Rites of Passage


rit·u·al (noun)

1.  A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.


Seeing your drug dealer across the street; touching the bag of heroin he surreptitiously places in your palm; hearing the flick of the lighter as your finger rolls across the striker wheel; the bittersweet smell of tan powder cooking over a cheap metal spoon. The act of drug use is ritualistic in nature. The user participates in a specific series of actions, these actions often being the hardest habits to break. But the mothers of Sojourner House welcomed a new ritual into their lives, and left the old ones at the Sojourner House entrance.

Sojourner House residents gather to observe rituals symbolizing their journey on the road to recovery. Led by counselor and assistant clinical supervisor, Karen Garland, mothers share prayers, words of inspiration and motivation, and congratulations on reaching milestones in their recovery.

Before the ceremony begins, parent educator Latina Jenkins stresses: “You can change the whole dynamic of your life and your children’s lives, but you have to start now.”  Rituals include planting seeds to grow “recovery plants,” symbolizing the women’s growth as they progress through the program.  One by one, residents line up to receive their plant from their counselor, who told each mother “All I can give you is a seed.”  Ms. Garland explains that women who thrive in their recovery often find their plants grow prolifically.  When mothers are working through issues and face stumbling blocks, their plants often falter.  She provides gardening advice that can easily be applied to recovery: “The most important thing you can do with your plant is to be patient.  Don’t be too prideful to ask for help.”

Residents listen to an impending graduate’s reading of “The Bumblebee,” reiterating the importance of faith in overcoming addiction:

The Bumblebee

According to laws

Of aerodynamics

The bumble bee cannot fly;

Its body is too

Heavy for its wings

And that’s the simple

Reason why.

But the bumble bee

Doesn’t know this fact,

And so it flies anyway

For all to see.

Remember this when you’re

Losing faith or hope

God’s proof that the impossible

Can be.


This new rite of passage culminates when the women step outside and are greeted by the fresh air of the day. A returning graduate participates in an act women dream of upon entering the program.  With her young daughter in her arms and the Sojourner House team and residents looking on, she dips her hand in paint.  Like numerous mothers before her, she places her hand on the Sojourner House fence, adding to a rainbow of hand prints commemorating women’s successful program completion.