Ohio woman opens halfway in husband's memory

MARK CURNUTTE The Cincinnati Enquirer Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Kim Henry-Trent drank herself to sleep on the night of July 10, 2007. She had agreed to turn herself in the next morning at 9 on a Warren County Common Pleas Court bench warrant.

Brian Trent, her husband of three years, wasn't home. He'd been out with a buddy.

Her cell phone rang several times through the night but she didn't hear it. She awoke at 6 a.m. with her father banging on the door. Police called him when they couldn't reach her.

"Kim, I have really bad news," Ron Henry said. "Something really bad happened to Brian. He's gone. He was killed in a car accident last night."

Her dad drove Henry-Trent to the courthouse in Lebanon and explained to Judge James Heath that her husband had died. Brian Trent's friend lost control of his van and ran into a telephone pole. They'd been drinking.

The judge would not release her. Instead, he threw her into the county lockup. Henry-Trent had failed to appear in court too many times and had a long rap sheet: six DUI convictions before age 24, burglary, petty theft and domestic violence complaints filed by a neighbor. She'd throw beer bottles at her husband in fits of drunken rage.

Henry-Trent didn't believe her husband was dead. She never saw his body. She would sit in a Warren County Jail cell for five months. Health would not let her out to make funeral arrangements. Her husband's family had his body cremated.

For two months, she refused to eat, and the weight on her 5-foot-3 frame plummeted from 120 to 92 pounds. Guards put her on suicide watch.

"My life was over. I wanted to die," said Henry-Trent, now 40. "I hated God with the utmost passion. I hated God because I was alive. I hated God because he took Brian. I hated God because the judge wouldn't let me out."

That she turned her life around is not the most interesting part of her story. It is the suddenness of her religious conversion and the evangelical zeal she brings to helping newly sober alcoholics that stand out.

Using insurance settlement money from her husband's death, Henry-Trent bought a 100-year-old house in Cincinnati in November 2010. Beyond the $9,000 purchase price, she invested another $1,000 -- primarily in a large-capacity water heater -- and opened a halfway house for alcoholic men serious about their recovery. Ten at a time have found transitional housing there -- 60 in all -- since she opened.

In honor of her late husband, she named the home Trent's Lighthouse. Its slogan: "A Safe Harbor for Men."

"It's my way to keep him alive," she said.

And a way to help her stay sober.

"It helps me to never forget where I came from and how close that self-created hell is," said Henry-Trent, whose license plate reads "AA IOU 1."

Transitional housing for recovering alcoholics is not a lucrative business. Neither insurance nor Medicaid covers the service. Alcoholics further into their recovery, such as Henry-Trent, are sometimes the ones who care for alcoholics fresh out of in-patient treatment.

The 1,300-square foot house sits atop a short but steep rise on Hamilton Avenue and is easy to miss. She needed a landmark. She found an Amish handcrafted 2-foot miniature lighthouse on the Internet. She placed it in a garden of rocks and flowers near the porch. Solar-powered, it throws a rotating beam of yellow light.

Darkness was all Kim Henry-Trent could see less than five years ago. Short of death, she asked Judge Heath for a long sentence in a state prison.

He might have granted her request if not for the polite but persistent intervention of her father, Ron Henry, now 62.

Henry, of Carlisle, declined to be interviewed but responded via email to one question: Why didn't you walk away, like so many family members understandably do?

"Because she is my daughter. That is how family is, and that's what family is all about. I believed in Kim until she was able to believe in herself."

He visited her weekly. Her mother, Wanda Henry, now 58, couldn't bear the sight of her daughter in jail so Henry-Trent called her collect every day from prison.

"Truly the best friends I could ever ask for," she said.

Ron Henry expressed his belief in his daughter directly to Judge Heath, all the while searching for a rehab program that would accept a woman with a record of violence. He found it in Hamilton County. Talbert House Pathways offered gender-specific substance-abuse treatment for adult female felons in a residential setting with aftercare services.

Heath released her into her father's custody after five months in jail, essentially transferring her to Pathways in South Fairmount. It was Dec. 6, 2007, Ron Henry's 58th birthday.

The change of scenery would not have been possible if not for a spiritual change that took place a months earlier, in September, when she attended a jailhouse Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

At the end of the meeting, a woman from the outside grabbed her hand during the Lord's Prayer.

"She just squeezed my hand harder and harder, and I felt something inside," Henry-Trent said.

Cold chills overcame her. Tears filled her eyes.

"God's wrath," she said, "followed by mercy."

