In hindsight, hardship can be a transformative gift.
It didn’t feel like it in 2014, when Iashell Brown got arrested for obstruction of justice and assaulting a police officer. The felony case – her first brush with the law – was like a bomb detonating in her life. It got her fired from her job.
Without an income, she soon found herself homeless, living out of her car and sometimes a Trenton shelter with her two young children. That drew the attention of child-protective workers, who investigated. Her car got repossessed when she fell behind on payments. Then a boyfriend assaulted her so badly she was hospitalized and missed a court hearing in the obstruction case, prompting a judge to issue a warrant for her arrest.
“Everything just piled up, and I felt like everything was stacked against me,” Iashell said.
Then she heard about Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton’s Guidance Clinic. It’s an outpatient mental health program that provides individual, group, and family therapy, as well as psychiatric evaluation and medication management for people ages 16 and up. The clinic treats people with all sorts of experiences, from those who have experienced significant traumas to people struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms, marital issues, and substance use disorder.
The judge had ordered Iashell to complete an anger management program. So she began seeing Family Guidance clinician Yesenia Perez for weekly counseling sessions.
“I had a very traumatic childhood. My dad died when I was 7, and I had a lot of unresolved anger in me because of that. Yesenia helped me cope with that,” Iashell said. “Everything that could go wrong in someone’s life happened to me from 2014 to 2017. But Yesenia taught me to treat those situations as temporary, and to focus on all that I have overcome. I learned that I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor. We can’t change what happened, but we can move forward from it.”
Iashell still sees Yesenia twice a month and has made meteoric progress.
She landed a good job. She bought a car. She got a second job, saved up, and bought a house in Ewing, where she lives with her daughters, now 4 and 7, and her mother.
When she started counseling, she set three goals – lose weight, go on vacation, and buy a house. She’s achieved all three.
“If you would have asked me if I was capable of accomplishing any of these things in 2014, I would have said: ‘Not me!’” she said. “I was hopeless. I had no faith in myself. I figured I would just fall into the cracks of the criminal justice system and work the rest of my life for minimum wage. I thought that was my reality, that my life would be doomed forever.”
As a first-time offender, she was able to get her record expunged by completing community service and the anger management program.
Growing up, Iashell dreamed of becoming a meteorologist. Getting a college degree is a new goal.
“My oldest daughter wants to be a doctor. In order for her to see that as a reality, I need to set that example for her,” said Iashell, who recently started a women’s empowerment group whose members meet monthly to share their struggles and successes.
She regards the hardships she overcame as a necessary step to build the bright future she now anticipates.
“Without me going through all of that, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “I needed that to shake me up and show me how strong I am. I ended up finding myself. I’m never going back. I see the sun, and I have the will to fight. Nobody can take this away from me.”