D211125 thanksgiving lovett

Brandy Lovett, a recovering addict, looks out from her Decatur apartment, which she moved into after graduating from the Neighborhood Christian Center's transitional home in September. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Flipping through a photo album, Brandy Lovett stopped on a page displaying two photographs — a before image from her March 15, 2016, arrest and a current picture of herself five years clean.

“These pictures remind me of how far God has brought me. The news reported that I was arrested. I see it now as I was rescued. God rescued me and sent me an angel in the form of a police officer,” Lovett said.

The 41-year-old Decatur woman, who spent 20 years addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine and in and out of prisons, jails and treatment centers, sees this Thanksgiving as a gift — a gift she at one time questioned whether she deserved.

“I’m thankful for the new life God has given me, for the people he has placed in my life and for the restoration of my family. I’m thankful my family let their guard down and let me into their lives again. I didn’t deserve that,” Lovett said.

The trials and tribulations in Lovett’s life began at 6 years old — the age she remembers being sexually abused for the first time. For the next eight years, she was the victim of assault from a non-relative. To escape the mental and emotional turmoil triggered by the abuse, Lovett turned to alcohol and marijuana.

At the age of 14, she opened up about the abuse.

“The legal system let him go because I tried to overdose. They said I wasn’t able to hold up in court because I was emotionally unstable. As an adult, I can see they were protecting me. As a child, I didn’t understand. I felt like I had done something wrong,” Lovett said.

From 14 to 17, Lovett spent time in detention centers, group homes, foster homes and Decatur General West.

After graduating from Bethel Baptist in Hartselle, she joined the military in hopes of escaping her problems. There, her drinking worsened and she received a less than honorable discharge. At 19, she started using crack cocaine — her drug of choice for the next 17 years.

“I was in and out of prison, in and out of jail and in and out of treatment centers. My family prayed for me and tried to help, but they just didn’t know how. Eventually, they had to step away from me. I don’t blame them. I pushed them away,” Lovett said.

Over two decades, Lovett was arrested five time for crimes related to her addiction, including stealing and robbery. The first four times, she apologized to her family, promised to never use again and, within weeks of being released, returned to her life of drugs and alcohol.

In 2016, Lovett hit rock bottom. She lost her apartment, car, family and committed an armed robbery to pay back a drug dealer.

“When I was arrested, I thought my life was over because it was a serious charge, armed robbery with a firearm. I actually had a tire iron, but I made it out to be a weapon. The guy thought his life was in danger. I take responsibility for that,” Lovett said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but that arrest was the best thing that ever happened to me. That’s when God rescued me.”

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New beginning

While awaiting to appear before a judge, Lovett spent time in the Morgan County Jail. To escape her pod and the negative environment of jail, Lovett began attending classes organized by the Neighborhood Christian Center.

Begun 27 years ago by a small group of churches, the Neighborhood Christian Center initially existed to meet the physical needs of the city’s poor. In 2008, the nonprofit, faith-based organization expanded its programs to offer classes in area prisons and jails.

“The classes give them hope. They feel like they are accomplishing something, plus, they are getting educated, develop life skills and have the opportunity to hear what the gospel of Christ can do for them. Hopefully all of that can impact their lives in a way that they are not a revolving door in and out of jail,” said Pamela Bolding, who co-directs the NCC with her husband Tim.

Every week, volunteers teach classes on addiction recovery, relapse prevention, budgeting and spirituality. They never know who will attend the voluntary classes. They never know whose life they will change.

In 2016, it was the life of Lovett.

“The volunteers would come in, pray for us, minister to us and encourage us. They met us right where we were. We were in stripes and had little in common with them, but they still loved us,” Lovett said. “I wasn’t just a project to them. That’s the way I felt most of my life, that I was a project everyone was trying to fix. I didn’t think people saw me as a person. The volunteers saw me as a person God loved.”

Through the classes, Lovett, who, on the rare occasions she attended church as a child, heard fire and brimstone sermons, developed a relationship with God.

“I’ve always known there was a God, but I didn’t think he wanted anything to do with me. I thought he hated me and was disappointed in me. I didn’t have a problem believing that God was God or that he had the power to help me. I just didn’t think I mattered to him because of the life I lived. In jail, I began to realize I did matter to him,” Lovett said.

On June 1, 2016, while sitting in her cell at Morgan County Jail, Lovett felt God’s presence.