In her cell, as the door slammed, steel on steel, she fell to her knees on the gray concrete floor.

Through a torrent of tears, "I begged God to please forgive me, I begged for God to come into my life and help me."

The woman who'd prayed with her during AA meetings brought her a recovery Bible. (The woman declined to be interviewed, citing the AA code of anonymity.)

Henry-Trent found Psalm 90: And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish thou the work of our hands.

"I decided I was going to do something positive for myself and other people," she said.

At Pathways, recovery was steady but not without pain and more challenges.

Ninety days turned into an extra 30 because of her need for grief counseling. A widow, Henry-Trent had been the victim of abuse in other relationships.

Communicative and friendly, she found a telemarketing job while in Pathways. At work, she met a man, also in recovery.

"I thought it would be a good idea to date," she said.

She thought wrong, she would later realize. She saw her pattern. As a younger woman, when alcohol was not enough to deaden her emotional pain, she turned to harder drugs. The pain of therapy and the self-discovery of sobriety could be masked somewhat by the distraction of a new relationship.

While married to Brian Trent, she had convinced herself she was in control because she stopped using cocaine and heroin. Still, she drank 18 beers a day and told herself she could function.

She and the man she met on the telemarketing job dated a year and married in March 2009. They tried to have children, she said. Tests revealed her infertility. He was diagnosed with cancer. She helped to care for him physically. His father and brother helped with some of the plumbing and other repairs at Trent's Lighthouse. Henry-Trent had nothing negative to say about him.

Divorce is never neat and clean, this one no exception. Still, it is moving toward its final stage, she said.

Besides opening Trent's Lighthouse, where she and other staff members are all in recovery, Henry-Trent plans to become an addictions counselor. She is studying behavioral sciences at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. She is employed there 25 hours a as a secretary in the work-study financial aid program. She makes $8 an hour.

At Trent's Lighthouse, she charges $80 a week rent and covers utilities. Many men can't pay or pay in full, so she receives about $1,500 a month in rent. She pays 6 percent of collected rent to the house general manager. She pays property taxes and about $550 a month in gas, electric and water and sewer. Residents are responsible for their own food, but Henry-Trent maintains a community pantry. She gets food down the street at the Churches Active in Northside pantry.

"Kim provides critical care, support and a fresh start," said MiMi Chamberlin, executive director of the small agency. "It is so hopeful to be able to help the guys at Trent's Lighthouse who are making a change for the better, thanks to Kim."

Henry-Trent's work ethic, like her classroom performance, is strong, say those close to her on the campus in Cincinnati's Clifton neighborhood. She is accessible to people in need, like the young man who returned to Cincinnati State after being arrested and charged with a felony.

"He kind of found Kim," said Julie McLaughlin, a Cincinnati State academic adviser and her work-study supervisor. "She gave him quite a pep talk. They shared prison stories. She saw that he was a great kid who made a mistake. He's moved on to a four-year (college)."

Henry-Trent spoke last year at Talbert House's annual luncheon before 500 people.

"We look for someone we think our stakeholders will connect with," said Teri Nau, Talbert House communications director. "In Kim's case, she not only was doing well in her recovery and improving her own life but taking steps to help others in their recovery."

One of those is Lenny Evans, who works as Lighthouse intake manager.

"This is like a family here because of her," said Evans, 55, a Franklin native who's been sober for the past 18 months. "You have to be serious about staying clean to stay here. I've been at other houses, and nothing against them, but they can't compare."

Men -- "my guys," she said -- find the Lighthouse on referral from the Drop Inn Center, Talbert House, Hamilton County courts, Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment (CCAT), other agencies and word of mouth.

Kim Henry-Trent reflected on her life's jagged journey on a recent afternoon. She sat on a couch at Trent's Lighthouse -- a room choked with cigarette smoke and the secondary scent of burnt coffee that had been reheated many times. An ashtray and empty cups populated the coffee table in front of her. A new resident and three of her staff members -- her biggest supporters -- sat around her and listened.

"I shouldn't be here, really," she said. "When I think of all the car wrecks, the drugs, the alcohol, I should be dead. I wanted to die."

She has big plans. Her focus, she says, is helping others.

After finishing her associate's degree at Cincinnati State, her next move will be to transfer to the University of Cincinnati to complete a bachelor's degree. Meanwhile, she wants to open a halfway house for female alcoholics in recovery because, she said, the need is so great.

"What I learned is there's a purpose for everything. I am content for the first time in my life. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. There's something God wants me to do. Let it be God's will, not mine."

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Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com