As a child with an independent streak in a large family that moved often, Ebony Marshall has struggled with her self-identity. It fueled her work ethic in the classroom and in her career, but it also led to a decision that sent her spiraling.

After laying the foundation for a successful career as a registered nurse, she got distracted by the wealth and adrenaline of a new boyfriend who was a drug dealer. When he got arrested, Ebony tried to continue selling his drugs.

“I was looking for someone to identify with again,” she said. “I was lost, honestly.”

It took less than three months for police to arrest her, as well. She faced six felony charges – three for drug possession and three for drug trafficking. The girl who never got in trouble en route to earning two degrees was now a young mom with a criminal record and an uncertain future.

She studied and passed the nursing exam while awaiting her sentence. A spark was reignited. After spending four months in River City Correctional Institution – the shortest stay possible, which she earned through good behavior – she was connected to the team at Cincinnati Works, who convinced her the spark was best as a slow simmer, not a blaze.

Her Cincinnati Works coach, Michael Sickles, helped her focus on long-term goals rather than instant gratification.

“Holistically, whole-heartedly, when you’re with Cincinnati Works, they are working with you to have a better life,” Ebony said. “There has never been a time I called Mike and he didn’t have time for me. He is my financial coach, my career coach, my life coach.”

The felony conviction limited her job options, so Michael convinced Ebony to apply for a part-time aide position at the Center for Chemical Addiction Treatment. She was promoted to full-time within a year and was promoted to supervisor in year two. Thanks in part to Michael’s financial coaching, she saved enough money to move with her two kids into an apartment in a safer neighborhood.

Ebony is now working toward regaining her nursing license and buying a house. She is currently participating in the state nursing board’s reinstatement program and should be able to regain her license next winter. And at Michael’s suggestion, she has applied for a house through Habitat for Humanity.

If all goes well, she could move into a higher salary range and a new home within the next year.

“When she bought into the process, when she was OK that it was going to take time, that’s when she really started to grow,” Michael said.

Through it all, Ebony has been honest about her decision to sell drugs and has accepted that her life changed because of it.

“It took seeing myself at my lowest to realize who I want to be and what I never want to go back to,” she said. “The best I can do is make the best of my life now. I can’t go back. I accept that I made the decision I made.

“It can be a page in my book. It doesn’t even have to be a chapter. I can keep writing my story. It isn’t over until you say, ‘the end.’”