“God confronted me and said, ‘I want to save you and forgive you of your sins.’ I wasn’t in a church and didn’t go down to an altar when God saved me. I was in a dirty jail cell at midnight when it happened,” Lovett said.

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Recovery

With 23 points accumulated from her previous arrests, Lovett anticipated serving 20 years. She, instead, received a split sentence of five years with three years at the Morgan County Jail and two years at Refuge of Grace, a faith-based recovery and treatment center in Decatur.

“Based on the point system, I should have been in jail for a long time. Seven sends you to prison and I had 23. God had mercy on me and I haven’t looked back since. Have I had my struggles? Have I had my temptations when I’ve got overwhelmed? Yes. But any kind of struggle I have now is nothing compared to the hell I used to live in my addiction and before I found God,” Lovett said.

At Refuge of Grace, Lovett began counseling, rebuilt her credit with help from her financial advisers Billy and Cindy Viall and continued to recover emotionally and mentally from her sexual abuse.

When Refuge of Grace closed in 2020, due to the pandemic, Lovett transferred to the NCC’s transitional home.

“That was a hard transition for me because the NCC focused a lot on discipline and self-control. I had to take a deep look at myself. I didn’t like it and fought it because I didn’t like me very much for a long time. That time helped me grow closer to God,” Lovett said.

Along with God, Lovett credited her recovery to Bolding, the NCC volunteers, the Vialls and Refuge of Grace volunteers Scott and Rachel Beasley, Diane Hubbard and Anna Hodges. She called them “Team Brandy.”

“Brandy has such a magnetic personality and people are drawn to her. She has so much joy and exuberance for life,” said Hodges, who met Lovell in the fall of 2019. “Most of all, she is strong. She says she is where she is today because of God. That’s true, but she’s also a very strong woman and has made good choices. I tell her every day that I’m very proud of her.”

On Sept. 25, 2021, Lovett graduated from the NCC’s transitional home program and moved into her own apartment.

“It’s very encouraging to see them graduate, but there’s also a level of apprehension, wondering if they will stay on the path when they have all this freedom,” Bolding said. “I always tell them, ‘Chase the new life as hard or more than you chased the old life.’”

Framed family photographs cover the wall in her Southwest Decatur living room. There is the photograph from when they attended church together and the picture of Lovett with her brother, two nieces and a nephew.

“This is the first family picture we took after I got out,” Lovett said, gently touching the frame. “For 5½ years, my brother wanted nothing to do with me. He didn’t visit me when I was incarcerated because he said he wouldn’t come to another place and see me locked up. The day I walked out of jail, he was standing outside. Now he calls me every day and lets me spend time with his children.”

Her life now is drastically different than her life before her arrest. She works at Temple Inc., building gray boxes that control traffic signals, attends First Bible Church and studies biblical counseling at Birmingham Theological Seminary.

“My passion is to help people transition out of treatment centers and prisons and connect them with a support system before they go back into society. I think there is a breakdown there. Coming out of addiction, it’s like you don’t know how to live life without the drugs and alcohol. It’s like you’re learning to walk all over again,” Lovett said.

Lovett, who has battled bipolar disorder and depression, also hopes to earn her peer support specialist certification, which will focus on helping people who struggle with mental illness and addiction.

“A lot of the things I have lived through, it brings me a lot of shame. But, being able to share, knowing that there’s somebody out there it will help, it takes away that shame and regret,” Lovell said. “The scripture says, ‘What the enemy meant for bad, God will use for good.’ All the bad I’ve been through, God’s going to use it for good.”

For Thanksgiving, Lovett attended a holiday gathering with her father’s side of the family on Wednesday for the first time in 15 years, and, on Saturday, will celebrate with her immediate family.

“God has given me another chance. When I’m struggling, that’s what keeps me going, knowing that God wants me to use my story to help others. I feel the most fulfilled when I can help someone because I took from people for so many years. Now I have something I can contribute and give back — hope,” Lovett said.

To those battling addiction, Lovett offered this advice.

“Seek help and get clean. Don’t be scared of relapse. Sometimes relapse is part of recovery and gets you to a place of brokenness. Just because people set boundaries doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. Find a purpose. A lot of times addiction robs us of our purpose. You think God could never use you and that your life is worthless. That’s not true,” Lovett said. "Most of all, develop a relationship with God.”

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cgodbey@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.

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