‘Voices’ lecture series starts with story of addiction and healing

Tyler McNeil, Managing Editor

Drugs, loss, and recovery were the central themes in the first presentation of this year’s “Voices” lecture series.

“Everyone thought it was going to just be like, ‘Oh, drugs are bad,’ but it was a real personal experience that made you see things differently and made everyone completely silent,” said Danielle DuPont, an environmental science student.

Presenter Debra Person discussed her journey from addict to director at Exodus 3 Ministries in her hometown of Syracuse. Before reaching recovery, finding faith, and pursuing a degree, Person bounced between more than 17 rehabilitation facilities and was placed in three state penitentiaries. “She’s trying to make a difference, and I appreciate it,” said Dominic Sloma, an adolescent education student.

“They will kill, steal and destroy you,” said Person about her experience as a drug addict. She turned to drugs as a way to deal with the trauma of being molested and raped on four different occasions as a child. Person was raised around drugs, with her father finding peace in drugs and her mother relieving stress with alcohol.

Person’s father eventually died of a heroin overdose at the age of 45. She recalled giving him unconditional love despite one year, when her father sold her family’s Christmas presents for drug money. “When we opened our gifts, there were red bricks under the tree,” Person said.

“Pain is pain. It doesn’t discriminate,” she said. By 11th grade, Person had dropped out of high school and started getting more heavily involved in drugs. She moved from Syracuse to Georgia in an effort to escape her problems, but in Georgia, Person was introduced to crack.

In 1989, after encountering difficulties surviving on her own down south, Person returned to her Central New York roots. Upon her arrival in Syracuse, Person began dating her now-husband. “He didn’t know my little secrets,” she said.

Person relapsed during the early part of their marriage, but she lied about her addiction and, to explain her sudden weight loss, misled her husband to believe she was suffering from cancer.

“I hope that no-one in my future will end up doing anything that they regret,” said Brandon Becker, CIS student on Person’s journey.

“It will make you do crazy things. You’d sell your soul. You’d sell your mother,” said Person. She eventually lost her home, started sleeping on mattresses thrown into dumpsters, and stealing coin machines.

“I woke up one morning and said, ‘I cannot live like this,’” said Person. In 1998, after relapsing again, Person entered the City Mission of Schenectady’s Serenity House in an effort to avoid prison. She was hired as a staff member there in October 1999.

While turning her life around and rediscovering Christian values, Person starting pursuing a future at Schenectady Community College, graduating and then earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from the College of Saint Rose. After college, she returned to Syracuse and started working as a case manager at Vera House, a nonprofit organization for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

After earning a master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University, Person started creating a business plan for Exodus 3 Ministries, a non-profit, faith-based organization targeting women in difficult situations. Exodus 3 Ministries was founded in 2010, and Exodus House opened in Oct. 2012. “I knew I had to do something different in Syracuse,” Person said.

Person believes her failures in Syracuse have become redefined by faith and success. “You can’t design me and you can define me,” she said.


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