NEWARK, N.J. — Five years ago Stephanie Luna didn’t envision herself working as a waitress at an upscale Italian restaurant in Newark, New Jersey.
That was before a trip back to her native Philippines, where a few bad choices ruined her studies to become a nurse.
“When I came back I was severely addicted to methamphetamine," said Luna. "And from that point my life just spiraled too fast."
Stephanie eventually began selling drugs back in Elmhurst, Queens.
She was arrested on federal conspiracy charges and faced 12 years in prison.
“Instead of going to federal prison, they now have a pre-trial opportunity program, it’s similar to drug court. It’s a pilot program,” she said.
A judge ultimately allowed Stephanie to enter a diversion program to address her addiction.
President Obama made the addiction recovery efforts made by Integrity House, and “Second Chances,” like the one Stephanie received, the focus of his trip to Newark Monday.
President Obama is calling for bipartisan support to lower mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.
“What I’ve seen is that there are people across the board, folks who work in the system, who are saying there’s gotta be a better way to do this,” said President Obama.
Marc Ackerman is director of Admissions at Integrity House.
He says when someone leaves prison, or emerges from addiction, the next steps to staying on the right track can make or break that recovery.
“We have a large handful of small businesses in Newark that hire our clients as they leave treatment," said Ackerman. "And it’s small business owners like that give these individuals another chance to be a contributing member of the communities, to reengage with their families."
Robin Shorter worked a public school teacher, before spending two decades battling a heroin addiction.
She too, found peace, and a second chance at Integrity House.
“There’s something about going to hell, and coming back,” said Shorter.
Perhaps what’s most incredible about Robin’s story, is that this former heroin addict is now the organization’s director for housing and outpatient services.
“When I was using, I had nothing. I had no one. I was homeless. I slept on a park bench. I was hungry all the time. It was a very dark time of my life. So if I can be a beacon of hope for any other recovering addict, or any other person that wants help, it is all worth it,” said Shorter.