When pain births purpose: Amanda White opens Torchbearer Reentry Center, shares journey of overcomin
HOUSTON — Some people succumb to the fire, while others are able to walk through it. Amanda White, the founder of Torchbearer Reentry, has proven herself to be fireproof.
Not only has White been able to defeat abuse, drug addiction, and incarceration, she has also been able to use those experiences as a way to help others overcome their own personal battles. A Houston native, White is considered to be a “warrior for change” that has counseled and ministered to people for over 35 years in the prison system. She has used her life’s journey as a tool to empower other men and who are walking the path she once walked several years ago.
Throughout her childhood, White says she suffered from PTSD as a result of being sexually abused and witnessing the murder of a sibling at the age of five while another sibling was playing with her mother’s gun.
“The craziness started when my brother accidentally killed my other brother, and life just began to down spiral,” she revealed.
White lived in a home with what she describes as a very caring and loving mother, but her father was absent. She says her mother didn’t really express her pain, which taught her to hold her feelings in when it came to difficult situations.
“I never told her or anybody that I was being sexually molested by my brother. That went on until I was 13,” she said. “When I did tell her, she didn’t know how to handle it, so again, it was just swept under the carpet, but she was always loving, kind, and providing, but never knew how to be emotionally or mentally supportive of me.”
White said those painful situations resulted in her using drugs and being promiscuous years later. She came face-to-face with other adversities like jail and domestic violence.
“It manifested in all of the negative ways that you would think that life would bring you to,” she revealed. “I ran with the wrong crowd and did the wrong things, not knowing what to do, because I wasn’t telling people what was really going on with me.”
Despite going through so much in the early years of her life, Amanda managed to join church and get baptized at the young age of nine.
“When I went down under the water (got baptized), just as sure as I’m talking to you now, I heard God say I was going to have a real hard life and I’m gonna want to die, but He said, ‘But in a little while, I’m going to establish you,'” she said.
That moment would be one of the catalysts that helped her to recover at the age of 38, along with her children. When asked what was the turning point that made her say “Enough is enough,” White said, “I was just in a dope house one day and I was just praying and asking God to let me die.”
Not long after that prayer, White said her daughter and son, 17 and 16 at the time, came in and rescued her. She said she hasn’t looked back since that day.
White credits people like Oprah Winfrey and Jessy Raphael for helping her to change her life.
“When I would look at talk shows, I would see when they would start talking about physical abuse looks like,” she said. “Every day I just started looking at television looking at how to get out of my situation.”
After taking her kids and running away from her ex-husband, she continued to look for resources that would help her progress. White says she earned her GED at 37 and later went on to college.
White says her overall journey has led her to a bigger purpose in life.
“My life back then was a training ground for today,” she said. “My life was a training ground for me to help other people come out of what they were in… I realized that all of that was just for God’s people. He used me.”
Having been incarcerated before, she says that although some things have changed for the better, there is a lot of room for improvement.
“It was really crazy back then,” she said as she described how some of the correctional officers mistreated and sexually abused the female inmates.
Now, she feels that a lot of attention needs to go towards resources for feminine hygiene and women that are pregnant.
The advice that she gives people who seek to walk the path she is walking is to tell themselves that they won’t relapse or use drugs under any circumstance.
“The situation gets worse, it doesn’t get better. So it has to be a ‘No matter what’ attitude,'” she said.
White believes education is the key for society to understand people who suffer from addiction.
“It’s not a criminal thing, it’s a mental thing,” she said. “If everybody could stop criminalizing it and connect it to mental health, you would see so many more people recovering,” she explained.
Torchbearer Reentry is a nonprofit organization that is devoted to empowering communities and individuals that have been released from jail or prison through education, support, and outreach. The organization’s goal is to help veterans and returning citizens released from jails and prisons have a better chance at succeeding. Today, the program’s mission aims to empower and provide tools for men ranging from the mid-30s to the 70s that have been incarcerated for ten or more years. Amanda says TBR takes pride in its personalized approach to helping each person adjust to the many changes in society since their incarceration.
White has been recognized by the City of Houston, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and the Texas Black Woman Expo for her work in the community. In October of 2017, she was honored with the opportunity to prescreen a documentary on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) called Released, which captured the first 90 days after various men and women were released from prison.
When Amanda is not advocating for TBR, she is an active member at the R.O.C.K. Church and involved in other organizations, including the Gathering of Eagles, the Lady Lions Club, and the Greater Houston Black Chamber. She is also a mother of three.
Torchbearer Reentry officially opened on February 20 at 7242 Orville St. in Houston.
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