My Story: Linda Sutton

When she was only five years old, Linda Sutton smoked marijuana for the first time. At nine, she gained experience with methamphetamine. And by 11, she was arrested for the first time and sent to a residential juvenile detention center.

Linda was raised by a single mother who worked hard to support her family, but because of her mother’s long work hours, Linda was left under the supervision of her teen sister, who often invited friends of bad character to their home. As a result, she was exposed to the use of hard drugs and sexual abuse at an early age.

Her difficult upbringing resulted in the next few decades of her life becoming what she describes as a blur of substances, prison time and sex trafficking. Linda was pregnant and miscarried multiple times, overdosed more than once, and claims to have been “mentally gone” for a year due to toxic poisoning from the amount of drugs she was using.

The time finally came, however, when she knew it was time to turn her life around. She was arrested for selling drugs and lost her baby with her former partner around the same time. While she served her time, she dedicated herself to recovery. Upon release, she attended community college, where she pursued two associate’s degrees and business certifications, and she tutored other students.

Her recovery and education were positive signs for a promising future, but employers did not seem willing to look past her criminal history. That’s when she decided to turn to Goodwill for help. When she walked into the Salem Job Connection center at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (based in Portland, OR), she learned how to turn her liability into an asset.

Every day, she networked, researched and pursued job opportunities with the support of Goodwill staff. It was not long before she found an opening at Bridgeway Recovery Services, a rehabilitation center for those struggling with mental health and drug abuse. She realized that her background could serve as an advantage in the position.

Linda earned a position at Bridgeway and helped others on their road to recovery for five years before being laid off due to the pandemic. “My job at Bridgeway was amazing,” she says. “I worked with people that had the same type of barriers and background issues that I had.”

While she was still with Bridgeway, Linda found a second, part-time job at Dollar Tree using Goodwill’s Job Connection services. With the additional income, she was able to finance her own house, where she supports women in transition from the prison system and their children. She mentors them in re-building their credit, and helps provide supervision and tutoring for online learning. Throughout the pandemic, she continued to work at Dollar Tree and just accepted a position with the Salem VCA Animal Hospital.

Every day, she continues to prove to herself and others that there can be life after addiction. Despite even COVID-related setbacks, she has built a life and career on compassion and service.

Due to her resilience, optimism and passion for helping others, Goodwill Industries International is honoring Linda as its 2020 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year. Each year, the award recognizes an outstanding person with a disability or disadvantaging condition who completed a Goodwill career services program and is competitively employed by a non-Goodwill employer.

When you donate and shop at your local Goodwill, you help individuals like Linda reach their full potential through the power of work. In fact, 87 cents of every dollar you spend in our retail stores and through® and other ecommerce platforms is reinvested in your community to create employment placement, job training and career support services. Find the location closest to you or make a monetary donation to show your support.