Woman's story emerges from past like a beautiful butterfly - Albuquerque Journal

Woman’s story emerges from past like a beautiful butterfly

She contacted the Journal because she wanted us to pull down an old story about her old life, her past life, not who she is now or how far she’s come.

But that’s the hard truth when we make news. Somewhere in the internet ether, our misdeeds live on eternally, no matter the good we’ve done since then.

“You do a Google search and those bad stories pop up,” Ginger Sharpe frets. “It’s cost me jobs.”

We could not help Sharpe erase the sins of her past. But we could shift the focus to the success of her present, the glittery promise of her future.

That’s the story worth Googling.

Sharpe is 38, a proud mom of a 15-year-old daughter, a graphic artist and photographer, an apartment dweller and a peer support worker at Crossroads for Women for women emerging from incarceration and addiction.

She is also one of those emerging women, four years clean and sober.

Ginger Sharpe , a graphic artist who has struggle for years with a Meth addiction and homelessness, stands in front of a mural she created in the lobby of Crossroads for Women, a Counseling Center located near Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“She’s changed so much since first coming here,” said Robert Fontenot, development director at Crossroads. “She one of our people we ask first to publicly share her personal story to show the public what we do and how people can recover from their addictions.”

Sharpe will be sharing her story as the featured speaker at the nearly sold-out sixth annual Tea Time with Crossroads fundraiser Saturday.

But the story she hoped to stop being shared is the one that appeared March 6, 2018, in the Journal about how she failed a drug test while on probation and blamed it on a prescription her doctor gave her for methamphetamine – which was not true.

The story went national.

“It was a stupid mistake I made, listening to a friend, and it backfired,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe’s criminal history stretches back to 2011 and includes misdemeanor shoplifting, fraud and trespassing offenses to felony drug possession, forgery and auto burglary.

But her addiction and abuse began far earlier than that, her childhood filled with neglect, abuse and mental illness.

“I didn’t come from the best home,” she said.

At age 8, she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and prescribed amphetamines. By the time she was 15, she was a full-fledged meth addict, homeless and hitching herself to older, abusive men deep into their own addictions.

The birth of her daughter in her early 20s gave her a reason to get clean. But that was short lived when during a police raid, her child was removed from her custody.

“It was November 11, 2011,” she said, the date so searing that it still brings her to tears. “I was doing OK. But my roommate was selling drugs out of our apartment and I didn’t know, and the police came and took my baby. I was in handcuffs and they wouldn’t let me hold her as she was screaming.”

That, she said, was when she hit bottom.

“It felt like I had no reason to live, no hope,” she said. “I didn’t care anymore. My addiction was in full swing.”

Sharpe said after her release from jail she had nowhere to go. She shoplifted to eat and buy her meth. At night, she walked the streets, finding respite in all-night casinos, washing up in the restrooms, drinking free sodas and playing penny slots slowly so she wouldn’t be kicked out.

“I tried not to look homeless,” she said.

For extra cash, she went dumpster diving behind a florist shop to retrieve salvageable flowers she crafted into bouquets and sold for $5 apiece.

“The flowers were still beautiful,” she said. “And it felt less degrading than panhandling.”

Her efforts weren’t always well received. A man yelled at her to get a job and spit in her face, she said.

“I remember that humiliation,” she said. “I wasn’t asking for a handout. I was trying to be resourceful, to hold on to a little dignity.”

The worst humiliation came when she tested positive at the probation office and was made to call her young daughter to tell her she was going back to jail.

But it was during that stay at the Metropolitan Detention Center that she met members of the University of New Mexico Fast Track program, which matches inmates to appropriate services. Sharpe was matched with Crossroads for Women.

The nonprofit provides integrative services including housing, counseling and support to help break the cycles of addiction and abuse. Its symbol is the butterfly, which represents rebirth, transformation, change, hope.

Sharpe became one of those butterflies.

“For once, I felt like I had hope,” she said. “Like I finally had a voice.”

Through the program, Sharpe obtained housing and counseling. She was able to graduate from high school at last and have her daughter, now back in her custody, see her don her cap and gown and receive her diploma.

But she has also found time to explore her art. And she plays a mean bass guitar.

It has been a struggle at times. Sharpe was diagnosed in 2011 with lupus. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, walks with a cane because of her debilitating lymphedema and has a blood disorder in which her body produces too many platelets.

“I was hard on my body,” she said.

She now serves as a peer support worker at Crossroads, holding weekly counseling sessions, called “Life on Life’s Terms,” with women who are where she has been.

“The girls relate to me because I’ve been there and they see the changes in me, how great I am doing,” she said. “And they see it is possible to change, too.”

Her five-year plan, she said, is to become a certified peer support worker and take her skills to North Carolina, where she has family, and open a program similar to Crossroads.

“I get to change people’s lives with my story and experience,” she said. “Can you believe it? Change people’s lives!”

When Crossroads moved into its new building on Elm NE, Sharpe offered to paint a mural on the lobby wall. The glittery mural, now almost completed, features butterflies, painted by women in the program.

“Because just like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly we are working hard to transform our lives into something beautiful,” she said.

That is who she is now. And that is the story she’s happy to share.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com.

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