Ericka Monroe has a clear message for women coming into Thistle Farms: You can do it. In 2001, this is the message she received from Becca Stevens, and it has guided her ever since. She recalls, “Becca is an angel. I absolutely, positively love her. She was such a help when I first started. There was never a long speech, she just said “Ericka, you can do it,” and that’s what stuck with me. I can do it if I set my mind to it.”
A 2003 Thistle Farms graduate, and now member of Thistle Farms’ Board of Directors, Ericka came to the program having spent four years on the streets. She was sure she wouldn’t stay, but, as she got to know the women around her, she realized there was something different here. “I was in the house off Hillside. Anything that could’ve been wrong with it was, but we didn’t mind because it was ours, so it was beautiful.”
Shortly after entering Magdalene, Thistle Farms’ residential program, Ericka began working at a restaurant as well as taking on theater work. Then, Ericka received an opportunity that would shape the trajectory of the years to come. The Federal Defender’s office was looking specifically for women transitioning back into the workforce to participate in a two-year internship program. Ericka applied, and was accepted. “After the first year, I was hired permanently and I’ve been there ever since—13 years. I have had the best and most understanding boss, Henry Martin. I’m so grateful to him for believing in me. My co-workers have also been wonderful, helping me to develop the skills I needed to function, independently at my job and filling in for me whenever I needed them." Ericka not only works full-time at the Public Defender’s office, but also part-time as a licensed dental tech. She states, “I’m blessed to have two different types of skill-sets; it keeps me focused. I’m going to be fortunate enough to retire with benefits when I didn’t even think I was going to be alive.”
Ericka’s path has not always been smooth since graduating from Thistle Farms. Since getting clean, she has experienced the death a loved one, bankruptcy, arrest for a crime she did not commit, and a horrific auto accident that by all counts should have been fatal. These trials, though, have only strengthened her resolve. She explains, “If God is my protector for something like that accident, how dare I go back out there and do something I’m not supposed to do. I just keep remembering Becca saying, “You can do it.” So I think, okay, well, I’m going to give it a shot and it’s always going to be baby steps. It doesn’t matter if you have 10, 20, 30 years clean, there is always something that could knock you off course, so it’s always baby steps.”
The words she repeats to herself are also the advice Ericka would give to new women coming into Magdalene. “We’re not playing hopscotch; we’re not jumping over stairs. You have to walk all the way through each step before you can actually start to see a light.”
Of her progress, she says, “I always tell people [coming off the streets], we think there is nothing we can do to change people’s perception of us, but there is. We have to start within our selves, changing how we perceive ourselves. If we think we can do something positive then we can keep pushing towards that. I’m not where I could be, but I’m okay with where I am because I’m steadily progressing. My mom lives with me now in a home I bought in 2004. I have a relationship with my dad and with my twin brothers. So all of those things that I had lost, God has brought back to my life. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, that’s why I stress that to others. It’s something you’re going to have to work toward within yourself.”
Recently, Hal Cato and Katrina Robertson (also a graduate) contacted Ericka about serving on Thistle Farms’ Board. Ericka said, “I’ve always talked about giving back, and now it’s time. I remember what it was like to graduate and be on my own, so I can be there to answer questions and give a graduate’s perspective.” Ericka also plans to participate in the expanded Graduate Services program to remain closely connected with her Magdalene sisters. When asked what final thoughts she’d like to share, Ericka responded once again with the practical optimism that has given her such strength: “I love Ericka today. Good, bad, and different, I love me today. No matter what happens, just keep pushing forward and believe you can do it.”
Love heals women, one day at a time; and, love heals family relationships, one day at a time.Thistle Farms is the miracle that my daughter Rachel needed coming out of prison having lost everything in her life. The miracle she needed provided a safe place for recovery from almost 20 years of substance abuse and addiction -- years of treatment, recovery and relapse.