Hi, I’m Dana. Co-founder of Crossing the Jordan. It’s a pretty wild story, how this all began.
Our story reads like a romance and a true crime novel. It’s difficult to write about though, because it’s just not who we are today, but it is why we are who we are. If our lives are an inspiration for just one person to change, then here we go.
Imagine a cheerleader in high school, on the school council, an MC at events, ‘in’ with the popular crowd, smart and ambitious, but very, very lost. Nothing of her life on the outside matches the emptiness on the inside. Now imagine a 10 year old boy, skinny, dressed in hand-me-down clothing, a deep-thinker, very aware he is different, quiet, highly intelligent, and a self-proclaimed band nerd. His mother, walking out on him, never to be seen again, leaves him with an abusive, alcoholic father.
The cheerleader’s mom had her at 19 (dad was 20). Determined to overcome her small Alabama beginnings, the mom pushed her daughter in every way: pointing out every flaw, telling her she’s never driven enough, never skinny enough, never good enough. The cheerleader just can’t comprehend why her mother is so unhappy with her all the time.
The young boy is introverted, often waiting outside in the truck while his father sits in the local bar and drinks. The boy often wonders why his dreams seems so far away.
Say hello to Dana and Michael. Yep, this was us.
Michael and I passed each other in the halls of the same high school, started drinking at the same time, partied with the same people, our exes dated each other, our friends were acquainted, but we…amazingly…never met.
I turned to an abusive relationship with a man, partying at nightclubs and finally dropping out of college when the gaping hole inside me started to take root. Michael worked his butt off as a talented, super-driven mason that had no direction. We both decided to chase money, believing it would change us or hide us. The drug world snatched us up quick. Criminal life was next. One day we woke up in prison, with many years to serve. It happened so fast.
By the time we met, we had Been Through It. Like, for real. Michael in San Quentin for 13 years. And me? Beaten often, and in the sickest of cycles (having no idea what “cycles” even meant), I became suicidal and turned to gambling, robbing banks, then literally sobered up as I found myself on my way to federal prison for 5 years.
Crazy, I know. How did this happen? Natural gifts and skill won’t serve you when your soul isn’t right. One day we were dreaming of some corner office in a high rise, next day, on drugs, hurting everyone we loved, including three young children. A broken heart and selfishness can lead to a host of bad decisions.
Along the way we found Jesus. Don’t judge and don’t knock it before you give Him a chance. We got healed. We were baptized in the same month of the same year while in separate prisons. Cool, huh? We think so. Oh yes, the love story part. Our paths finally collided. I was selling my dryer on craigslist, and he came to help his friend move it. It was love at first sight. Add two more children to the story, a fairy-tale wedding, and this girl got her prince charming. A little late and prince charming had quite a past but we had a purpose and a plan to use our darkest testimonies for good.
Now what? We had a different kind of decision to make. Would we let our pasts define our future? Were we going to sit it out for the rest of our lives? As we transitioned out of prison, we had this label, this cultural stigma, this unspoken expectation from society to be mediocre, limited, subservient in some way.
We’d been through the system: programs, counseling, parole, all of it. Each place diagnosing us with a disease or pushing a victim mentality on us because of what we’d “been through” (especially a woman that had been abused). But give me a break! This was keeping us and everyone around us stuck. Not that our pain wasn’t real, and yes, at one point we were truly victimized, but this steady reminder was silently holding us back. Although we were doing time for our crimes, the victim message subtly gave us a way out of total responsibility. It’s as if society was alright with the way it’s always been, with how we dealt badly with addiction, and just going with the flow of what the “experts” were saying. Today, it seems like people are opening their eyes: is the theory that addiction is a disease really working?
We pondered this separately, before we met. Something was burning inside both of us. Could we turn this whole crazy story around? Like all the way around? Even the way the western world approaches addiction, rehabilitation or mental health for that matter? Because is any of it really effective? We like to think so, don’t we. It makes us feel better. In prison, separately, never knowing each other, we realized our thinking had been conditioned the exact same way, so Michael and I instead chose to serve others. We mentored, led by example, gave people hope, prayed, physically conditioned ourselves, pushed our bodies to extremes, lived way outside of our comfort zones, studied and educated ourselves, always took in new information, and most of all, we stopped buying in to the systems’ way of thinking about us.
Then we thought, what if we helped others the same way we had changed our lives around? What if we broke the mold? Stepped out in extreme faith and shifted the way it was done? What if prison had been a blessing, a training for us, to show a pathway to freedom? We viewed it as, what if we weren’t given some death sentence, what if we don’t have an incurable disease, and instead taught others how to live. Live like off-the-charts, skydiving, rock climbing, live-like-you-were-gonna-die-soon kind of life?
