The Power of Hope


By Heidi Glaus


KSDK — Cynthia Stevenson-Johnson pulls up her chair and begins to tell her story.

“I started to use heroin when I was 19-years-old,” explains Cynthia Stevenson-Johnson.

A story that is echoed through the hall attached to St. Vincent’s Church near Soulard.

“At a very young age, 17,” adds Marikay Roberts

A place where every Tuesday night, women come together to share their stories with each other.

“He was gone and I had to support my own habit and began shoplifting and I was in prison by the time I was 18,” explains Marikay Roberts.

“I was in and out of jail from the age of 20 to 45. I went to prison at 45 years old,” adds Stevenson-Johnson.

It’s a story that might have continued to play out over and over without the help of Let’s Start.

“I went to county jail four times before I went to prison,” Jessica Randman says.

It’s a program that gives them nothing more than hope.

“It actually started one August afternoon. three of the women and myself were down at the fountain at Union Station. We had a bag of chips and a liter of soda and one of the women said we should offer this kind of support for more people and she said let’s start,” remembers Sister Jackie Toben.

It was as simple as that, an idea in 1989 that today helps about 245 women a year learn how to live in society after spending time in prison.

“I didn’t have an idea how I was going to live without my drugs. I had my tools but didn’t know which way to go with it so Let’s Start pretty much gave me the direction,” says Stevenson-Johnson.

“I always excelled in institutions. I took advantage of educational but they never taught me how to live,” adds Roberts.

“The scariest thing is losing the routine when you come home because you don’t know what to do with yourself, you don’t know where to start,” says Randman.

Nowhere is that point more clear, more poignant, more powerful than in a play this group performs called ‘Stories of Hope.’

“It’s compiled stories of women who have been incarcerated or addicted. As they say it’s their story but it’s not their story,” explains Sister Jackie.

So of all the four-letter words that add an extra punch, maybe hope is the strongest of all.

“Without Let’s Start I wouldn’t be where I am today, I know that for a fact,” add Randman.

“I never really felt like I was so much a part of something until I got there, to let’s start,” Devin Hall chimes in.

“We’re helping the women basically have the courage and inner strength to do what they need to do in order to stay clean and stay out of prison,” adds Sister Jackie Toben.

After all, this is a support group that started with three women, a bag of chips and a bottle of soda.

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