- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Trina Frierson was 7 years old when her feeble dad, using a walker, had a stroke and fell on top of her.

Frierson’s then 4-year-old niece had to run across the street to the barber shop to get help.

Her dad died shortly after that, leaving Frierson with only memories of him laying in bed drinking half pints of liquor.

“He was a true alcoholic,” she says, softly. “I believe that’s where my addiction came from.”

The addiction led her on a crazy path of freebasing cocaine, smoking crack, selling it, having kids, getting shot, serving time and getting clean, for 18 years now.

And Frierson said she needed every step of that journey to do what she does now, helping fellow women drug addicts get clean and stay clean.

Frierson nearly single-handedly built a 10-property recovery empire called Mending Hearts in a dilapidated area of West Nashville that used to be overrun by drug dealing.

“She IS Mending Hearts. There’s no distinction between the two,” says recovering addict Brandie Reeves, a Mending Hearts graduate who serves as secretary of Frierson’s board.

Mending Hearts, which holds up to 80 women, is a last resort for those coming out of jails and prisons and drug rehabs. At 6 feet 3 inches, Frierson can make an intimidating first impression. Turns out, though, that Frierson is all love.

“She’s a big presence, but when you have her attention, she is so gentle and so relatable,” Reeves said.

Gentle might not be a word used to describe Frierson, 50, for much of her life.

In her Maplewood High School years, her oldest brother, Hershel - who was like a father to her - got killed in a scuffle with an armed security guard at General Hospital. In those same years, her mom died, and another brother, Frederick, was gunned down in a drug deal.

Frierson felt a little lost, though she stayed away from drugs. She was a star basketball player at Maplewood, with opportunities to leave the state to play hoops in college. But Frierson, who wanted the security of home, chose to stay in East Nashville and commute to Vol State.

Frierson started dating the neighborhood hunk, and she got pregnant, gave up school and had her first child.

Then she met this guy …

“Everybody told me he was a robber and a junkie.”

One of his friends showed her how to put some cocaine in her cigarette.

“I smoked it and it don’t phase me. I ain’t gettin’ it. It numbed my tongue, but that’s all I feel.”

That didn’t stop her from trying many more times, and soon, a relative showed her how to smoke straight cocaine, without the cigarette. And that led to smoking crack and to selling it with her baby’s daddy.

“But we’re smoking more than we sell,” Frierson says.

The shooting happened in 1994, three bullets, two to her legs and one between them. A guy in the neighborhood got mad because Frierson tried to collect a drugs’ debt from his buddy.

“He started sayin’, ‘You ain’t all that! You ain’t gonna do nothin’ to him. And I’m gonna take yo stuff,’ ” she said.

He pulled out his gun and Frierson pulled out hers and started walking backward up some stairs.

Pop pop pop pop pop pop.

Frierson got the worst of it.

Just a year later, and Frierson was busted with a bunch of drugs and cash, and she headed to CCA jail for 18 months.

Her wake-up call came from her oldest daughter, Kenishea, then 9 years old.

Frierson told her little girl that she loved her, that she would take the girl to do all sorts of things when Frierson got out of jail.

“She said, ‘Mama, that’s what you say every time you go to jail.’ “

Ow.

“Even though she was a little girl, that was my road dog,” Frierson said. “There were times I was passed out in the house and people would come by to buy drugs. And my girl would take my money and my drugs and hide them.

“So that cut me like a knife,” she said. “It felt like she was giving up hope. And that’s all I had left.”

After the phone call, Frierson went back to her bunk, crying, and curled up in a fetal position. A CCA counselor came and told her to fight for her daughter, to show the little girl she loved her by staying clean off drugs.

“That’s when I got out, and I said I’m gonna do something different.”

It started with court-ordered sober living, and from there, Frierson landed a couple of jobs. Her relationship with an old inmate buddy, Charlotte “Char” Grant, turned romantic, and the two started their own cleaning company.

And Frierson stayed in touch with inmate friends still inside, writing to them when they wrote and taking their calls. Eventually, Frierson became the go-to person when inmates came out.

She had accumulated a list of where ex-cons could get food, bus passes, jobs, clothes, housing. When Frierson showed that list to a friend at Nashville’s felony drug court program, DC4, he told her she had basically created her own treatment program.

And that’s when Frierson and her partner, Grant, poured all their money into buying dilapidated houses in West Nashville, the start of Mending Hearts.

Frierson’s admirers are many.

“I think she’s doing marvelous work,” said Metro Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway.

“She’s is giving women who are in the system, women who are going through recovery, an opportunity to not only have a second chance at life, but what she gives them is hope. What she gives them is an example,” Calloway said.

Frierson is happy to have the chance to be that example.

“I know today God’s so good to let me live without the use of drugs. I promised I’d be a servant,” she says through tears.

“I’m forever grateful that he chose me and allowed me to be a part of this.”

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