There are few problems anywhere that Regina Duvall can’t empathize with, because she’s lived through most of them.
She was addicted to crack cocaine for 17 years, and she was a victim of domestic violence and rape. She struggled with depression, tried to commit suicide three times and had a 10-year-old son die unexpectedly.
But when she set her mind to quit struggling for survival, she did it. And now she spends her time trying to convince other addicts and their families that it can be done.
Duvall remembers clearly how she joined the crack club. Her son was in a coma for a while before regaining consciousness and being admitted to a hospital in Boston, Mass., where it became necessary for her to stay for several months.
While she was there she started hanging around with a man and smoking crack cocaine with him to help her deal with her son’s illness. Although he was sick, his illness wasn’t considered fatal. However, on his tenth birthday, he had a seizure and died.
“You know when my son died, I just went into a really deep depression and I became suicidal. I tried to kill myself three times and by the grace of God I’m still here,” she said.
Over the years, she has lost her mother, her father, her brother, her first love and her son.
“I just thank God that he has brought me through it all. I almost lost my mind and went to a mental health institution,” she said.
That’s when she asked God to help her.
Duvall says she smoked crack for the entire nine months that she was pregnant with her daughter, but is filled with gratitude today when she reports that her daughter was born healthy and with no problems due to her crack habit. In fact, all four of her children are well educated and working in impressive jobs today.
She says her mother kept them from becoming wards of the state.
“That was only God. I can’t explain it any more than that because he touched those children,” she said.
The now-reformed mom said she always tried to stay away from her children while she was using so they wouldn’t realize what was happening, sometimes leaving home for three or four days.
But that all changed one day when she came home with crack and alcohol planning to get high.
On this most significant day, she said, “I just became tired. I just told God I’m really, really tired. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
She remembers going into her room when her world almost stood still.
“The voice of God just said to me, ‘This is your day of deliverance’ and I just told God, ‘Yes, yes’ and I began to cry…Ma’am I tell you I have never looked back and it’s been 24 years,” she said.
She now spends time traveling around the country assuring people that they can do it, too. She has written two books, The Potter’s Touch and Cracked, but Not Broken, that are both at the Conway Library, and she’s started a group program at her church.
“He (God) just honored what I wanted. My children were getting older. They were in school. I just wanted them to see the real mother in me and I knew the only way to do that was to stop doing drugs. I knew there had to be another way; it was being drug free,” she said.
She visited NA and AA meetings because that’s where her friends were, but she didn’t stop there. She earned several certifications related to treating people with alcohol and drug abuse.
Her Conway group meets every Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ at 1501 Seventh Ave. Three people showed up for the first meeting and by the third there were eight. Addicts and their families are invited to the weekly sessions to get advice on how to be delivered from addiction.
She credits her mother with “staying the course” and loving her no matter what.
She moved to Greenwood 27 years ago with her mother hoping for a “geographical cure”, but she said, “When I got there I found every drug hole in the city so that did not work and I continued smoking until 1996.”
But her mom never gave up on her and continued to love her where she was. The rest of her family also played a big part in her recovery.
Shortly after she said goodbye to crack she got a job at McCormick prison, a job she really liked.
“That was just so weird how I even got that job and I ended up working in the prison right after the Lord delivered me from my addiction,” she said.
She later moved from being a correctional officer to overseeing the prison’s main controls.
“It was not a bad job at all. I really loved it. The thing is you always have to treat people the way you want to be treated. That could be your brother, your father, your son. You don’t know their story…You have to treat people with loving kindness,” she said.
But there was still more trouble to come for Duvall. She had a wreck in a state vehicle, broke her kneecap and was forced to have total knee replacement. At about that same time her mother got sick, so she took retirement to care for her.
Love, she believes, goes a long way in dealing with addicts.
She now believes that God let her suffer through the things she did so she could help other.
Gary Lee, assistant pastor at the Mason Temple says Duvall’s life shows people that the worst part of their stories doesn’t have to be the whole story.
“She has the empathy to the addict that I could never have because she has the experience. It’s remarkable to see,” Lee said. “I’m glad that she part of our ministry. I’m glad she’s part of our church.”
Lee says it’s obvious that there’s a genuine connection between Duvall and people who need help. He finds it refreshing to see people who have a tendency to be looked down on or frowned upon or who spend their lives outside of the circle have a place to go to find acceptance.
Duvall now describes the drug problem in this country as “horrible”, infecting people who are young, old and middle age, black, white and Hispanic.
“What people don’t understand is those people around them they hurt just as bad…People love to say, ‘Oh, I don’t have any in my family.’”
Her wakeup call to them is “Everybody has somebody in their family that’s doing something.”
Her advice to people who want to help a family member is, “You can’t just sit there and watch it. What you can do is love them. Never beat ‘em up. That’s the mistake that people make…You got to love ‘em.”
In some cases, family members can ask the court to commit them, but their requests aren’t always approved simply because there aren’t enough places to send them, which brings her to the issue of needing more services.
She also sees not having insurance as a huge problem that leaves many addicts living in squalor on the street.
“I’ve talked to many of them that want to be drug free, but they can’t go anywhere because they don’t have no insurance, so they end up being another statistic. Some of these people don’t want t be on drugs, but they just don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.
Her next dream is to establish a home for women.
“That’s my vision, I really want to operate a house for women. That’s my goal and I believe God is going to let it come to pass,” she said.