Woman Uses Creative Writing To Help Ex-Offenders In Recovery

By Beth Leipholtz 10/23/18

"I learned how to live again, how to feel comfortable in my own skin. She’s a Godsend," says one of Rebecca Conviser's students.

teacher standing in front of chalkboard

It was a cancer diagnosis that first got Rebecca Conviser interested in the power of words. If the Morristown, New Jersey woman didn’t make it through, she wanted to leave behind words for her husband and children. 

But Conviser did make it through, and now she is using the power of words for something else—helping those in recovery from substance use disorder. 

According to NJ.com, for the past six years, 79-year-old Conviser as has been volunteering her time by teaching the “Creative Positive Expression Program” to ex-offenders. Rather than jail time, these individuals have been recommended to the drug court programs in Morris and Sussex counties in New Jersey. 

Thomas Brodhecker, 27, of Sussex County, has been in the program for two years. Since he first entered the program, his opinion of the role of writing in recovery has changed drastically. He says that through writing he has been able to peel back emotional aspects of his life that played into his use of drugs. 

"I learned how to live again, how to feel comfortable in my own skin," Brodhecker said. "She’s a Godsend."

Conviser fell into her role teaching the writing course after overhearing a conversation at a local coffee shop about the obstacles ex-offenders face when trying to find employment.

She engaged with the group, which led to her meeting Charles Johnson Jr., the drug court director of Morris County. Johnson thought the writing program would be beneficial for ex-offenders when it came to writing resumes and cover letters. 

However, the program goes beyond writing employment materials. For Anthony Justo, 27, of Morristown, Conviser’s passion for the program led him to be more accepting of his past. 

"She presented these assignments with a fiery passion," Justo told NJ.com. "She was lit up about helping people become better writers and better people."

In addition to the writing course, Conviser has helped ex-offenders with public speaking and telling their stories. She has headed up a jail cell presentation, in which school students stand in a 4x6 area designed to resemble a jail cell for 90 seconds to get a taste of what confinement is like for inmates. 

Conviser says that when it comes to helping people change their lives, persistence is key. "I’m not one of these people who say, 'oh well, it didn’t work.' My feeling is well, it didn’t work, we have to move on," she said.

Despite her own personal challenges, including two cancer diagnoses and a recent Parkinson’s diagnosis, Conviser says she plans to continue to volunteer, though she has had to slow down a bit. 

“I’m a person who gives back,” Conviser said. “As long as I can help people, I’m going to continue to do this.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.