Mother walks away from prostitution and drugs to help others

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- After decades of prostitution, drug use, and years in prison, a mother of three says she's shut the door on her past for good, and now helps others do the same.

Kelly Palmer, 49, tells FOX 17 for the first time she completed parole early, discharged last July, and celebrates three years of sobriety this April.

Wednesday she showed off her bedroom to our cameras including lines of neatly organized shoes, clothing, cleaning supplies for the house, and held onto family photos dearly. Looking at a photo of her and her son, Palmer said "it's beautiful for me to have my family back in my life."

Since July, Palmer has been living at the House of Blessings in Grand Rapids, a women's home with the Kent County Recovery Housing Coalition. It's her sixth time moving into this home, and now both Palmer and its owner, Shellie Cole-Mickens, tell FOX 17 Palmer has made an "amazing transition."

“It’s all about helping somebody and giving back to the community of everything that I’ve robbed them for," said Palmer.

"The energy that I put into prostitution, the energy that I put into crack cocaine, I came home this time and said, ‘you know what? Let’s put all that energy into being sober and let’s see how it works out for you.’ And this is the outcome of it.”

It's taken hard work to turn her life around. In 1985 Palmer says she started prostituting. Then she spent years in and out of prison as a habitual offender for prostitution and having crack cocaine.

“The in and out, and in and out, of rehabs, jail, prison, get back out, go back in, violation look for me for a year, when they find you, you gotta do that time that you been missing and then the time that they going to get you," she explained. "And just a capital 'R' revolving door.”

Yet that revolving door has stopped spinning. Palmer says she got sober April 2014, then last July she was successfully discharged from parole. Palmer says it was crucial for her to talk with her support team, including her now ex-parole officer, whenever she needed it.

“I tell you I had some meltdowns and I went right down there, days I wasn’t supposed to report I went down there, and cried and I said to [to my parole officer], 'Look, I feel like using. Listen,'" said Palmer.

Palmer's case manager with the Criminal Justice Chaplaincy, Sarah Rhein, told FOX 17 she's known Palmer for the last eight years. The biggest difference she says she sees today in Palmer is her trusting the agencies helping her, and helping others.

“Sometimes people don’t realize I think the barriers people have to overcome when they’ve been in the prison system, and the other aspects of their life that contribute to why they end up doing the things that they do," said Rhein. "I’m just very proud of [Palmer], she’s had to work extremely hard to make those changes.”

Palmer says it's her mission to continue to help other women. Just weeks ago she was sitting at a bus stop in Burton Heights when Palmer saw two girls prostituting and she reached out.

“I know the body language, I know the waving hand trying to stop a John or whatever, and I called the girls over and one of them didn’t want to talk, but the other one did,” said Palmer.

"And I will say that I’m very proud of this because I gave her some information and she went to the YWCA; she’s back with her mother right now.”

Whenever you feel like you can't make it, Palmer says there are agencies here to help, and people like her who will listen.

“When people make you feel that you’re worth something, and people make you feel like you can be trusted again, I put all my effort and energy into not letting down, especially myself," said Palmer. "Especially myself. I’m not gonna let myself down. I’m doing this all for me.”

Anyone who needs help or is being abused can call the YWCA 24-hour Confidential Crisis Line at: (616)-451-2744. Anyone looking for recovery housing can search the Salvation Army's Turning Point Programs here.

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