‘I refuse to live like this anymore’: Program helping Butler County women escape prostitution, addiction

Editor’s Note: This story first published on Oct. 20, 2019 and is being shared again to feature the work being done by this organization.

The Rev. Kim Russo’s mission of helping women break away from drugs, prostitution and physical abuse started eight years ago when she found a young, crack-addicted prostitute in the alley behind her Hamilton coffee shop, which since closed.

In back of Offerings Holy Grounds Cafe, which was at 215 Main St., “she was in the alley, and I bent down to just to figure out what she was doing — she wasn’t paying any attention to me,” Russo said.

“I got on my knees in front of her, and I took her face in my hands and I lifted her eyes up. And I saw hopelessness at that moment that I had never seen in my life.

“And I just knew at that moment that’s what I was created to do, is to reach back, and pull women out of an alley, out of a trap house, just wherever they are.”

Last week, she sat with 10 such women in a meeting room filled with couches and comfortable chairs, where they discussed what once was a complete lack of optimism for the future.

Going around the room, many of the women said that on a scale of 1-10, the week before they entered the program Russo created, their hopes for the future were “zero.” Now, many of them answer, “10.”

“I never tried to kill myself, but I sure didn’t care if I died,” said Shauna Snyder, 44, of Hamilton, who has been in the program about 10 months and now is one of its leaders.

Although the program is in Lockland, a few miles south of Butler County, all but one of the women are from Butler County — five from Hamilton, two from Middletown, one each from Oxford and West Chester, and one from Cincinnati.

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Russo called her program Juliette’s Hope, named for her mother, who lived a life of drug addiction.

“Juliette’s hope was always to get clean and sober and to get her kids back,” Russo said. “And she never was able to accomplish that.”

Unlike most drug rehabilitation programs that may last 90 days, Juliette’s Hope seeks to keep women connected for two years, with them all living in the same house. By the end of the two years, the women should have full-time jobs, money saved in the bank, a car, fines paid off or nearly so, and be financially independent and ready to live in a place other than the towns they came from, because the drug temptations there will be too strong.

“When you’ve lived a life like my mother did, like these girls have, 90 days isn’t going to help,” Russo said.

The program’s goal “is to have us completely on our feet to where when we do leave, we are dependent on ourselves, and we don’t have to depend on anybody else,” Snyder said.

The 10 women in the Christian-based program live with each other, providing emotional support and helping the others resist temptations of drugs. Living in such a close space, they also give each other feedback about bad or selfish behavior. They can leave at any time, but that is discouraged.

“It’s like a big-sister program,” said Samantha Blue, 29, of Oxford.

Emily Zeis, 28, of West Chester, said that’s important, because after the program, “We’re not going to have staff following us around.”

For many of the women during the Juliette program, they’re learning for the first time to make decisions on their own, Russo said.

Kamilah Wiley, 42, of Middletown, said Juliette’s Hope “is not a 30-, 60-, 90-day program where they detox you or you’re just abstaining from your drug. This place teaches you how to recognize your behaviors. We focus on the behavior behind us using. Coping skills, anger-management, spiritual empowerment. We learn a whole new way to live here.”

Staffers who live elsewhere have been known to sleep on couches through the night when someone is struggling and has made a bad decision, or wants to leave.

Sheri Croucher, 51, of Hamilton, said she has been in prison six times, “and I’ve spent many years in and out of rehabs, and this is really the first place that I felt safe to share things, to go through things, where I feel like people really do care.”

“This place gave me hope to live again, ‘cause I had lost that a long time ago,” Zeis said. “It definitely gave me the will to fight for a life.”

The women realize they can’t return to their hometowns.

“Some people think they’re strong enough to go back to their hometown or where they’re from, thinking that they’ll not have that issue,” said Rachel Boehle, 24, of Hamilton. “They might do good for a while, but eventually, they’re back to using again.”

“Prison isn’t scary, jail isn’t scary,” Wiley said. “But Middletown, that scares me to death, because I lost my will to live out there, I lost my college. I have a son in college and a daughter who have not spoken to me in six years. They’ve seen me dead on the floor. I’ve lost everything out there. I have to learn a whole new way to live, and there’s too much bad associated with there.”

Crystal Salter, 41, of Cincinnati, estimated 15-20 people she knew died this year from drug use.

“I refuse to live like this anymore,” said Croucher, who’s determined to have a clean life after 30 years of heroin addiction. At one point in 2009, her mother, father and brother were in prison on drug charges, she said. She was about to be sentenced on five felony charges.

Rob Menke, deputy director of Butler County Adult Probation, said Juliette’s Hope is one place his department sends women to, in a field where such help is desperately needed, especially because of the local and national opioid crisis.

“They’re having some good success there,” Menke said. “From the court side of things, we try to identify as quickly as possible, any assistance that someone may need, and refer them to a proper location.”

Juliette’s Hope has several graduates of its program, and 50 percent are remaining drug-free and successful — well above average for such programs — Russo said.

In the program, the women make bracelets that are sold to support the program, which are sold through Juliette’s Hope’s Facebook page. They also look for churches, businesses and civic groups to talk with, in hopes of gaining donations to keep the program going. They can be reached at 513-578-3865 or 513-827-6281.

Russo notes it’s a lot harder to raise money for helping drug addicts than it would be if they were “adopting babies or cute puppies.”

How to Invite the Women to Speak

If you have a church, business or community group that would be interested in hearing from Juliette’s Hope spokeswomen — that’s a main way they get donations — here’s how to contact them:

  • Call 513-578-3865 or 513-827-6281.

The women also sell bracelets they made at the Juliette’s Hope page on Facebook, at the “Shop Now” button.

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