A little more than six years since killing her live-in boyfriend of 14 years during an argument, Dareece Carruthers smiled as she anticipated the new year just days away.
"It's like I have a clean sheet of paper," she said. "I just feel optimistic, I do. I don't know anybody, and I have no distractions. I can stay focused and know what I need to do. It feels good."
Carruthers is in her own apartment on Ocoee Street just two months after being released from Next Door, a transition program for females coming out of the prison system. She spent 175 days at Next Door after six and a half years in three Tennessee prisons for the criminal homicide of Jocquis Guinn, the father of her two children. The Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund provided Carruthers with her first month's rent of $650.
"In my final 75 days, I had to develop a housing plan for myself," Carruthers said. "Time was getting short on the apartment, and the first month's rent was the last piece. I wouldn't be here today without that help."
Carruthers started dating Guinn when she was 14, eventually living with him and their children. Over time, domestic violence became part of Carruthers' life and, due to her choice not to involve law enforcement, the abuse remained virtually unknown to her family or neighbors in north Nashville.
"It was an abusive relationship, but I just didn't pick up the phone and call the police," said Carruthers, now 34. "I was constantly getting abused mentally, emotionally and physically. I endured a lot of stuff for a lot of years and didn't tell anyone. One night he was beating on me, and I just picked up a knife and stabbed him. To this day, I still blame myself. He didn't deserve to die."
The Metro Nashville Police Madison Precinct's Facebook page still carries the account from June 9, 2012, when police responded to a call at 3212 Woodstock Drive and found the 33-year-old Guinn dead. According to the report, "the investigation showed that Carruthers stabbed Guinn during an argument at 5:15 a.m. There is no previous history of domestic violence between Carruthers and Guinn known to the police department. Carruthers has been in custody since the stabbing."
Carruthers later was charged with criminal homicide. At 28, she was convicted and sentenced to 15-30 years behind bars. She spent her first year at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville bucking the rules and getting into trouble. At the end of the second year, Carruthers asked for a transfer to a smaller prison facility in Memphis, even though it meant not seeing her children except for two or three times a year, versus every weekend in Nashville.
"I was just doing what I wanted to do, doing what I needed to do to survive," Carruthers said. "After getting all the write-ups for getting into trouble, I just realized that I couldn't keep going down this route. It sounds selfish, but I had to go to Memphis because I knew I had to make myself better in order to help my children when I got out."
Carruthers knew the smaller facility in Memphis offered more opportunities to learn a trade, and in her three years there she earned enough credits to be a cosmetologist. She was assigned to Next Door as part of her parole. Next Door is a nonprofit organization located at Moccasin Bend that partners with the Tennessee Department of Corrections and provides short-term transitional services for women. The state and Next Door opened the first correction release center in 2011, and it has served about 100 women per year, according to the agency.
Carruthers received one-on-one counseling and group therapy at Next Door. In her final 75 days, she applied for jobs online, went to interviews and eventually landed a position at a fast-food chain in Hixson. She was released from Next Door on Oct. 27 and took occupancy of her new apartment on the same day. She continues to work full time and is searching for a second job. She is looking forward to May when she will be reunited with her children, now 14 and 10. Eventually, she will take her final exam to become a cosmetologist.
"Right now, I am just wanting a second job and a chance to settle into living here," Carruthers said. "Eventually, I will take the cosmetology test."
The Neediest Cases Fund was started by Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs in 1914 and is administered by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga. Contributions to the Neediest Cases Fund were $39,124 in 2017.
Contributions to the fund will continue through the end of this month, and people can donate using the coupon accompanying this story or online at timesfreepress.com/neediestcases. The fund had raised $36,698.99 through Friday. In addition, at the website you can read about fund cases from this year and 2017.
Contact Davis Lundy at firstname.lastname@example.org.