"Hi, my name is Kinah," she said, by way of introduction.
“And I’m an addict.”
Samuel Ross spotted her when he had walked in that night. She was a new addition to the small, tight-knit 12-step group – tall and broad-shouldered, with a warmth to her smile.
As Kinah spoke and shared her story – one of brokenness and pain – what Samuel heard was a reservoir of humility, kindness and strength.
“I could tell that she was really being honest,” he recalled. “She really wanted to do better.”
That desire helped fortify her through more dark times ahead.
Not what I am
Long before that Sarasota meeting in 2019, Kinah Johnson had come through a lifetime of trauma. Running from an abusive childhood and the death of her adoptive mother, she had landed in one violent relationship after another.
In 2006, barely out of her teens, she was still reeling from the death of her infant son from SIDS when her boyfriend kicked her out of the house. To cope with the pain and depression, she turned to drugs – opioids her primary choice.
After landing in jail, she promised herself she’d turn her life around. There was more to her than this. She wanted something better for herself.
She studied and earned her GED. Once out in 2018, she joined 12-step programs, got a job and started forensic psychology courses at the community college, determined to put her past life behind her.
“That’s not what I am,” she told herself about the addiction. “Drugs turned me into a monster.”
It was something that the charming man at the 12-step program seemed to know, too.
Relapse and a ring
Samuel was always cracking jokes, she noticed, helping people feel comfortable. She liked that he took pride in his appearance and how he presented himself.
Samuel had his own story to share, of a decade-long struggle with addiction.
It was in his 30s – after a divorce and troubles at work – that he tried drugs in a moment of despair. Once was all it took. He was hooked on crack cocaine.
By the time he met Kinah at the meeting in 2019, he was one year clean in recovery, doing motivational speaking and working a good job at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
Inspired by his example, Kinah stayed strong. She went back to church.
Keeping a promise to herself, she took things slowly this time around. But eventually, the two started dating. When Kinah relapsed, Samuel was patient and trusted her ability to stay clean.
“He prayed for me,” she said. “He’d take me to meetings and say he believes in me.”
But in Samuel’s mind, a decision awaited. He would never issue an ultimatum. Her recovery was her recovery, something he couldn’t control. He couldn’t tell her what to do. As a former addict, he could only take care of himself.
“I knew in my mind, I’m not going back,” he said. So he watched and waited, aware that if she didn’t do something about it herself, her addiction would spiral downward, and he would have to leave.
Instead, Kinah reached out for more help and checked herself into a two-month residential rehabilitation center.
“That saved our relationship,” he said. And clinched his next step.
When she got out, Samuel was waiting in the parking lot on the other side of the program door, a ring in his hand.
Giving your best in crisis
The two married and lived in a studio apartment in Sarasota for $750 a month.
Kinah resumed her studies, this time at State College of Florida.
It felt like her life and her dream of a career in counseling were finally getting on track.
After the birth of their baby, Saminah, a year ago, the two decided they needed more space.
In addition to an infant, Kinah had a 9-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. Now that she was clean and turning her life around, she fought to secure regular visitation rights.
But the herculean task of finding a larger affordable apartment in the housing crisis was made even harder by her criminal record. Few places were willing to give her a chance.
After receiving many “no’s,” the couple finally secured a two-bedroom apartment in Venice, for $2,000 a month. Between Samuel’s job at the airport and hers at a restaurant, they stretched every penny to cover the bills.
Gas expenses cost a fortune – $200 a week – as the couple spent several hours a day commuting back and forth between Venice and Sarasota for work and daycare. Legal bills rose related to the custody case.
Then this fall, childcare subsidies were cut in Sarasota County, impacting Saminah’s daycare, while Kinah’s mental health-related disability benefits temporarily hit a glitch, pushing them further behind. The last thing they could afford was to lose this apartment.
Family Promise of South Sarasota County had already helped them secure the place with a security deposit in the spring.
Now this fall, they stepped forward again in October with $1,000 from Season of Sharing to help them with rent and get the couple back on their feet.
Kinah doesn’t know where they would have been without the help.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to keep up with the rent.”
Kim Ulrich, the Open Door Family Service Coordinator at Family Promise, immediately saw in Kinah a fierce dedication to her family and determination to get ahead. But because of the housing crisis, so many families like hers are one hardship away from sliding into financial chaos, despite their best efforts.
“Sometimes with the housing crisis, your best just isn’t cutting it,” Ulrich said.
One day at a time
Season of Sharing helped keep them housed, preventing the erasure of all their gains.
“They really made our lives more manageable,” Kinah said.
Now 36, she is trying to make up for the time in her life that the addiction stole.
“I’m staying clean and I’m doing what it takes to be a law-abiding citizen and good parent,” she said.
As for Samuel, 51, he feels like God is working in their lives.
He and Kinah continue to support one another in their recoveries, accompanying each other to meetings.
“Everything,” he said, “is going to fall into place for us.”
See this story as it originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Dec. 8, 2022, here.
Photo by Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.