The first story in our blog series “A Fresh Start” is from Gary and Jessica Mann.
Gary said that growing up, his Dad suffered from addiction. He often felt like he wasn’t good enough for his Dad, and it made him seek relationships with people outside of the home. That’s how he got involved with a bad crowd.
Gary started using drugs and selling marijuana to people, and he said this made him feel important like he had a purpose. He took his job of selling drugs very seriously and loved that it made him feel accepted. “I always wanted to help people, and in a weird way, I thought I was helping people. But it was actually hurting people,” said Gary.
Regardless of his addiction’s roots, Gary says that he’s learned to take full responsibility for his actions and doesn’t blame anyone. This has been one of the most influential things to help him recover.
Jessica said that the roots of her addiction started when she was young and hanging out with her Dad. While her relationship with her Mom was and is really strong, she said that she didn’t really feel accepted by her Dad unless she was using drugs with him. “It’s not his fault. It’s all choices that we make. But it did make me feel like I had to do stuff with him in order to have a relationship with him.”
She said that she smoked marijuana for a long time. But while she was still in high school, she started shooting opiates, and she continued to do that for the next 13-14 years. After having children, she lost custody of her older girls.
After a few years of doing drugs, both Gary and Jessica ended up in jail.
How They Met
Gary and Jessica’s story started in the Madison County Jail which is uniquely laid out so that the women’s cells are above the men’s cells. Jessica’s cell was right above Gary’s, and it turns out that there’s a creative way to speak to your cell neighbor above or below you through your toilet bowls!
Gary started talking to Jessica as much as possible, and he found out she was being released soon.
Gary said, “I kept telling her, ‘Go on with your life.’ I was really sad that she was leaving, but I wanted her to get out and go home and be with her daughters.”
When Jessica got out, she put time on her phone and continued speaking with Gary. One day, she told Gary she was on her way to his Mom’s house. They had made a plan to post his bail and came to pick him up.
Gary didn’t believe her until they told him to pack up all of his stuff and he was released.
While Jessica avoided drugs after being released, Gary said that he didn’t waste any time: “The moment I got released, I was ready to go right back to it.”
Eventually, Jessica joined Gary in selling and using drugs, and three years went by. Their drug abuse had caught up with them, and they were both suffering from being sick all the time. What’s worse is that they didn’t have a place to call their own because they slept on their friends’ couches and hopped from place to place.
It was at this point that Gary got arrested for the final time: “I knew it was only a matter of time before it all would catch up on me, and it did.” While in jail, Gary told Jessica that he was thinking about going to rehab, and she encouraged him to apply.
How God Was Working on Their Behalf
Even though Jessica was glad that Gary was seeking help, she was also angry with him for getting arrested and leaving her alone without someone to depend on. She didn’t have a place to stay, and she turned to desperate measures through prostitution. While living in a motel, she met a man who didn’t treat her well and got pregnant. She felt stuck in a bad situation and she feared she would never be able to get out of it.
Luckily, Jessica was able to get away to a safe place, but she didn’t have a plan for having the baby. She started calling Gary again while he was at His Way. The day she went into labor, Gary was “on pass,” which means he got to leave the His Way campus for a few days so that he could be at the hospital with Jessica while the baby was born.
After her daughter was born, she told Gary that she didn’t have anywhere to go. They decided to call DHR. Meanwhile, Andrew Reynolds made it his mission to find a good, temporary foster home for her daughter. Many families were willing to take her daughter into their homes, but they wanted to adopt her for good (so that Jessica could never have custody of her).
The day Jessica was leaving the hospital, DHR called her to let her know they needed to put her daughter in foster care that day. Jessica called Gary to let him know what was happening, and he was at work. He found a moment to go to his office and pray. He told God, “This isn’t what I want. But if it’s your will, I accept it.”
A couple of hours later, Andrew called to let them know he had found a good family, the Wiseharts, who were willing to foster Jessica’s daughter so that she could go to rehab.
