News 12 Special Assignment: The Potter's House: Ryan's Story

Potter's House - Ryan
Ryan says the Potter's House has helped her get her life back. (WRDW-TV / May 2, 2012)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, May 1, 2012

MILNER, Ga. -- Every 19 seconds, the FBI estimates someone is arrested for a drug crime. About a third are women, and chances are good that once they're released, they'll end up behind bars again. This life is destroying lives and families, but now there might be some hope coming to our area.

It's called the Potter's House. For years, it's been quietly saving lives two and a half hours away, but soon, it could open its doors here.

Ryan, 25, had all but given up on life before she got to the Potter's House, "like maybe my heart was like a clay pot that had been busted. And shattered. And it just seems like every day another piece gets put back together."

Ryan started falling apart before she was even in high school.

"When I was about 13, I started smoking weed, because you know, peer pressure. That's what a lot of kids are trying these days. And they say weed is like a gateway drug, and it is."

It introduced her to other drugs, but it also numbed the pain of her past, starting with her mother.

"I never knew nothing about her, didn't know her name. Didn't know anything," she said.

All Ryan knows is she was a prostitute who took off when Ryan was only 1 year old.

Then came the abuse.

Ryan says she was sexually molested until the time she was 7 years old. She says she remembers everything. She also claims a guy she dated when she was 16 beat her.

Tears stream down her face as she admits, "I allowed that to happen because I felt like I wasn't worth more than that."

As he hit her, she was thinking about her next drug hit. She needed to numb the pain.

"I just kind of gave up. I kind of said, well, I felt like nobody ever cared," she said.

That night, Ryan lit a candle, went to her grandfather's grave and surrendered.

"And I said, Papa, tonight, I'm fighting this battle, and I said you were a veteran of war and honored by many, and I'm fighting this battle tonight."

And the next day, Mrs. Cherrie called me from the Potter's House."

Ryan immediately moved into the home for women. She didn't know any of the other 15 women there, but she found an old friend in her bible. Cherrie Burdeshaw, who quietly started the Potter's House in 2000, says it's a Christian discipleship program. She got the idea from doing ministry work in jails where she saw the same faces again and again behind bars.

"I thought, wow. I wish I had a house. If I could just have a house and keep them in this house and take them to church, they'd be fine," she said.

So she bought one. Only the house wasn't the answer. What happened inside was.

Over the years, this former second grade teacher created her own seven-month program. Room, board and everything else is essentially free. The program doesn't just get women sober -- it gets to the heart of why they started using in the first place. It renews their relationship with God, and the transformation is incredible.

You get your picture taken your second day at the Potter's House. About four or five months later, you get a photo shoot. The before and after pictures tell each women's story better than words ever could.

Ryan knows it's more than just appearances.

Meredith: "What do you think your physical change has been?"
Ryan: "I have no idea. All I know is what is changing inside and that's what counts to me."

She hasn't had her photo shoot yet, but already, she feels different. She's taking pride in herself again and has confidence. She's healed, and so have some of her strained relationships, including trouble with her father.

Meredith: "You've forgiven your dad, which is huge."
Ryan: "Yes. Huge."
Meredith: "But have you forgiven yourself?"
Ryan: "Yes. I couldn't have changed anything."

But the Potter's House changed everything.

Some local leaders believe having a Potter's House here could change Augusta.

"A program that's long term that would eventually reunite mothers with their children is just amazing," said Jennifer McKinzie, a juvenile court judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

She's seen firsthand how drug addiction affects families.

"Seven months is the key. Most of the programs that we could offer are 30-day programs. I don't think that does the trick," she said.

Neither does Judge James Blanchard.

"We think it would change lives and would offer hope where there is no hope," he said.

For years, it already has in Milner. Now, local leaders hope it can do the same here.

As for Ryan, she says it would be "awesome" if a Potter's House could open here. After her graduation, which is just a couple of months away, she says she's going to focus on helping other women who've been through the same thing.

She always thought she was alone. She isn't.

And she's got a whole house of women cheering her on. Tomorrow, we'll meet one of them. She's working to get her kids back after DFCS took them away.

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