What if we created a family, not a program? A community, with walking-on-water kind of power and chain-breakin’ kind of movers and shakers? What if our trainings were about having courage in the face of fear and doing it anyways? What if we took total responsibility for our actions, owned it, forgave ourselves and others, restored our hopes and dreams and smashed our goals like champs, cheering each other on, holding each other accountable, loving each other in a way society used to do more often? What if we brought back some of the old-fashioned ways and not gave a damn how people thought about it? What if being kind, tough and challenging like a drill sergeant, and being gentle as a dove, open, and traditional could all be rolled into one? This is us. This is Crossing the Jordan.
There is nothing mediocre around here. We set the bar real high and those that want change meet it every time. We are committed to their visions and to help them count the cost to get there. Addiction is a byproduct of something deeper, that can and must be addressed. We don’t smoke, drink, use drugs…jeez, we barely eat sweets…but we do swear a little too much. But we condition our minds and feed our souls first. Jesus reigns in this place but you don’t have to believe in Him to give us a try.
We’re a tribe. We are serious about how deeply we love one another and we intend to take our message to the world. We’ve only just begun. Look out! We are breaking the chains and busting out of a system that does not work!
We’ve Grown a Little Since Our Story Began.
Humble beginnings might be an understatement, for us. We were rolling quarters for rent when this first began. Michael and I both had good paying careers when we took that tiny mustard seed of faith and went for it. I still get chills when I think of all the tiny (or not so tiny) miracles along the way. We stayed faithful in our giving. I can’t lie, some days, it came with fear and trembling. One time, I was getting food out of our cupboard and looked at Michael with tears. I couldn’t explain how we had any food at all. I had spent $60 two weeks before and we were still eating. A few times, grocery bags were on our doorstep and we still don’t know who dropped them off. Christmas came and presents for our little ones were there too. Miraculous. We never told a soul how hard it was back then and God provided every penny of the way.
Crossing the Jordan started with a festival. It pretty much tanked and we lost a lot of supporters that day. But it didn’t really faze Michael and I. We’d been through more failure than that. We just kept plugging away. Soon, we became known for helping women with children, so as we’d started taking them into our homes and finding places for them to go outside of our county at the time (which was really starting to frustrate me).
It was the recession, so there was a whole lot of empty store fronts for rent. I started calling and asking the property owners to give us free rent for the store and allow us to increase our rent every month. Someone actually said yes. Thank you William Severi for believing in us. We had no product to sell so we went door to door with our little ones, 3 and 6, with flyers asking the community to put donated items in bags out on their sidewalks for a store we didn’t even have yet, for a program we were still hoping for. I remember sitting us in Michael’s truck as a family, praying before we drove down the first street to see if anyone responded. Oh my goodness people, you would have cried along with us if you saw it. Imagine, us believing for this vision God had given 13 years before this day and turning the corner in our old truck and seeing the streets lined with bags as far as the eye could see. We sobbed. We knew every ounce of our suffering and every tear that had been shed was meant for something.
We opened our first store in 2011 on Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa, California…an area known for drugs and prostitution. We opened with only $500 and store credit from the local hardware store to build everything we needed to hang clothes and make shelves. In 14 days from the day we got the keys, we flung open our doors and no one flew in, to our surprise. We made only $50 per day back then. Women poured into the store, just to help, just to maybe be a part of the home and program we were talking about. They detoxed on couches in the back (shhh, it wasn’t quite zoned for that at the time) and they worked right alongside us to bring hope for the next girl. We just loved them, right in the middle of all that darkness. Love is all it takes. And the rest, I guess you can say, is history.
The Originals were the pioneers. We opened a six bedroom home only 3 months after we opened the first store. The Originals are the very first graduates and now are the staff, alumni, leaders and motivators at Crossing the Jordan. The originals are just a handful of women and a few men (the men’s house came a little later) that never gave up, that partnered with each other to fight for the lives of the ones that were to come next.
We started to grow fast and boy, did we have some growing pains. However, without one government dollar or subsidy, we built the foundation of what Crossing the Jordan has become today, as God led us. We believe in an honest days’ work and earning your way through your new life, so we focused on the entrepreneurial spirit and not the way of traditional nonprofits. We were innovators, creators, and social entrepreneurs before we even knew what that meant. Everyone has a gift to give to the world and we focused on that from the day the first person came through the doors of our program. We nurture their gifts and find where someone is giving their greatest contribution. Trust me, once that happens, it feels like you don’t work a day in your life. When you are living out what you were designed to be, you come alive. We absolutely love what we do, how we contribute to society, and how we inspire the next person.
Today, we have 6 retail locations, an online store, a recycling and warehouse operation, and a moving and storage company. We operate and serve three large homes, totaling over 67 residents (including their children) in an 18-month program.
The Crossing the Jordan Family..we are on fire, clear about our mission and committed to our vision to change the world for good. We are going global with our message. Our hearts are to serve and bring light to the darkest of places. It’s who we are. It’s who we were always meant to be.