When Ginny Burton reached the lowest point in her life, she didn’t think recovery was possible. Nine years later, she’s using her journey to help others.
Ginny was dealt a difficult hand. Her mother was a drug addict and dealer, introducing her daughter to drugs at just 12 years old. Two years later, Ginny was addicted to crack cocaine.
In her 20s, Ginny was in an abusive relationship and had two kids. Her drug addiction led to countless bad decisions, multiple arrests, jail sentences, and having her children taken away. But everything changed with her last arrest.
“I knew I was OK,” Ginny said. “I knew when he put the handcuffs on me and put me in his car, I knew my life was going to change and it was then, in that moment, that I made the decision to turn it around no matter what it took.”
She underwent treatment at a program called Regional Justice Center. There, she was able to finally get clean… and she’s been that way ever since.
Going through the program opened up doors for her to do social service work for the Post Prison Education Program. She also worked at Lazarus Day Center, a men’s shelter, for seven years.
Her time at these places, helping others like her, was eye-opening. Of the hundreds of addicts she worked with, Ginny only knew of two who voluntarily got clean and stayed that way. Motivated not to have her story be an outlier, she started pursuing a degree.
Returning to school at her age was intimidating. She felt out of place in a classroom full of kids, but that awkwardness faded and was replaced by her love of learning
“It made me recognize how much time I had wasted in my life,” she said. “And I also recognized that I was actually good at learning.”
With the help of a scholarship, Ginny was able to transfer from South Seattle College to the University of Washington, where she studied political science.
“I had a lot of insecurity at first, I was significantly older than the majority of people I was sitting in classrooms with. And I was reading up to 350 pages a week in a field I had no understanding of,” Ginny said.
Those difficult classes helped her realize just how much she had underestimated herself. While earning her degree, Ginny made the all-academic team and became the 2020 Truman Scholar for the state of Washington.
All the while, Ginny was working on rebuilding her relationship with her husband Chris, who was out of prison and also clean.
“I see a lot of the things behind the scenes, the hard work she puts in, the passion, her fire. She really genuinely wants to help people,” Chris said. “She wants to help those at the bottom rise to the top, and I believe that she will.”
To do just that, Ginny shared two photos after graduating that show how far she’s come. One is of Ginny at her lowest, and the other is of her in her cap and gown.
“I honestly thought I’d die on a park bench with a needle in my arm or by gunshot to the head. I would’ve never in a million years thought my life would look the way it does today,” she said. “Stop selling yourself short. You don’t know what tomorrow might bring so you might consider starting today.”
Ginny has to work at maintaining her drug-free life every day, but she’s surrounded by a loving support system, including her children who are 15, 28, and 29 years old. She has also found joy and strength in healthy activities like cycling and hiking.
These days, she participates in Narcotics Anonymous and sponsors women in recovery, but she’s not done finding ways to help. Once she earns her master’s degree, she’ll use it to change the prison system to better help people with addictions while they’re still locked up. She’ll also work to increase the resources available to them once they’re released.
“My story isn’t an accident,” she said. “I think it will be used for everybody else. Maybe I can be some kind of Pied Piper, to help people recover their own lives. That’s what I care about.”
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