After surviving an abusive childhood, toxic relationships, and a harrowing drug addiction that caused her years of chaos, Lora Taylor is at peace with her past.
A stylish, self-confident grandmother in her fifties, Lora is a newly minted college graduate with more than a decade of sobriety.
She owes it all to God, she is quick to say. Her positive attitude and steely persistence have also served Lora well. And she credits St. Vincent de Paul with helping her get back on her feet and learn how to live.
“St. Vincent de Paul was a life-saver for me, and I can’t thank them enough,” says Lora, who spent months of successful treatment at St. Jude Women’s Recovery Center. She then received follow-up case management and housing assistance after leaving the SVDP campus. That was several years ago, but Lora is still a frequent presence here, attending graduation ceremonies and meetings for other St. Jude clients, including women she sponsors in recovery.
Lora was the youngest of 12 children who grew up poor, in a rural household dominated by an alcoholic father. A quiet and fearful little girl, she remembers hiding from her dad’s unwanted physical advances.
Dysfunction within the family was not acknowledged. “We were taught that what goes on in the home stays in the home,” says Lora. “So I always went to school with a smile on my face.”
A Life Scarred By Child Abuse
As a teenager, Lora had a reputation as a Good Girl with a bright future. She remembers being 16 the summer she worked at the tobacco barn with her mother, when co-workers chided her for doing such unskilled work, insisting that she “should be a nurse or something.”
Lora attended Murray State University. However, unexpected emotions derailed her college career: She couldn’t quell her crippling sense of inferiority. Lora felt shame that her clothes weren’t as nice as others’ and she was intimidated that she wasn’t as academically prepared as her classmates.
Eventually, she quit going to classes. Lora met a man who got her pregnant — and later introduced her to hard drugs. She almost died during childbirth but delivered a healthy daughter. She managed to kick using drugs for a time. She worked as a Head Start teacher. Things were good. Until they weren’t…
Drug dealing within the household led to arrests, legal problems, separation from her daughter, and years of what Lora describes today as “hell” – a nightmare of surviving on the streets and in crack houses, of frequent arrests and of feeling utter hopelessness.
In Prison, An Awakening
Being sent to the penitentiary shook her to her core. “I remember my first day there, walking in and seeing guards with guns drawn and thinking to myself, ‘I am in the pen!’” she exclaims. “And then I thought to myself: ‘Good girls’ aren’t supposed to go to prison.”
Lora recalls surrendering her spirit to God. “I just sobbed. I dropped to my knees and prayed: ‘I have nothing. I am nobody. I am broken.’ Then He told me: ‘My grace is sufficient.’
“That changed my life. From that point on, I knew that His grace was going to get me through it.”
Lora served two and a half months at the Pewee Valley women’s prison before being referred to SVDP’s St. Jude Women’s Recovery Center. She remembers being terrified, but also that Debbie Slagle Pike, LCSW, CADC, then-program manager of the facility, was compassionate when encouraging her to stay.
“St. Vincent de Paul again stepped in when it was time to graduate from St. Jude, so I could live in my own apartment,” Lora recalls. “They donated just about everything I needed to go into my apartment.” She even bought her car through St. Vincent de Paul’s Donated Vehicles Program.
Reaching for More
For the past few years, while working full-time as an early-morning shift supervisor at McDonald’s, Lora also pursued her education. Last December she finally earned her bachelor’s degree in human services from Lindsey Wilson College. Her goal is to find a professional job where she can help others.
She has filled out many job applications, but Lora’s criminal record has been a barrier, she says. Although discouraged, she vows not to give up, and plans to pursue her master’s degree. She also wants to try to get her felony record expunged, so that potential employers will give her serious consideration instead of immediately writing her off.
It’s a harsh lesson she teaches her “grandbabies,” as she calls her young grandchildren. “They just learned that Nana’s been to jail,” Lora says, smiling. “I said, ‘Yes, but that’s what happens when you drink and do drugs and break the law. So if you don’t want to go to jail, those are some of the things you don’t do.’
“Hopefully, my story will help build them up, and give them the strength and confidence to not do what I used to do.”
Just as she enjoys teaching her grandchildren life lessons, Lora says she is at her best when she is being of service.
“Today my life is good when I’m outside of myself, when I’m helping others,” Lora says. “I’ve got a lot of people who come through my path that aren’t loveable,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I show it anyway. And I just thank God that I can be here for people like me, to give them hope, because that love was given to me.”
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