By Mira Radovich, Communications Coordinator, Rio Salado College
Ask Jennifer Reno what led her to pursue a college degree and she’ll give you the brutal and honest truth. Reno was sentenced to three years in prison on a drug conviction. And it was the best thing that could have happened to her.
“In 2004, I revoked my probation to go to prison for the first time,” Reno said. “After 17 years of using drugs and alcohol, I knew I had some work to do on myself. I knew I needed an education and rehabilitation. Prison seemed like the best alternative to find myself, get a life, and quit using drugs.”
Reno began her education through Rio Salado College’s Incarcerated Re-Entry program and has continued since her release from prison four years ago. She decided to study chemical dependency to not only help others, but reconcile her own demons as well.
“The biggest lesson I have learned is that being educated about chemical dependency will not keep you from active addiction unless you are working a recovery program,” Reno said. “If a person does not see the problem and does not want to change, they will not.”
Reno credits Rio Salado with helping her make the change to a better life.
“Rio has helped me learn the value of education,” Reno said. “Since my release, Rio has stood by me, even during hard times.”
Reno dealt with many obstacles pursuing her degree, but seemingly used those to propel her where at one time would have led to relapse.
“I had to learn how to discipline myself to take online classes while dealing with the ups and downs of life,” Reno said. “I ended a physically abusive relationship, moved 6 times, injured my back, struggled with the loss of employment, all while learning how to live in society, and the biggest challenge I faced was my active addiction.”
When Reno serves as one of the speakers at Rio Salado’s upcoming commencement ceremony, she will use her story to help inspire others to overcome adversity and reach their goals.
“Education has made a huge difference in my life,” Reno said. “At this point with earning my degree, the negative stigma I created in society is starting to change. But it is important to love yourself enough to want to change and make a difference, no matter the cost, and reach your goals.”
Reno plans to continue her education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in professional addictions counseling, and ultimately hopes to earn master’s and doctorate degrees. Her career plans include working with other addicts and children.
“I have a goal to help other addicts recover, and change the negative stigma of addiction,” Reno said. “But my heart is with children. I think the children of the world need a person who loves and supports them at all costs.”