Having turned her own life around, Jade Lewis is determined to help others.
JADE Lewis’s life has undergone some remarkable transformations.
Her best-selling book, Golden Haze, gives a first-hand account of teenage drug abuse and a sharp lesson in how quickly life can spin out of control.
It’s a lesson Ms Lewis is keen to provide to as many primary and high school students as possible.
She has toured hundreds of schools around Australia and recounted her story of teenage speed and heroin addiction to thousands of youngsters who may be susceptible to the same temptations.
Last week, Ms Lewis officially launched Jade Lewis and Friends Inc, a charitable organisation that aids in the rehabilitation and reintroduction into society of the state’s female prisoners through the development of key life skills and self-respect.
And the presence of Premier Colin Barnett and Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi at the charity launch, and their clear personal support of it, indicates that Ms Lewis has a powerful message to tell.
Added to that are the numerous awards she has received for her work and her induction into the WA Women’s Hall of Fame this year.
Speaking with Ms Lewis it is readily apparent what that ‘special’ element is – she has a pretty dark story and she isn’t afraid to tell it, for the good of other people.
At 15 she was a track athlete – and a star at that.
She had gold and silver medals at state level and was determined to get to the Olympics – a dream that eventually died when she took a break to complete her studies and fell into alcohol use, followed by speed and heroin.
Her story is emotional – she recalls her family was torn apart over the seven years she was using, with her parents swinging between the tactic of tough love (kicking her out of home) and trying to rehabilitate her in the family home, only to find the latter was eventually to the detriment of all.
When she was 22, after police had arrested her and charged her with a range of offences, Ms Lewis found her way to Teen Challenge – a residential substance abuse and recovery centre based in Esperance.
She lived there for three years and slowly regained her life.
“Very early on, I was given the opportunity after I got my life back together, to do a traineeship and further study to be able to help women coming out of addiction,” Ms Lewis told WA Business News.
“While I was working with broken women, I realised then that a lot of my problems and a lot of my recovery was based around me and the whole backbone of addiction is selfishness. If you are going to overcome selfishness then you have to be the opposite, which is learning to serve other people.
“I realised then (that) life wasn’t all about me and what I could get, it was actually about others and what I could give.”
For Ms Lewis it would have been easy to move on, change her identity and forget her past; but she says it’s important never to forget the place she came from.
“You don’t need the guilt and rejection and trauma that is associated with your past, but you remember those who would help you in your most desperate circumstances. It seems natural to want to do that for other people,” Ms Lewis says.
It took a year of living Teen Challenge’s intensive program for Ms Lewis to feel confident in her renewed attitude and way of life, and the experience played into the way she has formed her charity.
“It was every day that I was dealing with stuff, I guess I fast tracked it by being away, and that is why I am passionate about residential care,” she says.
As part of Jade Lewis and Friends’ personal development program for women in prison, Step Up, she hopes to establish the Grace Transitional Centre.
“We can counsel or mentor girls for one hour a week, but put them back into the same environment and that isn’t going to bring long-term change,” Ms Lewis says.
She hopes to develop the Grace centre into an intensive supportive program that teaches life skills, parenting, fitness, nutrition and character building in order to create greater levels of success.
“You only have to read statistics in the media to realise our country has a problem when it comes to drugs, alcohol, crime and violence. We really need to do something,” she says.