Turnaround profiles: Tina Cabral

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My second chances

After years of addiction, Tina discovers how to demand joy from life.

“For a lot of them their life is better on the inside than on the outside,” Tina said. “They don’t have any support. When being locked up is your only savior, to get you away from everything, sometimes you look forward to the next time you get locked up.”

ADDICTION RUNS DEEP in Tina’s large immediate family. She’s one of seven kids, though even that is a bit confusing. Her parents divorced when she was nine and her mom moved away with the three oldest siblings. It turned out they were half-siblings. She had no idea until that moment. She didn’t see her mom or her older siblings for a year, and effectively became mom to the remaining kids, at age nine.

MOST OF HER FAMILY have been addicted along the way, to alcohol, drugs or food. Her two oldest brothers died from their addictions. One was an alcoholic and one was bipolar. Somehow, the combination of alcohol and bipolar medication killed him. The other died of a cocaine overdose. “But that didn’t stop me from going where I went with my addiction,” Tina says.

AT 17 SHE MOVED OUT on her own, with a roommate, and the two of them began binging on weekends, trying anything they could get their hands on. Before long, she was an armed security guard with the IRS during the week and a bartender on weekends. It was in the bartender job that was introduced to meth.

“THEN YOU FEEL LIKE WONDER WOMAN,” she says. As the meth took hold, she realized that she couldn’t carry a gun during the week while using drugs on the job. She told her supervisor she was leaving and why. He respected her decision, she says, but pleaded with her to get help. “But I was past the point of no return,” she says. One of the prime attractions of meth is that it helped her lose weight, and issue she’s struggled with all her life. Many women on meth know that appeal, Tina notes.

SHE USED DRUGS OFF AND on for awhile, got pregnant, had a child and was clean for several years after her daughter was born. Then she got married, not knowing he was a cocaine addict. Soon they were doing coke together. Before long, she discovered heroin. “After that, nothing else mattered,” she said. “I would do things for heroin I wouldn’t do for any other drug.” All this time, her family helped with her daughter, always making sure she was safe and loved.

“When I saw what addicts I had called my friends were capable of, destroying the life of another person like that, I thought, what would I do if that were my daughter?”

SHE ONLY WENT TO prison once, and that was the moment she knew she was done with drugs for good. It’s a complicated story. The bottom line is that Tina saw some addicts destroying the life of a naive 18 year-old girl and suddenly realized she could no longer be part of that culture. “When I saw what addicts I had called my friends were capable of, destroying the life of another person like that, I thought, what would I do if that were my daughter? I knew at that moment that this was not me. This is not who I am.”

AROUND THIS TIME, Tina visited with her “spiritual guru,” who saw the trauma in Tina’s face. “I need some advice,” Tina said. “What have you been asking the Universe for for the last six months?” her friend asked. “I get up in the morning and say, ‘Bring on the pain. Is this all you got? I can handle more than this.”

“REALLY, TINA, HER FRIEND ANSWERED,” “Of all the things you can ask the Universe for, you ask for pain? You know what the Universe does when you ask for pain? It says, ‘OK, here you go, here’s your pain.’ So she challenged me in that moment, as a spiritual being, to practice bringing on the joy. And I literally do that. Every day when I have coffee in the morning I decide to ‘bring on the joy.’ I decide what kind of day I’m going to have, and go from there.”

IN PRISON TINA LEARNED to forgive herself and to help others. She quickly became a life skills teacher, and ended up teaching all the life skills classes they had. Her students included women who were fresh into prison. She watched the tragic cycle, as women came back, often after only two weeks. “For a lot of them their life is better on the inside than on the outside,” Tina said. “They don’t have any support. When being locked up is your only savior, to get you away from everything, sometimes you look forward to the next time you get locked up.”

“Every day when I have coffee in the morning I decide to ‘bring on the joy.’ I decide what kind of day I’m going to have, and go from there.”

SHE HAD A “FABULOUS” communications teacher in prison, she said, who helped her realize that her assertive, “masculine” communications style could be effective in teaching. She also learned to be responsible for how other people perceive her, rather than just writing them off.

AFTER PRISON, she got a good job driving a truck, which she still works. She also organized an after care group at a local halfway house, and soon was on the radar of the Utah Department of Corrections. Tine today is deeply involved in helping other women get out of trouble. She serves on the Woman’s Summit Committee, the first ex-offender to ever be invited to serve on that committee. A certified Peer Support Specialist for Utah Behavioral Health, she has spoken in prison several times. Her goal, she says, is to help shift the policy paradigm “from punishment to healing.” The most important thing Tina tries to teach the women she works with is to forgive themselves and move forward.

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1. A rough start (1:59)


How a chaotic early life, with an addiction streak in the family, led Tina to hard drugs.

3. The recovery (1:59)


Tina’s recovery in prison and her friendship with her daughter.

3. Bring on the joy! (1:31)


Tina now helps other addicts and prisoners learn what she learned the hard way.

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