Battered but not broken: local program gives women new life

WINNSBORO – For the women of Battered But Not Broken Ministry, the things they are offered – a safe place to live, guidance toward education and employment, and structure to help them get their lives back on track – is the difference between falling through the cracks and becoming good, contributing members of society.

That’s what participants in the Chester-based nonprofit’s program say.

Just ask Margie Hullett, whose struggles with addiction removed her from her children’s lives when they were young but who now – at age 38 – has the chance to be a positive influence in the life of her granddaughter.

“This program saved my life,” says Hullett, who after getting off drugs and getting her life together found a job and was recently promoted to team lead at the factory where she works.

Margie Hullett

“It is possible to live your life and turn it around and have everything back that the Devil took from you,” she says. “You can’t get time back…. I missed my kids’ lives; I wasn’t a mom for them. But… I get to be that for my grandbaby. She gets a better version of me, like the best.”

Or ask 24-year-old Melissa Ann Faile, who fell into addiction four years ago after she was overprescribed pain pills to treat medical complications that arose during her second pregnancy.

In the throes of addiction, she was in and out of jail, ultimately signing over custody of her children to relatives and believing there was no way out – that her life was over.  But it wasn’t.

A month into the program, she says, she’s enrolled in GED classes, working on getting her drivers’ license back, making progress in counseling, and finding out about the process to eventually regain custody of her kids.

“I can’t express to you enough how much I’ve accomplished in just one month,” she says. “The impact that it’s going to have for me is it’s reuniting me with everything that I’ve lost, and for me that means my children.”

LeTanya “Tammy” Williams, who founded and runs the organization, says she partners with others in the community, from mental health to law enforcement to transportation, to offer the services necessary to help give a second chance to women who’ve decided to turn their lives around.

It’s a Christian ministry that pairs faith-based mindset and study with proven addiction counseling through Narcotics Anonymous, mental health treatment, and learning opportunities that range from life skills to GED.

“We’ve been in existence since 2009. We help women previously incarcerated, homeless female veterans, and women with past substance abuse issues,” Williams says.

“Every family has at least one. And when I say at least one, I mean at least one person that suffers from substance abuse issues. So, our program helps to address the critical need of that woman having a safe place for them to be educated and gain the tools they need in order to become productive, contributing members of society.”

Battered But Not Broken, which has two houses in Chester and one in Kershaw, is now planning to open its fourth location in Winnsboro in a house on Whipporwill Lane, which will house up to three women at a time while they go through the program.

All of the houses are named for women in the Bible, and this one is to be called Hannah’s House. They all have strict rules, including an 8 p.m. curfew, a ban on visitors, a requirement that residents participate in household tasks like cleaning and yard maintenance, and mandatory Bible study and church attendance.

“All of our properties are donated… so God saw fit to drop us a house in Winnsboro,” Williams says. “I don’t know His reasoning behind it in terms of why Winnsboro, but what I do know is that this is the Lord’s ministry; I’m just the vessel. So, it’s a privilege for it to be in Winnsboro. God has a big something [planned]; that’s His business. I’m just doing my part.”

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday before the Winnsboro Board of Zoning Appeals for a zoning special exception to allow the house to be used for the program.

Williams says that before her organization’s plans for the house were publicly announced, she knocked on the doors of the neighbors – and found enthusiastic support to help the women get employment and other help through partners in Winnsboro.

She’s also gathered letters of support from neighbors of the organization’s existing locations, community partners, and state legislators.

The program, she says, has an 87 percent success rate – and any participants who aren’t fully committed to turning their lives around are weeded out early.

She says none of the women invited to the program are violent offenders; their crimes range from drug use and manufacturing to writing bad checks and other forms of fraud committed as a result of their addiction. And they are those who’ve shown themselves worthy of a second chance.

Battered But Not Broken, Williams says, was created to offer a hand up to those who have seen the error of their ways – a helping hand from the community to pull them out of the pit of their past mistakes.

Faile says that before she fell into addiction, she never imagined it would happen to her; as far as she knows, she’s the only person in her family who’s had this struggle.

“You can’t get time back. I missed my kids’ lives, but I’m here for my grandbaby.

— Margie Hullett

“If people don’t wake up and realize it and start understanding addiction more, there’s a higher risk of the people in their family or even them to become addicted – because that’s exactly what happened to me,” Faile says. “I was so closed-minded to the fact of how it really worked. I used to judge people. I used to be on the other side of the fence.”

What the organization is asking the community on Wednesday, she says, is permission to help change people’s lives for the better. And the people who it will help? They could be anyone.

“In my addiction I met doctors, lawyers, teachers – they were all addicts. I did drugs with them multiple times. So, it’s not just your run-of-the-mill street bum that’s an addict – but it can take you there,” she says.

“Your neighbor next door may be a full-blown drug addict. You may not know it because he’s just really good at covering it up… so you can choose to set a place for people in your community who are drug addicts to go to turn their life around, or you can leave them squandering in that, and wouldn’t that be a more horrible thought – that you did nothing about it to help the change?”

Hullett says that because of her addiction, she forgot how to live life normally. And through the program she was able to learn that again, get employment, get her drivers’ license back, work on her credit, buy a car, and get her teeth fixed.

“I wouldn’t have known what to do to take the next step to move this mountain out of my way…. You don’t know where to start until somebody’s like, ‘Here, I’ve been there done that, and we can help you,” Hullett says.

“I’d lived my life so long that way, I didn’t know how to turn it around; I didn’t even think it was possible. Not only is it possible to not use drugs, it’s possible to turn your life around, and it’s possible to be a productive member of society.”

Williams, the founder of Battered But Not Broken, says that she too was once in their shoes: 14 years ago, behind bars for breach of trust over a rental truck, she says she formed the organization in her mind – and once she was released, she founded it officially.

“I came home and went on to achieve my first associate’s, my second associate’s, my bachelor’s degree, and…my master’s,” says Williams, who is now an addiction counselor by profession. “I am a person with learned experience for the program of the target audience of women that we serve.”

The opioid epidemic is killing a lot of people, she says – not just in South Carolina, but all over. But she – and the graduates of her program – are living proof that with the right help and community support, a woman given a second chance can turn their struggle into a positive impact on the community.”

After Hannah’s House, she says, she’s being led to open more – as many houses as there are women in the Bible to name them after.

“We want to be a friend to the community,” she says. “We will participate in activities and events and help build Winnsboro up – not be a part of the problem, but be a contributing part of the solution.”

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]