Yes, I’m Guilty.

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Yes, I’m Guilty.

Yes, I’m Guilty

For the last 11 years I have lived with the knowledge that I made mistakes so detrimental, the entire course of my life was forever changed.   At the age of 23, I made choices and decisions that were shameful, selfish, and criminal and arose out of a misplaced sense of entitlement and unhappiness.   Instead of seeking help for scars related to becoming a mother at 16, a crumbling marriage and feelings of failure, I filled the void with incessant shopping and material items.  I chose clothing and home furnishings over alcohol or cocaine to numb the pain.  When the credit cards were over the limit and our checking accounts drained, I turned to student loans to fund my addiction.  I falsified my applications to get the maximum amount possible, thinking to myself that I had a good job and could pay it back when it came due in 4 years with absolutely no thought as to how this could come crashing down.  And come crashing down it did…

I separated from my husband and went through an acrimonious divorce in 2007 and finally hit rock bottom.  I entered weekly therapy, and finally admitted my life was in such disarray that I had to make some serious alterations.  I realized that I was leaving a legacy of lies and shame for my son, and I had to rectify that as soon as possible.  In my quest to avoid dealing with my true state of affairs, I had shirked my duties as a mother and put all of my focus on myself, to the point of committing felonies to fund my shopping addiction.  These behaviors not only negatively impacted my life, but were destroying my family as well.  But change doesn’t come overnight, and the situation that I had created was so devastating, that a simple “I’m sorry” was not going to repair the damage I had caused.  I knew that the only way I could ever possibly make up for what I was putting my family through, would be to dig deep and make the changes necessary to be the person I was raised to be.

As the daughter of a pastor and retired police officer, I most certainly knew right from wrong.  But as is human nature, I rationalized my behavior to the point I believed my own lies.  I became immune to the destruction I was leaving in my wake until it was too late.  On April 15, 2011, I was indicted on 4 counts of filing a false tax return, and my world as I knew it ceased to exist.  Within 30 days, the US Attorney’s office offered me a plea deal—if I plead guilty to one count, they would dismiss the other 3 counts and I could avoid a possible 12 year prison sentence.  However, I wasn’t going to avoid prison altogether.  The plea deal called for 24 months of incarceration, full restitution, and one year probation.  After conferring with my attorney and my family, I decided to accept the plea agreement and was arraigned in June of that year.  My own personal hell was just beginning.

I was sentenced on September 27, 2011 and by the grace of God, received 1 year and a day in lieu of 2 years.  I spent the next month packing up my life and preparing to leave my family for a year.  In all of this, the absolute worst day of my life to date was October 25, 2011 when I had to tell my 14 year old son goodbye.  As we hugged for the final time, my heart broke into a thousand pieces when I saw the tears in his eyes, shining with the pain I had caused.  That was worse than any prison sentence a judge could impart.  My son, who was the most important person on the planet to me, was now facing a year without a mother and the full weight of what I had done finally hit me.

When I reported to Federal Prison Camp in California on October 27, 2011, I made the decision that I was leaving my former self there and returning the woman I was meant to be.  I had chosen a fork in the road that led only to heartache and I was reversing course.  I spent the next 9 months immersed in soul searching, reading, writing and prayer in order to cleanse myself of my demons.  The feelings of loneliness, fear, and isolation were overwhelming and never far from my mind.  I vowed to myself, my son, and my family that I would do whatever it took to change my way of thinking and be the mother my son deserved.  And that is exactly what I did.

Am I perfect? No.  Do I still make mistakes? Emphatically yes.  Do I still struggle with my view of money? Of course.  Are there people who refuse to allow me a second chance and continue to use my past as a weapon?  Sadly, yes—to the point I’m being stalked online because apparently prison isn’t punishment enough for some people, but that is the price I pay for making those awful choices.  But I’m taking one day at a time knowing that the love of my family and friends is worth the effort required to change.  There is never a day that goes by that I don’t feel remorse and regret over my behaviors.  I am a work in progress and always will be, but my relationship with my son has never been better.  Thankfully, the hard work is paying off, and we are closer than ever before.  In my heart of hearts, I know that it has all been worth it if my son can learn from my mistakes and never go down the path I chose.  If I can alter just one life for the better with my story, whether it be yours or his, I will shout it from the rooftops.

written by: nikki edwards aka nikki van winkle

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A Word from My Father…

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A Word from My Father…

There is no pain quite like that of watching one of your own children make terrible choices- choices that you know will tear his/her life apart. As a father, you begin to doubt your parenting and wonder where you went wrong. Were there too many bad examples? Was I not there enough? A pastor’s children are often under a microscope- were my expectations unreasonable? You finally realize that to some extent it could be any or all of these, but you also know that as an adult your child must take responsibility for his/her own decisions. Blaming yourself is at best counterproductive and at worst enabling.

 This is where my wife and I found ourselves with our daughter, Nikki. Bright, loving and oh so social- then pregnant at fifteen, married for the wrong reasons and divorced five years later. It was her relationship with money that caused the most damage, however. Money seemed to become her “god”, and everything else was measured by it. It even led to a year in federal prison for tax evasion on money she received by falsifying student loan applications. Watching this downward spiral was one of the most heart-wrenching times of her mother’s and my life.

Nikki says that prison was her wake-up call, the time she “hit bottom”. We were so hoping that she would receive probation, but I believe God put her in prison- that’s right, put her in prison- because it was the only place from which she would transfer her trust from money to Him. The changes she made, and the ones God made in her, are simply amazing. She is still bright, loving and yes, oh so social, but her focus is no longer on the things that would destroy her. She is engaged to a man who loves her for who she has become, not just in spite of what she has done. The past is not defining her, and for that we are so thankful to the God of second chances. 

Nikki’s mother and I are so proud of who she is becoming. She isn’t trying to hide from her past- that is part of the reason for the openness of this blog. Instead she is trying to let everyone know that she has made her share of serious mistakes, and that in the ways that count, she is no longer the same person that walked into that Federal Prison. I know this. I have seen it with my own eyes. 

Some people, however, will not let it go. They are taking every opportunity to attempt to use these mistakes to destroy Nikki through a campaign of character assassination. Ironically, the person behind most of this is himself a convicted felon. His business failed, and is now either looking for someone to blame, or is just lashing out in his own pain. Please- it’s time to let it go before it destroys you. 

“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” These may well be some of Jesus Christ’s most famous words, yet it seems they are some of the least  truly taken to heart. All of us have sinned. All of us have failed. Perhaps standing in judgment of Nikki makes some people feel better about themselves, but it can only lead to a bitterness of heart. I hope and pray that we can all allow forgiveness to replace judgement, and at the least allow our daughter to move on with the life God called her to from the beginning. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  

Lanny Wagner