Moving Into Success: Lisa Harrell

The oldest of four kids, Lisa Harrell grew up in a dysfunctional household with alcoholic parents and an abusive father. “Growing up for me was hell. I didn’t have a childhood,” she said. She started drinking at a very young age and even though she was on the honor roll, she dropped out of high school before her senior year.

“My decision-making skills were altered due to the unresolved issues of abandonment by my mother and resentment of my father,” Lisa said.

She lived with her godmother and would drink on the weekends but could hold down a job. Crack scared her. She had seen too many friends and family members succumb to its charms. But then one night, when she was 27 she decided to give it a try. “Here is a 27-year-old confused women dealing with all these unresolved issues. I am a survivor of rape, incest and molestation, so many things and so many components of this,” Lisa said. “But I had no knowledge of the disease and what it can do. Before I knew it, I stopped going to work.”

From then until recently, she said, “It was like playing Russian roulette every day for me.” Lisa lost her home, her job, everything. Her life was only about how she could get her next fix. “I went from pillar to post a lot, staying with friends or family, sleeping in abandoned cars, abandoned houses, on the street or shelters, going in and out of different drug programs,” she said. She started prostituting.

“Addiction is really ugly. It starts out as fun, but after a while it becomes not fun anymore. It becomes a way of life,” she said.

Lisa would wake up some days with the best of intentions and think: “I’m not going to get high today. I am not going to drink today. I’m going to seek help and get in a program. But as soon as that person comes with that bottle or that hit, all of that would go out the window. When the disease calls you, you gotta go,” Lisa said.

Then one day, she got on her knees and she prayed to God and asked for help. “I didn’t want to die this way,” she said. “I didn’t want my obit to read: Lisa Harrell, crackhead.”

She entered a rehab program and two months later came to New Endeavors Transitional Housing program.

“My family wasn’t really supportive of me, so NEW became my family,” Lisa said. She was grateful for her bed, the meals, the staff, and her case manager Alana Roberts. “I learned structure. I learned discipline. I learned to slowly grow up,” Lisa said.

It hasn’t been without challenges. Lisa relapsed a couple times while at NEW, “but NEW didn’t give up on me,” she said. “You can’t just open up a place and shelter women. You have to have a heart for the women. You have to have a heart for the work. And the staff at NEW does.”

Lisa will be sober one year in August. This spring, she moved out of NEW and into permanent-supportive housing in Southeast.

“You can’t stereotype and put everybody in the pot,” Lisa said. “There are some people who really want to get their lives together like me and there are others coming behind me and we need places like NEW to be open to give somebody another chance.”

Every day is still a struggle to stay clean, but Lisa is doing everything she can to fight her addiction: she goes to meetings, she sees a therapist, she calls her sponsor every day. And she visits NEW to give the clients there hope and encouragement. She is hoping to go back to school, maybe open up her own business, maybe a food truck. But first, she must stay sober.

“I am grateful for NEW because that was the start of my journey and the beginning of my healing,” she said. “I tell the women that are still there that if God did it for me, he would do it for them too.”

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It’s been a challenging time for all of us as we adjust our days, our budgets and our expectations to COVID-19. And now, add a city and country grasping for footing after the death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer and we all feel even more out of control, unstable, and concerned about the future. Here at NEW we know that one way we can process our own feelings is to think about the needs and feelings of others.

We need you. The women need you. Your community needs you. Now more than ever women and children in DC need a safe and stable place to live.