HIGH POINT — "Sometimes, when you're starting over, you have to work extra hard," Sharion Wanton says, sorting donated clothes in the back of a Goodwill store near High Point University. "You have to work triple hard."
At 60, Wanton works 13 hours a day at two jobs to support herself and help pay bills at her aunt's house, where she lives. "I have drive, I'm self-motivated, and I just believe in myself," she says.
It wasn't always that way.
"I always was told by my dad, 'You'll never amount to anything,'" Wanton says. "So that played a big part in my life."
Wanton came to North Carolina in October after serving eight years in a Florida prison for dealing in stolen property.
She finds herself grateful for that time in prison.
"Having the time inside allowed me to reflect on how I got to that point," Wanton says. "The things I was dealing with — low self-esteem, I had low character at that time. So I started taking some self-help classes that encouraged me to say 'OK Sharion, you know you're not this person.'"
She also got her ministerial license and her GED while in prison. That GED meant a lot to her.
"When I was born, they considered me to be slow, retarded. They said that I wouldn't talk, I wouldn't be able to read," Wanton said. "I had a speech impediment. So for a very long time, I thought I couldn't obtain education or a GED."
She also received spiritual counseling while in prison, which Wanton says helped her deal with the "horrendous abuse" that she suffered as a child. "You have to get past that trauma."
In North Carolina, Wanton's aunt encouraged her to move forward.
"She kept saying, 'Don't worry, you're going to get a job. God's going to change everything for you, Sharion, you just got to stay faithful, just keep knocking at the door.'"
A referral from the National Caucus & Center on Black Aging led Wanton to Goodwill's Jobs on the Outside program. She learned how to deal with that intimidating question asked by employers: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
"At that moment, when you have to explain your paths, you're wondering what is the employer going to think? Well, you take that one second, really a half a minute, to explain what happened and what you did while you were in," she said. "You don't stay on it long. You say to them, 'Well, I took life-skill classes, I took cognitive-thinking classes, I took self-esteem classes, I took this to make myself better. I worked on myself.'"
Wanton also went to NCWorks, a state agency for job seekers, and connected there with KJ Adams, a Guilford County Reentry case manager.
"She believed in me," Wanton says. "You have somebody that believes in you in spite of the big 'X' that you have on yourself when you come out (and) society sees you as a failure, as a loser."
Her experience has inspired Wanton to give back. She wants to get a degree in business administration and open a ministry for women coming out of incarceration.
"Because somebody did it for me," she says.