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“And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” — Ruth 1:16
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Story by MARK SAAL • Photos by BENJAMIN ZACK
Every woman living at The Ruth House has a story.
Most of those stories are difficult to hear — drugs, jail and burned bridges, squandered opportunities and crushed dreams, failed relationships and lost children, unemployment and suffocating poverty.
But for all their shared history, the women of The Ruth House also have a common theme: Hope.
“It’s amazing what can happen when you dive into the middle of an unlovable pile of mess and get your hands dirty — and sometimes bloody,” Kyle Hill, executive pastor at The Genesis Project in Ogden and executive director of Golden Spike Outreach, said. “All those folks lack is hope. If you can blaze a trail for them, then they’re impacted, their kids are impacted, and their kids’ kids are impacted.”
Tiffany Bills has lived in The Ruth House since Jan. 8. The 39-year-old says she comes from a family of drug addicts.
Bills started using methamphetamines when she was 13. At 26, she graduated to heroin. She stopped using for a few years when she got married, but when her oldest son was about 5 she began “dabbling” in meth again. When she went to jail, her husband divorced her and got custody of the three children while she was incarcerated.
“I walked away from them,” Bills said. “I could’ve fought for my kids, but I didn’t want to drag them into it.”
Bills’ first arrest in Weber County came in December 2014. Bills says she’d get out of jail, be out for two weeks and go back in for 30 days. She’s not the only one to get caught in that cycle. Imprisonment apparently has little influence on drug abuse, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. About 95 percent return to drug abuse after release from prison, and 60 to 80 percent commit a new crime — typically drug-driven.
But the last time Bills went to jail, she’d finally had enough.
“I was tired of going to jail,” Bills said. “My dad had health problems, and I didn’t want to be in jail if he passed away.”
Today, she is living in The Ruth House, going to school full time and just got a job at a restaurant. She says she’ll always have to worry about her addiction.
“When I wake up, every day, I have to make the choice to stay clean or use,” she said.
But through The Ruth House, that decision comes easier, Bills said.
“Now I’m achieving things and completing goals I never did before,” she said.
In her own words
Standard-Examiner photographer Benjamin Zack followed four women who were a part of the Ruth House program over the course of several months, capturing images and sound as they made their journey toward sobriety. Click on the link below to see more photos and hear from the women of the Ruth House themselves.
‘A SAFE PLACE’
Tiffany Flygare, outreach coordinator for The Genesis Project, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the house. A common refrain she hears from those about to be released from jail is, “I have no place to go. I’ve burned all my bridges with my family. All my friends are addicts.”
“They’re set up to fail,” Flygare said.
About three-quarters of released prisoners are rearrested within five years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. Eighty percent of all offenders abuse drugs or alcohol, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Relapse rates for all addictions is between 40 percent and 60 percent, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Two-thirds of women in state prisons are mothers of a minor child, according to the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women.
The Ruth House, with all those odds stacked up, is a precious respite to give addicts and convicts a chance to fight the statistics.
“It’s a safe place to get clean,” Flygare said. “And that’s a lot of the problem, finding someplace to get clean.”
A few years ago, Hill and his wife, Holly, purchased an older home in Ogden as an investment property. Last year, Hill, a real-estate agent, decided to take advantage of the market and sell the house.
“I told Holly, ‘Let’s cash out,’” Hill recalled. “But she said, ‘Nope. I hear you come home every night so concerned about the women and men coming out of incarceration, and domestic violence, and drugs, with no place to go. Why don’t we do something about it?’”
So the couple did. They converted the home into The Ruth House — four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a safe place for women who are transitioning from prison and drug use to connect with God.
Flygare says the women have to be drug-free to live in The Ruth House. Regular, random drug tests are administered; anyone who tests positive for drugs has to leave — at least until they’re clean again.
The sober-living residence houses five women at a time, who pay $250 or $350 a month — depending on whether they share a bedroom — in exchange for a place to live and a “Christ-centered” recovery program. Women are assigned chores around the house, and are asked to volunteer at the Hills’ Hub City Coffee, 3525 Grant Ave.
“They need to attend two recovery or Genesis Project classes a week, and we ask them to come to church on Sunday,” Flygare said. “We let them know what we believe, but don’t push anything on them.”
