In the depths of a lifetime spent battling the disease of addiction, including three stints in prison on felony charges, Walton resident Jen Cutting said she found hope.
Brooklyn-born and Staten Island-raised, Cutting said she first came to Delaware County at 26, already in the throes of drug addiction, for a six-month stint in an attempt to “get clean.”
Since making her move upstate permanent, Cutting has been sentenced to prison three times: twice on grand larceny charges and a third time for selling felony-level methamphetamines.
“Because of everything that I’ve been through, I just want to go back into my community and help my fellow addicts,” Cutting said. “I’m an addict. I will die an addict. I will never not be an addict. I have a disease that I will carry with me at all times. By the grace of my God, it will stay in remission for the rest of my life, but at any point in time, it can come back and kick my (butt), too, and I am not naïve to that fact.”
Cutting gave birth to her daughter while incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 2011. In 2018, a year and a half into her three-year sentence on the felony drug charges, Cutting said, she enlisted in the Shock incarceration program at Lakeview Correctional Facility in Chautauqua County, a six-month military-style boot camp, in exchange for early release.
Cutting credits motherhood and the extreme structure and rigor of the Shock program as essential steps on her recovery journey, taking hold where the court-mandated drug treatment mandates and rehab programs for several years did not.
She said she still maintains close relationships with her recovery coach, George Feister, and Pastor Derek Johnson of the Delhi Community Church, who worked as an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council recovery coach in the Delaware County Jail.
“He loved me when I couldn’t love myself,” Cutting said. “I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror back then, and he would come in every day and he would talk to me like I was a person. I learned so much from him as far as how to treat other people and how to love myself again.”
The times where Cutting said her sobriety was tested the most, however, were her first forays back into the unstructured, largely unsupervised “outside world.”
Last year, she started giving people in recovery the tools she said she wishes she had: a “go-bag” of toiletries, personal hygiene items, socks, underwear and a few luxuries when she can spare them.
“People come home from where they’ve been imprisoned, treated like dogs, starving all the time, and then you want them to reacclimate to society and be these perfect people — which nobody in society is,” Cutting said. “I know what it’s like to not have fresh panties. I know what it’s like to be a female and not have any feminine products. Do you want to go into a job interview and not have toothpaste? Do you want to go see your kid after being gone for two or three years and not have clean underwear or clean socks to put on? I know I didn’t.
“If it wasn’t for some people that I met that cared enough for me as a human being to throw me a couple of supplies here and there, I wouldn’t have any of that stuff, either.”
In a program she has since named “Supplies for Life,” Cutting started an Amazon wishlist, asking for donations of non-alcoholic hygiene items, medically sealed so they’re safe to enter rehab facilities, and simple drawstring backpacks.
“Every single person that I facilitated rehab for or know someone who did, I would give that to them before they left,” she said.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Cutting said she added parenting supplies — diapers, wipes, formula, baby food — in addition to nonperishable, standalone grocery items that can be prepared easily and without additional ingredients.
“When you go to the food bank or you get food stamps, you don’t get toilet paper, you don’t get deodorant, you don’t get a toothbrush, and as far as I’m concerned, these are basic human needs. They are not extravagant wants,” Cutting said. “They are what every human being wakes up to in a home who is fortunate enough to have them.”
“But then we have these people who come home and have nothing, and then we get (mad) when they go back to their old neighborhoods or their old people, because who can live without toilet paper? Who can live without clean panties?” she continued. “Do you know how debilitating it is to wake up every morning and have to take the socks off your feet and wash them before you can go anywhere?”
Cutting said she is in the process of obtaining legal nonprofit status for her organization, and already has a board of directors lined up.
“I remember what it’s like to be there, and I remember what it’s like to have absolutely nobody and nothing,” she said. “It is scary, it is lonely. You feel like you just did all this time on the inside to come home to nothing and no one — why? For what?”
Many of the donations are sourced from the more than 11,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, “Jen Cutting: Recover Loudly,” where Cutting candidly discusses her experiences in prison, in recovery and in life in general.
“For me to be able to go back and help the people I once used with that are still struggling, that service work is a feeling that I’ve never felt before in my life. It keeps me sober, it keeps me sane and it keeps me grounded,” Cutting said. “It just makes me grateful for all that I’ve accomplished and all that I have, and I’m just blessed. I’m truly, truly blessed.
“It is by the grace of my God that I still stand, because I should have been dead many times over. I shouldn’t still be here. You can not hold your hand over the fire that long and not get burned.”
Cutting’s resume is an alphabet soup of acronyms: certified addiction recovery coach (CARC), certified peer advocate (CERPA), Narcan trainer, syringe peer, rape crisis counselor, volunteer through Safe Against Violence at Delaware Opportunities.
“I use all of those items in my everyday life,” she said.
Cutting said she recently accepted a position as an ADAC recovery coach, serving the Delaware County Jail.
“It’s kind of surreal for me because four years ago, I was there,” she said. “The fact that I get to go in there and say to people, ‘You get to come out on the other side of this’ — that’s amazing.”
Cutting’s YouTube channel can be viewed at youtube.com/c/jencutting
“I’m not giving people a bag of hygiene items,” Cutting said, “I’m giving people a bag of humanity.“
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.