BROOKSVILLE - The heavy door clicks shut, and 20 female inmates dressed in orange walk into the stark, gray room. Some carry Bibles, or homework sheets filled with verses and lists of the regrets and actions that got them locked up in the first place.
Wendy Maynard, 47, greets most of the women by name as they walk in, unstack a chair and take a seat.
At 5'11", with a powerful voice and tendency to laugh at herself, Maynard is a strong presence in the room. She scolds the group because one of the inmates took one of her pencils back to their cell last week, which is against the rules.
After an opening prayer, Maynard tells the women she saw a former participant in court that morning for a custody case. Maynard said she stopped by to drop off her "Free Indeed" certificate for completing the 12-step program that uses a Christian approach to combat addiction.
Maynard ended up on the stand as a character witness for the woman, and was cross-examined by lawyers who scrutinized her credentials, asking if she was a verified substance abuse counselor.
Maynard, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology, and aspirations of an advanced degree, hopes to be there some day.
"You're better than that!" one of the inmates reassures her.
Path to recovery
Had it been six years earlier, Maynard might not have been leading the class, but sitting among the other inmates. Her road to stability and sobriety has been long, with more than a few setbacks.
At age 15, Maynard ran away from home in Minnesota. In Florida, she began dating an older man and using cocaine and alcohol. He later started shooting cocaine and severely beating her.
"I was hospitalized I don't know how many times," Maynard said. "It was crazy, out of hand."
Maynard said she didn't know about domestic violence shelters, and her friends were too afraid of her boyfriend to take her in. The last time he beat her, Maynard grabbed a shotgun and fired, sending a shot through a couple of walls in their home.
"I could have been in prison for murder," Maynard said.
Maynard then hit the streets of Daytona Beach and Ocala for several years. She's been robbed, battered, mugged and raped, and sold herself and others to pay for crack cocaine.
Jail and prison were revolving doors, with Maynard serving time in the 1990s and 2000s for cocaine possession, forgery, grand theft and constructive possession.
Maynard quit using when she became pregnant with her son, now 21 and studying to become a youth pastor.
"He was the first reason I ever had to stop," Maynard said. At the time, she was living with her ex-husband in Ocala and went back to school to get her associate's degree.
After five years of sobriety, Maynard found out her husband has cheated on her and deceived her about his own sobriety.
She began using, and he began setting her up, Maynard said, buying her drugs and a hotel room for the night, then leaving and calling the police on her. She said she believed it was his fault, not hers, and fell into a cycle of being in and out of jail, not seeing her son and trusting her ex - just to fall for his "psychological abuse."
When Maynard became pregnant with her daughter, now 13, she tried to make it work again.
"My ex always had the kids and control over me, and that's a big part of domestic violence," Maynard said.
Her life changed on Easter morning, 2006, when police officers revived her seemingly dead, naked body in a secluded Ocala field. In exchange for sex and drugs, a man picked her up. Early-morning screams led officers to the secluded spot, with the man on top of her, his hands around her nose and a cloth over her face. He dragged her through fields of weeds and sandspurs, Maynard said, and she later learned he had a chainsaw and sheet in the trunk of his car.
After being released from the hospital, Maynard was back on the streets "looking like Frankenstein." She believes the police set her up on a soliciting prostitution charge, and she was sent back to prison for the last time.
"When I was in jail in Marion County a lady led me to Christ," Maynard said. "I accepted him but didn't know how to follow him and live."
Maynard seems to be doing something right since her 2008 release. She spent time at Jericho Road Ministry's Mary's House, and eventually got her own place. Her children moved back in with her, she got a job at Chick-fil-A and married a "Godly man."
She has a home in Spring Hill now and a car that's nearly paid off. She is an active member of Cornerstone Baptist Church and, for the past three years has been volunteering at the Hernando County Jail.
"He'll (God will) change your heart, recovery changes your actions," Maynard said. "God saved me to help other people."
The 12th step
As shocking as Maynard's story is to someone on the outside, her experiences on the street are what helps her get the message across in jail.
"In my mind I was a special case," Maynard said, with many women nodding their heads in agreement. "I thought I was the only one going what I was going through."
During Friday's class, Maynard presented two certificates to women on the 12th step of the program.
"I don't do drugs, but I do bad stuff," said Melissa Bonner, explaining when she gets out of jail in March she plans to move to Ocala and start a "whole new life" for her and her children.
Brenda Powell, in a soft voice, thanks God for "sending Wendy," and most of the class is in agreement.
Toward the back of the room, the enthusiasm wavers. Some of the women are chatting among themselves, which Maynard tolerates until it comes time to read directly from the Bible.
Maynard accepts some of the women come to her class just to get out of their cell for an hour and a half, but hopes that one day the light bulb will go off.
"I will spend the rest of my life telling others about Christ because of what he did to me," Maynard said. "I'm a whole being," Maynard said. "I'm a whole person again."