A little over a year into operations, nine women have graduated from the The Ruth House program.
“If all the money and blood, sweat and tears was for just the nine women, I’d still be happy,” Hill said. “We just keep pressing on, and thankfully we have more wins than we have losses.”
Although staff members screen applicants and often offer second and third chances to women who violate the house’s strict rules, they do occasionally have to remove women from the house.
“We’ve had some bumps,” Flygare admitted. “We had a couple of girls who only lasted a week in there.”
Flygare said they can usually tell which women are going to graduate from The Ruth House, and which will continue to struggle with the cycle of addiction.
“Yes, everybody has a sad story of abuse and neglect in the past, but you can tell which girls really, really want it,” Flygare said. “Sometimes that comes back to bite us in the butt, but we’ve had some real successes here.”
Two recent success stories are Ramona Mata and Stephanie Bryant. They recently graduated from The Ruth House in a ceremony held at The Genesis Project’s Sunday services.
Mata, 32, who grew up in North Ogden, has long battled back pain. She began using — and then abusing — prescription pain medications at 17.
“But then I didn’t have any more so I went to heroin,” she said.
Mata dropped out of school in the 11th grade and had her first child at 18. Last fall, Mata ended up in jail and for some time, her three children were taken away from her.
Mata has held down a steady job since March. She has her kids again, moved out of the The Ruth House in August and said she’s been drug-free for more than six months.
“It’s hard, but I’m doing it for my kids and myself. I don’t want to mess up,” she said.
In the space of a year she found a house in South Ogden and is focused on going back to school.
“Drugs don’t even cross my mind,” she said. “I cut off friends — I even cut off family members — who are doing drugs.”
The 43-year-old Bryant, the program’s other recent graduate, grew up in Davis County. She gave birth to her first child at age 14, and had three kids by 18.
Bryant says she’s struggled with mental health issues all her life — depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder — and at age 24 began “self-medicating with methamphetamines.” Last year, she spent 45 days in jail for drugs. When she emerged, clean and sober, she went right back to her old ways.
“I got caught up in a spiral, and I was back on drugs and in jail within months,” Bryant said.
But this time, when she got out of jail, Bryant found The Ruth House.
“I felt like this place could change my life,” she said. “I knew if I could get through the first three weeks out of jail I could stay out.”
Bryant has been drug-free just over a year now. She recently moved out of The Ruth House and moved in with her mother in Draper.
“It feels different this time,” she said. “I knew right when I went to jail (the second time) that, ‘This is it. I’m going to clean up my life.’ And I have. I haven’t craved drugs, I don’t think about them.”
‘A LIFE WORTH LIVING’
Word of the safe house is spreading. Today, more than 80 women are waiting for one of the five beds to open up.
“The waiting list alone, just from the jail, is three pages long,” Flygare said. “And I only have five beds. The minute I start talking about the program in jail, everyone’s eyes light up and they see hope.”
Hill calls The Ruth House the most exciting, tangible thing he does in his life.
“The women at The Ruth House are moving on to a life worth living, and we have a small part in that journey,” Hill said. “That’s priceless.”
Flygare says even though many of the women at The Ruth House are her age — mid-40s — they are just like her own children.
“A lot of times these girls are on their own; they have no one,” she said. “But they’re learning that when struggles happen, they don’t have to turn to drugs and alcohol and sell their bodies to make money.”
Hill says it was his own personal miracle that brought him and his wife to where they are today. Thirteen years ago he was in hospice, terminally ill, with tumors in his brain and spine.
“My wife and I planned my funeral and even wrote my obituary together,” he said.
Hill believes God had other plans — he recovered and is cancer-free today.
“That’s the source of why my wife and I do what we do. This life is so short and fragile.”
If Hill and his wife can help change the course of one person’s life through a small personal investment, he believes it’s worth it.
“Why wouldn’t we spend what we spend on a car payment to help someone — and help generations to come?” he asked.
The ultimate goal is to expand The Ruth House to offer services to more women, and possibly even add a men’s house, too. Flygare envisions an apartment complex that could house a lot more recovering addicts.
Bryant believes such an expansion would make a huge difference in the lives of many more people like her.
“If there were more places out there like The Ruth House, they’d save a lot more people, she said. “It changed my life, and is still changing my life for the better.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.