OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Addiction can lead to a terrifying downward spiral into a life of brokenness – but addiction can also be conquered, and Sharee Land is proof of that.
“I dropped out of school in 9th grade. I think at the age of 16 my mom kicked me out, so I just kind of bounced around,” Sharee said.
Imagine not having a single childhood picture of yourself. Abused as a child and homeless by 16, Sharee left home with nothing but fear.
“Relationship after bad relationship, and then it just led into getting into stripping, which led to the sex industry, which led into drugs, which led into a lot of brokenness. We lived in a house and I call it ‘The crack house’ because that’s all we did in there,” she said.
So desperate for her next hit, Sharee would steal checks to buy meth. The Oklahoma County Jail became a very familiar place.
“I just got to the place where I didn’t want this to be the rest of my life and all that I knew. I remember being in that room, just praying, just asking God, ‘Don’t let this be all I know. Like, let me know what it’s like to be loved before I die.'”
Just one day before Sharee’s eviction, church members gave her shelter, saving Sharee from addiction and another harrowing round of homelessness.
Now, seven years later, she’s going back behind bars to witness to women at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center with Prison Fellowship each week.
“The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite, favorite people. I love that this man was imprisoned most of his life,” she tells the inmates.
“I grew up here,” Kelsey Campbell says. Prison has been Kelsey’s home since the age of 15, serving almost as many years – half her life, for second-degree murder. “There’s new beginnings, there’s open doors. It’s just life, it’s full of life, she’s full of life,” She says of Sharee. “She makes me excited to hit the world.”
Sharee doesn’t just witness to those on the inside, but also to those learning again what freedom is like. On January 12, with just a box or two of belongings, and after 22 years inside, Mary Hodges walked out to a world she didn’t recognize.
“I’m working toward getting my driver’s license, which she’s brave enough to take me and be with me!” Mary laughed, as she doted on Sharee. Mary found a job at a fast food restaurant. But after just receiving her second Associate’s degree, becoming a counselor is her dream. “I want to be able to help others so they don’t have to go through all the pain I did,” she said.
“I was in for five years,” said Angela Tuszynski, who works two jobs and just got her license. “This is a safe place, a safe place for me to be open and honest.”
Both women attend Sharee’s non-profit weekly ministry called Dignity in Grace, held in Sharee’s backyard, to help former inmates starting from scratch.
“And letting them know that they matter,” Sharee said.
Mary and Angela both served time for drugs and enabling child abuse; both are now registered sex offenders. They’re both in counseling and living in transitional housing. And both are happy, learning from Sharee all about baby steps.
“She’s helped me to be able to just accept myself. Period. Exactly where I am right now. Not tomorrow, not five years ago, but right here, right now – flaws and all. I’m accepted. And to me, that means a lot,” Angela said.
Mary chimed in, “This is my friend, my mentor, my sister, and as I told her yesterday, I could not live without her.”
For now, Sharee is Mary’s chauffeur. She takes her to therapy, paid for by Dignity in Grace.
To afford that, Sharee has just taken her biggest step of faith yet by using retirement money to open a clothing store in Oklahoma City. It’s called Boutique West, and all proceeds go to Dignity in Grace.
The problem is, they’re averaging just one customer a day.
“We opened three weeks ago,” Sharee told her one customer of the day.
But, she says, if God delivered her from her darkest despair, this, for Him, is easy.
And remember Sharee’s prayer to feel loved? She is! By her husband, Greg.
“I feel so loved every day, like, I have an amazing husband,” said Sharee, beaming. “When I left that life after 28 years, my word was ‘disposable.'”
From a traumatic past to an incredible present, Sharee has traded in that old label she gave herself for a new one.
“Beloved. That’s my favorite word.”
Beloved and blessed, which is why she keeps an old mugshot on her phone – a picture of a girl and a life she no longer recognizes.
“I think to remind me, yeah. That’s one prayer that I do pray probably every morning for seven years, I ask God to never let me forget the pit he drove me out of,” said Sharee, smiling.
If you would like to visit Sharee’s store that helps fund her ministry, Boutique West is located near NW 45th and Western in Oklahoma City at 4516 N. Western Ave, Ste. B. They’re closed Sundays for church and Mondays, when Sharee volunteers at the prison.
Sharee also organizes an annual fashion show, where former inmates walk the runway in the latest fashions. This year’s fundraiser will take place Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Will Rogers Theater in Oklahoma City. Tickets will be available closer to the event at dignityingrace.org.