“That was a big moment for me,” said Gary. He knew that God had worked it out for them, especially knowing that DHR allowed the Wiseharts to step in. In these types of situations, DHR keeps the foster family they choose anonymous to the birth parents for the child’s safety. There was a real chance that Jessica would never see her daughter again.
But God had other plans.
A Fresh Start in Rehab
After Jessica gave birth, she started rehab at the Lovelady Center in Birmingham. She spent 8 good months there growing and making changes, and she was allowed to graduate one month early due to her amazing progress.
3 days after graduating from the Lovelady Center, she moved to Huntsville and started working at The Saving Way. She wanted to be part of what His Way was doing as much as she could, even if it was just working at the thrift stores.
Gary said that in the midst of his addiction, while he was sick from taking fentanyl and heroin together, he prayed to God and asked him to help him get his life together. He said he heard a voice say, “You asked for this.” And he said he knew his life wasn’t going to go the way he wanted it to, and the next day he was in jail.
While Gary was in jail he met Frank King, a volunteer mentor through His Way. One day, Frank walked by Gary’s cell and saw he was reading the Bible. He told him, “That’s a nice sword you’ve got there.” Gary was confused until Frank explained to him that he was talking about the Bible.
Later, Frank was painting Gary’s cell door at the jail, and he asked him about his plans. Gary said that he had applied to His Way and was accepted. It turns out, this was an easy decision for Gary: “I either had to get my life together or go to prison.”
When Gary arrived at His Way a few months later, Frank came alongside him and helped him learn more about God, like how to read the Bible as more than just a book.
Frank is the one who led Gary to Christ and baptized him. “I don’t think he’ll ever know how appreciative I am of him,” Gary said. “Faith, now, is something that I live by.” After getting baptized, Gary resolved that he would rather die than go back to a life of addiction.
Frank also led Jessica to Christ. She said, “Addicts always have someone who coddles them, but Frank tells you what you need to hear.”
When describing Frank, Jessica said, “He plays a big role at His Way, and he probably doesn’t even realize it. But a lot of the guys look up to him there.”
Gary and Jessica both feel like it’s important to give back, especially to people who are in a tough place with addiction like they once were. One way they recently paid it forward was by driving Gary’s cousin down to the Lovelady Center in Birmingham. “Once you find God, you’ve got to find a way to help others…to a limit. Don’t put yourself near that edge, because you can get pulled in really quick,” said Gary.
But life post-rehab has been difficult too, especially since both Gary and Jessica have old friends and family members who use drugs. “They know that if they ever want to get their life together that they can contact us,” said Gary.
Even though it’s been hard losing old friends and not seeing family members anymore, the Manns said they’ve learned to create healthy boundaries. “We go to work and spend time with my daughters. And it just has to be like that,” said Jessica.
“We’re not going to go to certain places. We’re not going to be around certain things,” said Gary.
Gary and Jessica got married after rehab, and they won full custody of Jessica’s youngest daughter. Now, they are in the process of petitioning the court for full custody of Jessica’s other two daughters.
“We both run our own stores [The Saving Way thrift stores], we’ve got a house, we’ve got a car,” said Jessica. She said that it’s good to stay busy, especially with constructive things so that you’re not tempted to fall back into the old way of doing things.
Jessica said, “Any little thing can set you sliding back downhill. You might not even realize it at first, but you start accepting things back in your life. You have to have a standard for how you’re going to live your life, or you will slide backward. I’ve watched so many people do it.”
Now, the Manns say they are living gratefully, one day at a time. And they just want to help others do the same.
For Anyone Looking for a Fresh Start
“Take that first step. It’s the hardest one, but you’ve got to. And trust God, because he’s in charge,” said Jessica.
“It’s crazy how comfortable it can be living in Hell because you don’t know any different. But don’t be afraid of change. Some changes can be the best changes you ever make in your life,” said Gary.
No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve gone through, a fresh start is available to you!