Cherrie Burdeshaw bought a house to help women getting out of jail 12 years ago.
Now, she's running a successful nonprofit, long-term rehabilitation facility she calls a Christian discipleship program. She's never held a single fundraiser, and it hasn't cost taxpayers a dime.
Augusta leaders and even some judges want to know her secret. She has the one and only Potter's House, but she's helping them get the second in Augusta.
In this special assignment, News 12's Meredith Anderson got a special look inside the Potter's House in Milner, Ga. These stories are about the people she met inside -- and how the Potter's House has changed their lives.
MILNER, Ga. -- The Department of Justice estimates as many as 58 percent of women who are arrested will go back to jail within three years of their release.
It makes you wonder if our justice system is working. One woman who's been in and out of jail dozens of times believes it isn't, but she says the problem isn't what happens behind bars. Instead, she says it's what happens when you get out.
However, after years of arrests and rearrests, she says she's found the answer. It's called the Potter's House, and there's only one like it in the entire country.
"I don't have a clue who that is," laughed Lisa Hensley as she held up a mugshot of a person who looks nothing like her. The woman in the photo's dark eyes and emotionless expression are a sharp contrast to Hensley's energy and smile, but the woman in that picture is, in fact, Hensley.
Then again, the woman in that mugshot isn't Hensley at all. At least, it isn't who she is anymore.
"I never felt normal," she said. "I never felt like I had this banner off my head that said 'crack-headed prostitute, left your child, unclean, untouchable.'"
The abuse lasted until she was 14.
She never told anyone.
"I got interested in drinking. Marijuana. Cocaine. Anything to numb. Anything to make me just not feel."
At just 16 years old, Hensley became a mom but couldn't give up the drugs.
"I had gotten my son out of his bed and put him in the back of a car to get a hit, and I remember thinking, 'What am I doing? What in the world am I doing?'"
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."
MILNER, Ga. -- A drug addiction hurts more than just the person using. Often times, there are little victims.
Experts believe 80 to 90 percent of foster care placements have something to do with drug or alcohol abuse. That leaves mothers facing two battles: They fight to beat their addiction, and they fight to get their kids back. There's not a lot of help for mothers like this in our area, but soon, there could be.
They're my world, " beamed Casey Vanhouten as she held up pictures of her two sons.
She laughed as she pointed to her youngest son, explaining why his hair obvious isn't his natural color.
"This was the night before his 10th birthday, and he said, 'Mom, I want green hair.' I said, 'If you want green hair, it's green hair you got.' His grandmother almost had a fit."
Now his grandmother, and not his mother, is the one raising them.
"When the DFCS lady showed up, I had been awake for three or four days."
MILNER, Ga. -- This house knows hopelessness, but it also knows hope.
Linda will be your guide. We begin in her room, the house mom's room. Linda graduated from the Potter's House last August but stayed on to help other women like her.
"I have three grown girls, so I'm used to women," she said.
It's beautifully decorated and immaculate. It's also the most private room in the house. All the other rooms have multiple beds. This is the only bedroom with just one.
Linda's job as house mother is a busy one. More than a dozen women living under one roof takes some serious organization, and Linda handles all the logistics. For example, five women share one bathroom.
"You can only take 10-minute showers, so that's how we do it," Linda explained.
The house is usually full, and there always seems to be a waiting list. To come to the Potter's House, you first fill out an application and then have an interview. When invited to come live here, you make a seven-month commitment to change your life. The cost? Free.
MILNER, Ga. -- More than half of those arrested will be arrested again. Some are arrested a third, fourth, even fifth time. It's a problem that doesn't just overwhelm the jails and the courts. It overwhelms families, rips them apart and destroys lives.
It was born in a barn years ago, thanks to some wild kittens and a little girl who refused to give up on them, even when it hurt. Cherrie Burdeshaw remembers devising the plan that she believes planted the Potter's House seed. She would sit far away from the barn and throw food. The hungry kittens were happy to get it.
Each day, she would make sure the food landed closer and closer to her until eventually the kittens were close enough for her to grab. She says she'd hold them for hours, comforting them and petting them. After that, they were tame.
"Later on, the Lord showed me, I was training you from the time you were a child because you're going to get some women who are going to kick and are going to bite, and they are going to scratch," she said. "They're not going to want what you're trying to give them."
And all Cherrie is trying to give them is another chance at life.
For years, she's opened her doors to women who feel like the rest of the world has slammed one in their face. Drug addicts. Prostitutes. Criminals. She doesn't see them for what they've done.
She sees them for who they are.
Earlier this month, the woman behind the 7-month program some call a miracle opened her doors to News 12. It's the first time cameras have ever been inside, but soon, there might be another first.
Our area is now one step closer to having the second Potter's House, but it can't happen without your help.
"Lord, I am on the news, and it's not for being wanted?" Lisa Hensley can barely get those words out without laughing, but the reason for her trip to Augusta is very serious.
As she chuckles, you can see her spunk. Lisa has a lot of life in her for someone who says she wasn't alive for years.
"I was dead as far as most people were concerned, but here I sit," she said.
Lisa is sitting on the back sun room in a home in Evans, two and a half hours away from the Potter's House. It's also a world away from the person she used to be: a drug addict and a prostitute. Five years later, Lisa is returning to spread her light in a dark part of her own past.
We first introduced you to Lisa when News 12 traveled to Milner, Ga., but Lisa's story is scattered all over the country. She has more than 30 arrests on her record. Most of those are felonies.
"I ended up in Augusta, Ga., believe it or not, from Arkansas, " Lisa said. "That's where I did my first piece of crack -- Augusta, Ga. I will never forget that, all the days that I live."
For years, crack kept her behind bars.
"It's really sad when you see your release date coming and think, 'I don't want to go because I know what's going to happen to me when I leave here.' No one teaches us how to walk it."
It was only after Lisa crawled through the doors of the Potter's House that she learned to stand again. Cherrie Burdeshaw taught her and hundreds others how to put one foot in front of the other.
This is the Rebekah House. It is for those girls who have graduated from the Potter's House and want to stay for another five months or longer, depending on what they need. This is half a mile from the Potter's House.
This is the second house that was bought for the Potter's House. It had about 3,200 square feet. They were in this house from 2004 to 2007.
This is the Hannah House. It is the home where those who have graduated from the program and want to remain a part of the ministry live. Three of the ministry live in this house. It is 1 mile from the Potter's House.
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