- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Five years ago, Shreveport resident Brandie Bauer was many things she didn’t want to be.

A cocaine addict. A stripper. A codependent mother struggling to regain custody of her children.

Now, she’s sober, a homeowner, and an award-winning alumna of the Oxford House - the network of therapeutic three-quarter houses in Louisiana that helped her reclaim her sobriety. She’s also found a job that is a “passion” - cutting hair at Fant’s Barber Shop, where clients specifically request “the woman with the colored hair.”

Bauer is the only female barber at Fant’s Barber shop. She’s overcome drug dependency, the loss of custody of her children and prison and gone on to lead a sober, stable life with a steady job and a son she loves.

“I want to be a strong and independent mother, and today that is what I am,” she said. “I believe God has given me everything. It came in stages, everything at the right time.”

Bauer learned to survive on her own at a young age. She said her mother was an alcoholic who often neglected her, and Bauer remembered being molested by several of her mother’s boyfriends at a young age. She was nine when her mother dropped her off at the house of the man who would become her father - and then disappeared.

Bauer had a good relationship with her father figure - whom she learned, at age 16, was really her grandfather. No one could tell the inquiring teen who her biological father was.

“That was confusing, and it was a secret I had to keep,” Bauer said. “I felt betrayed and hurt, but I loved the man I had come to know as my dad, so I didn’t talk about it.”

Bauer graduated from Benton High School in Bossier Parish, with honors and eight months pregnant with her first child. She married her high school boyfriend. The two stayed together for three years before divorcing. Bauer said she was simply “too young.”

Bauer moved to Vivian, where she was introduced to the drug world. At 21, Bauer started with marijuana before progressing to pills, meth and crack cocaine.

“It was over. That was the devil,” Bauer said of cocaine. “It will take you down faster than anything.”

Bauer, who has five children, got pregnant with twins when she was around 24 years old. She said she was high all the time, and before long she lost custody of the infants.

“I’m not proud of that. I wish I could have been there, but with the drugs I was not,” Bauer said. “They say when you can talk about it and it doesn’t hurt anymore, you’re healed. I’m not there yet. It still hurts.”

In 2011, at age 33, Bauer went to jail. She did stints at both Bossier and Caddo correctional facilities on multiple felony charges for drug possession and a misdemeanor charge for theft.

“I had to find a way to support my habits. So I thieved, and it caught up to me,” Bauer said. “I believe God had to do that to set me down. While I was in jail, I had an opportunity to get close to God. I didn’t want to live the way I did before.”

Bauer said her ex wouldn’t let her stay with him when she got out of jail but suggested she move into Oxford House. There, she lived with several other recovering addicts and alcoholics in a sober, therapeutic setting that offered 24-hour support. Listening to others’ stories of recovery empowered Bauer to start her own journey into sobriety.

“Hearing their experiences of hope and how they deal helped me. If they could get through that sober, so could I,” Bauer said. “At 33, I grew up.”

Bauer said she had quit her job as a stripper even before she went to jail - which she had resorted to in order to pay her bills - after she finished a STEPS detox program.

“Because of the program, I knew of a higher power. I knew this wasn’t what God wanted me to do. It wasn’t sitting right with my heart, so I left the club,” Bauer said.

She earned her barber license through Guy’s Academy and later found out Fant’s Barber Shop was hiring. She called about the job opening and went in on a Saturday for a trial run. She earned $98 by the end of the day - enough to pay her rent the day before it was due.

Bauer remembered her first day as a barber with a mix of amusement and humility.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. I know I jacked some heads up that day, but they kept coming back,” Bauer said. “They hired me. I couldn’t believe it.”

When he first met her, Barber Bobby Young said he didn’t think Bauer would last more than 90 days. But she proved him wrong, and Young said he’s glad she did.

“I thought it was going to be really sad. She was really at the bottom,” Young said. “But she’s done better overall, not just with the shop.”

Elizabeth Carroll, who met Bauer through a support group in 2014, said it’s been amazing to watch Bauer grow as a person and a parent over the past two years. Khadija Selfuddin, Bauer’s support group sponsor, said Bauer’s positive and persistent attitude has helped her on the road to recovery.

“She never gave up, and now she loves what she does,” Selfuddin said. “She’s found her passion.”

Bauer said she’s been sober since Jan. 15, 2012. Now that she’s gained footing in her own life, Bauer said her mission now is to help others in similar situations.

After Bauer completed the Oxford House program, she looked for ways to give back. She started volunteering for Oxford House and was nominated to be the Oxford House Regional Vice Chair for Louisiana and Mississippi.

“I’ll never be able to repay Oxford for what it has done for me,” Bauer said. “I will forever continue to be of service to Oxford in anyway I can, to help the still suffering addicts and alcoholics to find a better way of life.”

Bauer recently received the Oxford House’s 2016 Jake Hadley Award, the most prestigious honor given by the organization to one individual each year. Lori Holtzclaw, Oxford’s regional outreach manager, said Bauer is the state’s first woman to receive the honor.

“Brandie has put her whole heart and soul into Oxford House. She’s very deserving of that award,” Holtzclaw said. “She doesn’t get compensation for any of the time she invests. Everything is out of the kindness of her heart.”

Bauer has also become a favorite at Fant’s barbershop, increasing the shop’s business by reeling in catches of returning clientele.

“She’s doing real good. She gets a lot of requests,” said barber Alan Estep.

The barber shop was recently voted No. 1 in Shreveport-Bossier by LocalsLoveUs.com, Bauer said with pride.

She hopes one day to open her own shop. Till then, she plans to keep working at Fant’s. She’s grateful to Max Fant, the barber shop’s owner, who gave her - a convicted felon - the opportunity to turn her life around.

“I was an open book. I told them everything, and they hired me,” Bauer said. “I’m so grateful he gave me a chance. Now I have friends. I have family. I have clientele. I’m blessed.”

___

Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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