also about giving women an opportunity to develop job skills and earn some money while they’re in the program. Crites said the organization found a way to help women with those skills while also providing much needed revenue to run the program by creating Clean Slate Enterprises.
The social enterprise employs Clean Slate residents to make and sell their own all-natural cleaning products and also provides custodial services to businesses and residences in the area. Residents can be found each Saturday morning at the farmer’s market in Sylva selling their all-natural cleaning products. They are also accepting new cleaning service clients in Jackson, Macon and Haywood counties.
“I have a huge heart and love to help people so I really love going down there to the farmer’s market in the morning and meeting new people and telling them about the organization and what we’re about,” Anisa said. “I also volunteer at The Community Table so my schedule is super busy through the week.”
Crites said reconnecting women with their family is another important part of a person’s recovery and one that Clean Slate prioritizes for residents.
“Most women that come to us have children they’ve been separated from in some way. When people come out of prison reconnecting with their children is extremely important,” she said. “So from the beginning we’ve set up a children’s playroom at the house for visits.”
Anisa said she’s spoken to her father more in the last few weeks than she has in the last 20 years and is working to better her relationship with her children, who are 14 and 18.
“To have my dad telling me he loves me and misses me — I’ve needed that for a long time — and my kids say they’re super proud of me — that’s been a long time coming,” she said.
Clean Slate support
Crites said there’s never enough money or staff to do all the things Clean Slate wants to do, but they are slowly chipping away at it.
She and the new Executive Director Amelia Thompson are always looking for grant opportunities to expand services. Most recently, Clean Slate received a $2,000 grant to help provide equipment for the house and also offer some enrichment classes for things like music, art and nutrition.
Crites said they are always looking for volunteers to offer different kinds of classes for residents as well as people willing to drive residents to appointments and errands since most of them don’t have a car and/or a driver’s license.
The nonprofit also started the Clean Slate Investment Circle a few years ago to get the community more involved in supporting the program. Businesses, clubs, churches and individuals are invited to pledge $1,000 a year — or about $84 a month — to support the program.
“We’re so lucky our community loves us,” Crites said. “It’s hard to get grant money because it’s harder for us to know our success rate long term. All we can do is set them up for success.”
Though she’s not on the Clean Slate board of directors anymore, Crites said she still drops by the house to check on the residents and bring them things they may need. She also keeps up with many of the graduates on Facebook.
“I can’t tell you how uplifted I feel being a part of this — I’ve started a lot of nonprofits in the past but this is the last one,” she said. “It’s a miracle all this came together the way it did.”
For more information about the Clean Slate program or cleaning services, call 828.586.3939 or visit www.cleanslatecoalition.com.
Clean Slate Coalition mission:
Clean Slate Coalition is a supervised recovery residence program providing safe, transitional housing, advocacy, vocational opportunities, connections to community services and supportive case management. We help these women learn healthy life and job skills in a supportive environment while encouraging hope and opportunity and reducing recidivism and addictive behavior.
The women served are asked to commit to a one-year stay in the Clean Slate House. During this year they work to rebuild their lives, concentrate on their healing and recovery, and learn new skills. Here are some of the things they do while living in the house:
- Live in a safe and structured home environment
- Work and/or go to school
- Pay a modest rent
- Participate in professional counseling and life skills training
- Attend 12-step meetings as appropriate for their situation
- Enjoy a variety of enrichment programs by community volunteers
- Have a relationship with a mentor
- Volunteer in the community
Clean Slate Enterprises
In need of custodial services? Clean Slate offers free estimates of your home or office, and clean using their own line of all-natural cleaning supplies. Professional services are fully insured and bonded. Certificates can be provided upon request.
Efficient, affordable and reliable, all while being environmentally friendly and safe.