Broken Lives Mended Here

Oct. 5, 2017

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Chattanooga’s House of Refuge gives addicts the structure and care to rebuild their lives

Cordell Leonard was back in jail for the third time in five months.

As he sat in a cell, he took stock. He had a house and lost it. He had a car and lost that too. He had to give up custody of his own child.

His life was in shambles — and for what?

“I realized that the only thing I got up for every morning was my next high,” he says. “All I was doing was killing myself.”

It started innocently enough, with drinking, when he was just 16 years old. Then he went on to marijuana, ecstasy and more. He did all kinds of different drugs before landing on opiates.

“Opiates got a hold of me and drug me through hell,” Leonard says.

He turned to House of Refuge to lift him up. The Christ-centered program serves men dealing with the cycle of poverty, addiction and incarceration. For 20 years, the center has been treating men others have given up on.

“Most of the men who come to us don’t have any place else to go,” says DeWayne Stephens, executive director of the House of Refuge.

Participants spend a full year living in one of the residences, where they get individual and group therapy, health and dental care, addiction counseling and job training and placement, as well as regular Bible study.

Leonard, like others, bristled at the structure at first.

He was accustomed to making his own rules, not following somebody else’s.

Slowly he came around.

By his fourth month of residence he surrendered to the idea that he could change the course of his life if he followed the path the House of Refuge was opening for him.

At the end of the year, Leonard had a good job at a printing company. He married a woman he met during his time at House of Refuge and they had a baby. They have a home of their own. He goes to church every Sunday.

His life has completely changed for the better, but he doesn’t take that for granted.

“It’s a struggle every day because I see people I used to hang out with who still do drugs and it’s heartbreaking,” he says. “People who don’t know what it is to be an addict tend to look at them as trash. So many are some of the most talented, beautiful people in the world, yet society doesn’t want to help them. There aren’t many places like House of Refuge that will take in an addict and help them to become their better selves.”


Photos by Debbie Wilson