Photo by Corinne Nicholson
CONYERS -- Teresa Jarrell faces the toughest Christmas of her life today, and she says it will be the last one she'll ever see.
Jarrell is in the final stages of cirrhosis of the liver that developed from Hepatitis C she contracted from a 30-year heroin addiction. She was given a medical reprieve from prison in July after doctors told her she had, at best, six to seven months to live.
It was an opportunity for Jarrell, 46, to be with her family one last time for Christmas and a chance for her to try to make amends to those she has harmed. She also wants to get a message out to everyone about the difficult lesson she has learned.
"Mama taught us how to live right, but I decided to live wrong," she said. "If there is anything I can say to people is that life is precious and you have to treat it as such because you don't know what you have until you've lost it."
Jarrell's desire to make amends hasn't been met with much enthusiasm among her family members.
"It's been a struggle for me since I've been back," said Jarrell, who is living with her mother, Wilma Rahams in Conyers. "(My family) didn't welcome me back the way I wanted to be, the way I thought I should have been."
Rahams adds, "I knew it was going to be a shock to her because in five years how things have changed. When I would go see her, when I could get up there to see her, I told her she just wouldn't believe how things were changing out here. And when she got out she wouldn't know it anymore."
Jarrell had served part of a 10-year sentence for a home invasion, later changed to burglary, and drug charges. She went with two men to break into her mother's house to finance their drug habit. Overall, she has had stints in prison seven times in her lifetime. She said today will be the first Christmas she's been home in 22 years.
However, Jarrell and her mother will spend a quiet Christmas together at their Conyers home. Aside from a brother who checks in on them and a sister, no one in her family has welcomed her back.
Jarrell said one sister is afraid she would steal from her home. Other family members have refused to talk to her.
Jarrell said she seeks forgiveness and acceptance from her family and freely admits that her actions are the cause of the strife among her sister and others. Jarrell also has a 25-year-old daughter who was living with Rahams but left when Jarrell got out of prison.
"I've been nothing but a menace to society, really," she said. "When I came home this time, I thought, I finally grew up, I'm a different person, now. Everyone is going to accept me and going to forget my past. But that didn't happen."
Jarrell said she is working to put her life together. She was baptized two weeks ago at a church near Athens where a nephew pastors and hopes to reconnect with her daughter before she dies.
After being released, Jarrell sought medical help from several agencies and service providers. She said, "I had a lot of doors shut in my face," after she told people about her condition. She said most said they did not have the funds to provide treatment, and she was also turned down for Medicaid assistance.
Eventually, she got help from Longleaf Hospice of Lawrenceville. Jarrell now has access to 12 different types of medication to maintain her health and oxygen she is required to be on while she sleeps.
Asked what they want out of this Christmas, Rahams said, "Just one more day. I want her to make it through this Christmas."