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The Place of Grace

FRANKLIN LIVING— Six years ago Jocelynn James began praying over a building in Russellville – a building she hopes to see become a place of compassion. A place of hope. A place for second chances. The Place of Grace.

James’ vision for a faith-based rehabilitation facility for women is rooted in her own struggle with substance abuse, with the drug addiction that grew out of properly using prescription medication and ultimately led to more than a dozen felonies before it brought her to her knees.

“I lost everything. I lost my license, my car, my house, my job. I didn’t lose my kids, but I should have,” said James, who became addicted to prescription painkillers following nine laparoscopic surgeries and a hysterectomy after the birth of her son in 2006. “I should have died. I became an IV user. I was shooting up 15 times a day. It was the most horrific thing I have ever endured in my life.”

April 2007 was the first arrest that landed her in jail. She tallied up 17 felonies and nine misdemeanors over five years, from drug manufacturing charges to theft. Nov. 5, 2012, was the last day she ever used drugs – the day she decided to turn herself in to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office after she saw her picture on TV as one of Franklin County’s most wanted.

“I was just sitting in the living room, me and my kids and my ex-husband. It was a mugshot from when I first got arrested,” James said. “I looked OK. I looked normal. I didn’t look like a drug addict, an IV user, because I had just started dabbling in drugs. I looked normal. When I saw that picture, and I’m sitting in the recliner weighing 93 pounds, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’ I was tired of lying, tired of stealing, tired of that lifestyle. There was no drug that could pick me up because I was mentally and physically exhausted.”

When she left that morning to turn herself in at the FCSO, she said she told her children she was headed to pay a speeding ticket – not hard to believe, since she had racked up thousands in speeding fines. She wouldn’t see her children again for four months.

“There’s nothing easy about turning yourself in. But I did,” said James. Although she thought she would immediately bond out and start rehab, she found herself spending six months in jail – all through the holidays – before her chance to enter rehabilitation at The Lovelady Center in Birmingham.

“It’s was God’s way. I wanted to go to a rehab close to home, and they said no, you’re going to Birmingham. That was a dark time in my life because I got sober in there. I thought I was going to die,” said James, who completed the program Aug. 12, 2013. When she graduated rehabilitation, she was ready to return to Franklin County – and ready to go to work for the Lord.

“A lot of people think they can’t go back to their hometown, but I was adamant I was coming back because I was not that person anymore. I knew I was fixing to make a difference in Franklin County with God on my side,” James said. “When I came out of treatment in 2013, I just immediately started helping people. I was on social media, and I was in God’s word for a year.” Although she had lost her license, she began taking people to rehab – her mother would drive. She started a jail ministry in 2014, and she calculates she has spent about $13K out of her own pocket – from working four jobs and nearly 80 hours a week – helping women like her. She’s had a hand in helping more than 500 women turn their lives around, and she isn’t ready to stop there. That’s why she needs The Place of Grace.

“Everything is ready for this rehab facility except for our building,” said James, who has spent the past several years both praying for her idea of a faith-based rehab center for women in Russellville and bringing people into the vision who can help her make it happen. “God has specially picked every person who has come on board with me.”

Two women who have been right by her side are her The Place of Grace board members: Undrea Gonzalez and Teresa Davis. Gonzalez is a long-time friend, and Davis met James through Davis’ involvement in the Life Being Restored ministry group; they first connected when James was still in rehab.

“I was so impressed with that young lady – just her upbeat spirit, her personality – she was on fire for God,” said Davis, who has also watched her son battle addiction problems. “I knew then that she was going to take her sobriety and run with it, and she did.”

Davis said when James returned home, the two were attending the same church, and their friendship began to grow. “I’ve gotten to witness Jocelynn in her growth in sobriety and her growth in God. It’s absolutely amazing,” Davis said. “We all try to do what’s right, and we strive to do what God wants us to do, but to see somebody totally give their life to what God wants them to do is just amazing to me.”

In addition to Davis and Gonzalez, James has found support from other friends and community members, whether in the form of monetary donations, volunteer hours or other means of assistance. One person stepped up to help apply for grant funding; another has provided assistance in creating an online presence for the facility. Others, like Megan Hovater, have taken on a lot of legwork, and still others have shared encouragement and emotional support – like Franklin County jail administrator Theresa Qualls. “She has believed in me from day one.”

“Jocelyn has this calling, and of course she needed some help to guide her into how to get it started, so Undrea and I put our heads together and made connections with people we knew who could help us,” said Davis. “This is something God has got his hand on because everything is falling into place. It’s been her passion, and she’s following what God is leading her to do.”

The last piece to fall in place for the facility will be the actual building. James is praying and working for Lawrence Place, located on Lawrence Street in Russellville.

“That’s a perfect facility – a perfect place for this program,” said James, adding she “literally wept because it’s perfect” the first time she toured the vacant former assisted living facility. The building boasts 37 rooms, meaning a 74-person capacity at two people to a room, each with its own bathroom. James was also pleased to find it has a chapel, “which is perfect for church, devotions and personal time with God.”

Building a relationship with God is one of the things James wants most for the women who will be served by The Place of Grace. Although she knows everyone won’t ultimately accept Christ “that’s our goal – to lead them to Christ,” she said. “I’m doing this for God and his glory.”

Davis agreed the faith-based aspect is a crucial element of what The Place of Grace will offer its clients. “None of us, in addiction or not, can make it through the day without God guiding us,” she said. “I know there are people out there who think they can … but they are never going to have that inner peace without God. Somebody in addiction who tries to find recovery without God – I don’t see how they could ever have that inner peace.”

In addition to experiencing the love of God and taking part in regular church attendance, James said women who enter rehabilitation at The Place of Grace will be able to detox, either on site or potentially at another location, and will receive in-depth counseling and life skills classes, plus do volunteer work. They will be connected with paying jobs, and the facility will help them control that income to build a solid bank account so that, following rehab, they will be prepared to re-enter society and lead productive lives. Clients could be referred to The Place of Grace from the court system or could call and sign themselves up for services. The Place of Grace will be a nine- to 12-month program.

“A place like this is doing nothing but making our county and community better,” said James. “These people are going to jail and coming out of jail with no recourse – nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to believe in them, no one to trust them. So what do they do? They go right back to where they came from.”

It’s a cycle she wants to stop with The Place of Grace.

Until then, she’ll keep helping and serving every way she can, one woman at a time. She’ll keep driving women to The Lovelady – she estimates she has made 3,000 trips in the past 5.5 years – and showing love to the women who need someone in their corner. “My phone never stops ringing. It rings all hours of the day, all hours of the night,” said James. “I have built a reputation that what I do, I do in love. I don’t look down on these women, and I don’t talk down to them, because I have been there … I do it because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I know that God did not let me die because I’m supposed to be doing this.”

Those who want to help or find out more can visit The Place of Grace on Facebook or at www.placeofgracecenter.com.