Those Who Serve: Ruby

Hearing Ruby Sanders’ story and path to BHN is, at first, overwhelming. She has lived through events that hopefully few will ever experience in their lifetimes. But after years of persevering through adversity and defying the odds against her, Ruby is thankful for every challenge along the way that has brought her to where she is.

Ruby grew up in Springfield’s North End neighborhood where, from a young age, she faced difficult decisions. Ruby recounts, “I grew up rough, in the projects. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd which led me down a dark path, a dark time in my life.” From a relatively young age, she fell victim to substance use and began selling. Eventually, she was arrested for trafficking cocaine and was incarcerated. While she was serving time, her grandfather passed away— someone who had helped raise her and to whom Ruby was healthcare proxy. “That really shook me up. I felt so bad about not being there— not being with him when it happened, missing his funeral.” In essence, this was the wake-up call Ruby needed. While serving time, “I asked myself, ‘is this where I really want to be in my life?’” When she was released, Ruby immediately enrolled in a nine-month recovery program and has now been sober for eight years.

Three years ago Ruby joined BHN, and hasn’t looked back since. As a Peer Support Specialist for the Recovery with Justice and MISSION-CREST programs, Ruby works with individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Through case management and peer supports, the programs offer an alternative to incarceration. The ultimate goal is to help these individuals ‘graduate’ from the program and live independent lives free from addiction. When Ruby first started, only one individual had graduated from the program. She took it upon herself to change that.

Over the past couple of years, Ruby and her team have seen hard-won success, graduating 35 individuals with many more on track to graduate soon. When individuals complete the program, Ruby hosts a graduation party to celebrate their successes. However, Ruby began to wonder what happens to individuals who graduate and, drawing from her own experience, realized how tempting it is to slip back into old behaviors without the support system the program offers. With this in mind, she spearheaded an alumni group for graduates of the program, which she describes as an “after-care” group. “It’s a matter of keeping them engaged,” she explains. The alumni group participates in workshops centered on maintaining sobriety and healthy living and hears from guest speakers; individuals check in with Ruby once a week to receive advice, assistance, resources, and referrals. When describing her passion for this work, Ruby says, “I get to see someone when they first come in at their worst. Months down the road, I see a completely different person; their hope is restored and they finally have control of their life.” Ruby also spends time speaking to various recovery groups in the local community, sharing her story with them.

Adversity has continued to be a theme in Ruby’s life—just last year her youngest son, two years old at the time, was diagnosed with cancer after a tumor found behind his left eye left him blind in that eye. At the same time, several close friends and her stepfather passed away. Fortunately, her colleagues at BHN were there to help. “BHN has been incredible in helping me deal with these challenges,” she says. “When I found out about my son’s cancer, there were so many employees at BHN who donated their vacation time to me so I could take care of my son.” Her son is now in remission and recovering well. Ruby’s key is to keep busy. She wrote a book about recovery and is currently writing a second— an autobiography. “The past year has really tested me, but it showed me how strong I can really be.”