JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A new program at the Women's Center of Jacksonville is getting women off the streets, into classrooms and employed.
A former prostitute and recovering drug addict, said if she can turn her life around, she's confident anyone can do the same.
"I done had guns put to my head, knives put to my throat, I've been raped," said Sharon James.
For about 10 years, Sharon James walked the streets of Jacksonville, looking for her next customer, a quick fix and a way to score some drugs.
"The darkest part is not knowing who you're getting in the car with," said James. "You don't know if you'll be safe or not."
James said her last stint in jail changed and likely saved her life. She realized her current path would inevitably lead to death.
"I want to live better for my mom and my sister," said James.
No longer confined to a jail cell or her life of prostitution, James opened up about her destructive past and optimistic future.
"There is a way out," said James. "You have to want to change. The Women's Center is a good place to go."
"We had to start from scratch with Sharon," said Carrie Fuentez, with the Women's Center of Jacksonville. "We worked on rebuilding with her."
While enrolled in the Women Renewed Ex-Offender Re-entry Program, James says she's been able to build up her self esteem, learn how to use a computer and put together a resume. She's now equipped and ready to find a job.
"I just said to her last week, the woman that came in here in May is not the same woman who I see before me today," said Fuentez. "She's just a totally different person."
James will be one of the first graduates of the program, in the fall. Making her loved one's proud, and giving this woman plagued with a dark past, a gleaming new start.
"I am important," said James. "I'm important to me and my family."
James is one of 38 women who started the Women Renewed Ex-Offender Re-entry Program in April, when it all began. The center said it started because of a need here in Jacksonville. It's just one of about nine women's services programs offered through The Women's Center. They touch the lives of around 10-thousand women and girls yearly.
The Center will celebrate 18 years of service a week from tomorrow, with a fundraising gala. It will be held at the Deerwood Country Club. The event starts at 6:30 in the evening. For more information or to purchase a ticket you can call the center at 904-722-3000 extension 201.
First Coast News