Maricela Espinosa and Angela Walterscheid. Photography by Kathy Tran.

ANGELA WALTERSCHEID WAS LOOKING for a new start for herself and her two boys after completing a 1.5-year prison sentence. But shortly after release, the mom of three was in a race against time as her abusive ex-husband had tracked her down once more.

In the nick of time, Walterscheid came across Exodus Ministries, a residential discipleship nonprofit.

Exodus Ministries is an intensive, comprehensive, residential, discipleship program for formerly incarcerated mothers, reuniting them with their children to achieve a productive and fulfilling life through Jesus Christ. It offers a place to live, tools for success and spiritual support. “Exodus just fit into what I was looking for in my life,” Walterscheid says. “It was faith-based and it felt like God was pushing me in this direction. This is the place for me.”

After 18 months in prison, Maricela Espinosa knew she couldn’t restart her and her daughter’s life alone. Exodus would allow her to work and save money while having a roof over their heads.

Espinosa knew returning to her hometown in Andrews, Texas, was not an option.

“I knew that if I was going to go back home, I was probably going to have to hurry up and start selling drugs again so I could get my own house,” she says.

Walterscheid and Espinosa come from different life experiences, but the pursuit of a better life for their children unites them. These mothers are both working toward their goals with the help of Exodus.

Maricela’s story

Espinosa wanted to restart her life “the right way” after being released from prison last May, and Exodus could give her the stable housing and job security she needed.

But because of the pandemic, she had to return home for two weeks and face the temptation of walking away from her new opportunity.

“It was hard because I’m trying to come over here but I had people in my ear saying, ‘Ah, don’t go. Stay…’” she says.

The single mom made it through quarantine and arrived at Exodus on May 27 with her 12-year-old daughter.

She found it challenging to adjust to Exodus’ litany of rules. The moms are required to get a job, turn in all earnings, attend personal growth classes, go to church every Sunday, complete a regular chore, go to weekly counseling with their kids and meet an 8:45 p.m. curfew.

For the first time, Espinosa could no longer abide by her own rules.

“There’s a lot of times I wake up and have to pray about it because I just want to throw in the towel and get what I have saved up and leave,” she says. “It’s hard.”

Espinosa’s three children, two of which are older, motivate her to persist on her most difficult days.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I’d be doing in life. I don’t know if I would even be here. They are the only reasons I will try every day,” she says. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even care about life. My kids have changed my life. That’s why I’m going to keep trying, for them three.”

While Exodus’ limits are difficult, Espinosa is grateful to not have to worry about paying bills during a pandemic.

“It’s letting me get there the right way and not go back to my old ways,” she says about Exodus.

The mom of three works at Well Grounded Coffee. She values her close relationship with her boss and coffee shop co-founder Natalie Huscheck.

“That’s one of my prayers that has been answered,” she says.

Espinosa says the camaraderie between her and the moms has also been crucial in her experience at Exodus. They’re like sisters, she says, and are able to lean on each other.

“I wouldn’t ask for any other ladies to be in the program with,” she says.

Graduation day for Espinosa and her daughter was in May. Her primary goals are to continue working and raise her 12-year-old.

“I want to be happy again, but the right way,” she says.

However, the future is uncertain for the single mom. Espinosa was considering moving back home to Andrews if she was unable to find housing here after graduating.

“Now that I have a background now, it’s hard to get an apartment,” she says.

Espinosa continues looking to her daughter for strength as they embark on their next chapter.

“Every day I wake up trying to not give up,” she says. “But I’ve been praying for strength.”

Angela’s story

Walterscheid was born and reared in New Mexico. After graduating high school, she moved to California, but later returned home after getting pregnant with her daughter.

She bounced around between Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico before marrying her ex-husband when her daughter was 5 years old. The relationship became abusive soon after.

“That is what led me down the road of drugs and addiction and selling drugs,” she says.

Walterscheid escaped her abusive relationship after heading to a domestic violence shelter. She moved to Texas to get away from her ex, but went to prison in November 2018 for possession.

Walterscheid’s oldest daughter looked after her young sons, who are now 7 and 10 years old, during her 1.5-year sentence.

“They struggled,” she says. “They went through homelessness a couple times when I was in prison.”

Walterscheid was released April 1 last year. She found out about Exodus, but had difficulties getting hold of anyone at the start of the pandemic.

“A couple of months later, I ended up in (another) domestic violence shelter,” she says. “My ex-husband found us.”

Walterscheid reached out to Exodus again. This time, she got an interview.

Exodus typically only accepts women right out of prison, but after hearing her story, she says they made an exception.

It only took a few months for Walterscheid to start acclimating to her new life with her two boys.

“At first, it was really hard,” she says. “There’s a lot of rules and it’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s been a very positive impact on my life.”

After getting her boys to school each morning, Walterscheid then heads to work at Well Grounded Coffee.

Like Espinosa, Walterscheid says coffee shop co-founder Huscheck is “more than just a boss.”

“They ask us our ideas, they actually listen to what we have to say,” she says. “We have room to move up from being a trainee to becoming a barista to becoming a supervisor. They are willing to help us open our own store eventually.”

Halfway through her time at Exodus, Walterscheid noticed a change in her personal growth.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself in taking these classes is how important I am and how important (the kids) are and how important it is to put my family’s needs first,” she says.

Walterscheid is no longer rushing toward the finish line as she did before.

“Everything is in God’s time,” she says. “Whatever I’m going through, I may not see it’s leading me to the outcome I want, but I just got to sit through it. It’s leading me to the outcome I want.”

Walterscheid graduates from Exodus this July. A few of her goals in the next chapter include becoming financially independent, finding a stable job and getting a car and home.

Within herself, Walterscheid aims to continue her strong relationship with her faith.

“When you start dealing with the real world, paying your bills and working every day and having kids, it’s so easy to fall away and get sidetracked,” she says. “Having a strong relationship with God brings peace of mind. I’m a better mom when I’m not worried and stressed out. I see what happened to myself when I fell away completely from God, and I don’t ever want to go back there.”

The mom of three plans to continue working at Well Grounded Coffee and go back to school to get a massage therapy license.

“Never let your past define you,” she says. “No matter what you’ve done, no matter who you’ve hurt. It’s never too late to rebuild a relationship. Never feel like you’re not worthy or good enough to have better and want more.”