At 7 P.M., Natalia, 28, arrives at the employment workshop for ex-convicts, after a full day of work. Natalia came to live in Israel on her own at the age of 16, from Russia, as part of the Jewish Agency's program for youth aliyah. She completed high school, took the psychometry exam and started to study graphic art. But, at 19, she became addicted to heroin. Shortly after that, she left her rented apartment and went to live around the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. "I weighed 39 kilos, I had no teeth and I lived on the street," she says. "I worked as a prostitute, I started stealing and I dealt drugs. I did everything possible to finance my habit."
She was caught one day with a large quantity of drugs and sent to prison for 15 months. In jail, she was able to get clean.
"I left jail confused and lacking self-confidence," says Natalia. "I came to Telem ... and I started to join in the daily activities." Currently Natalia is employed at the Tiv Ta'am supermarket chain, which employs many women released from prison.
"I've been working there for almost a year," she says proudly. "I started off as a cashier, and after that I was in charge of the deli and now I am a shift manager."
Natalia says she was afraid to tell her coworkers about her past. "In the beginning, because I so much wanted to prove myself and to be noticed, I took on too much authority. Slowly, I saw that people liked me and accepted me for what I am, and that I could talk about myself in an open way. Today I already feel like an equal - not like someone in a subordinate position who is afraid. I am living in a halfway house."
Natalia has been out of jail now for two years and is drug free. She has a dream for the future: "I want to study to be a dental hygienist." (V.L.)
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