“My first outfit was a forest green Jones of New York skirt and matching jacket,” she said. “I accessorized it with a forest green paisley bow-tie blouse, olive green suede shoes and matching bag.” Zoe felt if she wore the green suit into her interview and towards new future, it would be a reminder for her not to stray backwards.
For 29 years, Zoe struggled with addiction; she was, in her own words, “a crack head.” She ran after-hour clubs, sold drugs and was in and out of correctional facilities on 11 felony convictions.
“During my last conviction, I began concentrating on carving out a career path for myself,” Zoe said. “I worked as a tutor with my fellow inmates and attended college courses provided inside the facility.” As part of her work release program at Phoenix House, she was introduced to Dress for Success.
Being on parole, she was required to find gainful employment. Zoe hadn’t worked a legal job for more than 25 years, so the only thing she had when she left prison was a resume that she created there. She took the first job that came along which was in fast food. The job only lasted five days.
“I was incapable of filling ketchup bottles without getting ketchup all over the place, so I was fired,” Zoe said. “I was delighted. I was not cut out for fast food.”
But Zoe nurtured another talent she had not fully appreciated during her incarceration. “When I was not in school or writing letters for other prisoners, I began writing poems. The writing allowed me to address the many issues that kept me held hostage–domestic violence, sexual abuse and ultimately addiction. My writing helped me move forward toward my true destiny and ultimately into self-publishing my memoir, Poetic Recovery Life Don’t Rhyme.”
Dress for Success was an instrumental part of helping Zoe get her book completed. “The women were amazing. They were so supportive about my project. They helped with all aspects of the book, including editing and helping me self publish it. Joi (Gordon, CEO) was particularly encouraging about my writing. She really opened the door for me, and I’m incredibly grateful.”
Building upon the healing that she experienced through her writing, which includes poetry and lyrics for gospel songs, Zoe turned to helping others. She now works for Lutheran Social Services as a counselor for individuals struggling with addiction. She also conducts empowerment workshops for teenage mothers with mental health issues and recovery workshops for her church ministry.
As for Dress for Success, it’s been 16 years now that Zoe has been affiliated with the organization. She has participated in many of the organization’s empowerment programs, including the Breakfast Club, the original Professional Women’s Group, the Mentoring Program, Ambassador for the CAPP, among others. One of the most rewarding, she said, was the Financial Literacy Program: “It assisted me with my outstanding debt and helped me establish a decent credit rating.”
The lessons learned, however, are so much broader. “If you are willing to no longer allow your past to hold you hostage, then empowerment and self-sufficiency awaits you,” notes Zoe.
A true success ambassador, Zoe has taken her journey and translated it to a life that is impacting other women. When people identify Zoe as a role model, she says, “I don’t have to think about Dress for Success’ role in making me believe that I am in fact role model material. It is because they invested in my dream that I am a role model today.”