by Lauren Means | photos courtesy Angela Camarda
You are in your late 20s, have a couple of kids, a terrible narcotic addiction after a bad accident, and are facing time in federal prison. What’s your plan to get out of the cycle?
For Angela Camarda, this was a very harsh reality not too long ago. She is now 37 years old, has three kids, a steady job, and is happily married. Twelve years ago, she could have never imagined this as her reality.
Born in Memphis, she moved a lot during her childhood before landing in Nashville. She didn’t have stability nor did she know the definition of a healthy relationship. “I did not see one… ever,” Camarda explained.
She was in a bad accident when she was 25 years old and, like many of us who have been through surgery or an accident, her doctor prescribed her pain pills.
Her mom was an addict and addiction runs in her family. This mixed with the relief she got from the pain pills turned into a toxic combination. “I thought I had found the love of my life,” Camarda said. “I was taking about 100 pills per day and abusing every narcotic I could get my hands on.”
After seven years of battling addiction and 35 trips to jail, she finally landed in federal prison. She was there for five years. She says the stint in federal prison “changed my life.” She completed her time and was released into a halfway house for six months. She had a friend who she had stayed in touch with during her legal woes and once she was out of prison her friend encouraged her to go to The Cafe at Thistle Farms, where she worked, and apply for a job.
While many women at Thistle Farms go through the Magdalene Program to escape harmful and dangerous situations, not everyone does. This was the case for Camarda. She says, “I was unstable and angry and hurt and sad and scared. I did not know what to expect when I started here.”
A place to call home
She knew there would be many challenges and barriers for her to survive life on the outside. “I really thought I would be breaking the law to provide for my ‘habit’ the rest of my life,” said Carmada. Fortunately, she found a home at Thistle Farms. “I knew I found home when I was in my interview and my boss did not ask me why I went to prison… she asked me what I currently do for my recovery. She also gave me a hug before I left. Being at The Cafe at Thistle Farms has given me stability and a life that I thought I could never have,” she said.
It’s this stability she did not have growing up that has made the most impact on her life. Camarda explains, “Being in an environment where I can be myself and be loved and supported for who I am is amazing. No one judges me and no one expects me to be perfect. I can make mistakes and I can have bad days and come in the next day and start over.”
Camarda is now the kitchen/front of house manager at The Cafe at Thistle Farms. “I have been here for two and a half years. I started out as a barista and working the cash register then moved into the kitchen after doing that for about a year and moved up pretty quickly since then.”
She also credits her wife, Ashley, with maintaining her sobriety, “Since being out of prison I married a wonderful woman who is also so very supportive. She is my rock and she accepts me and ALL my past. She is one of my biggest fans.”
She says no one, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, should hesitate to come to Thistle Farms for help. Camarda remarks, “Thistle Farms is very accepting of every woman (and man) and the place they are in their life. Everyone was so happy for me when I told them I was marrying Ashley.”
“The easy part of all this for me is staying clean because I do not ever want to go back to prison,” says Camarda. “The hardest part of all this,” she continues, “is trying to rebuild all the broken relationships that happened while I was in my addiction. Gaining my children’s trust and my family’s trust. Showing and proving to them that I am not that same person I was when I was using.”
Camarda doesn’t regret her decision to get clean and start at The Cafe. “I have thought about how horrible my life was before and how much I have gone through to get to this point and I know that I deserve every single good thing that I have. I have worked so very hard to be here.”
MORE ABOUT THISTLE FARMS
For more information on Thistle Farms, The Cafe at Thistle Farms, and how they might be able to help you, or to donate, visit thistlefarms.org.