A woman in recovery remembers Sue Tibbs

Editor’s Note: Last week, Cummings spoke at the memorial service for the late state Representative Sue Tibbs. This is her prepared text for her tribute to Tibbs. It is reprinted with permission. 

My name is Kimberly Cummings.  I am a mother of 3 beautiful children and a July 2010 graduate of Women in Recovery, a year-long prison diversion program in Tulsa. I am happy to report that in lieu of a ten-year prison sentence, I am here with you today.

It is my honor to stand before all of you today to pay respect to a wonderful, powerful, and amazing woman who truly impacted me, my peers, our children, our communities and the great State of Oklahoma.

Representative Sue Tibbs had an understanding of many women like me and their children whose lives were affected by abuse, poverty, trauma, addiction and incarceration. I stand here today representing many who have changed and many more who will benefit as a result of one beautiful and genuine woman.

I first met “Sue”, as she asked me to call her, in October of 2009 when she came to Tulsa to visit Women In Recovery.

What I now realize is her wisdom in bringing with her Representative Kris Steele, knowing that there was a need for a new vibrant leader to champion alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent women.

Rep. Tibbs was a pioneer for this cause and knew all too well that reforming the system is a task too large to be handled alone.  She shared with Speaker Steele and every woman in that room that day her passion, dedication, and heart for this population and that better alternatives exist.

I can remember the intensity and concentration on Representative Tibbs face as she wholeheartedly and attentively listened to my peers and me tell our stories about addiction, severe emotional and psychological trauma, sexual abuse, and unresolved abandonment issues. 

You see, I had but 6 months sobriety and because her compassion for women was so deeply embedded into who she was, she willfully and intentionally gave of her time, energy, resources, and most importantly, her heart to come hear our stories. She shared her vast experience and knowledge of how alternatives to incarceration programs like Women in Recovery offer solutions for women like myself, women who require services over incarceration, wanting only to reunify with children and families. She truly wanted the best for us.

I will never forget the way Representative Tibbs looked at us we walked her from the building. I shared with her my heart and resolve to serve God by serving others, to stay sober and to become an advocate for those women and children still entangled in abuse, addiction, and a life of trauma that could only lead to incarceration.

She turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and told me to NEVER stop believing in myself and that I could do the things I spoke of. Although I am not able to remember her exact words, her message to me was that God has a purpose for every living being and if we all keep striving and always try to help the next person along, things will be as He has ordained and the world will be a better place.

I will NEVER forget that moment or any of the moments Rep. Tibbs shared over the course of the past three years. Each time I visited the Capitol building after our first encounter, I stopped by her office.  She always welcomed me with a warm and tender hug, followed by words of encouragement and wisdom to serve.

The last time I heard Rep. Tibbs speak, she gave an unforgettable keynote address at a Women in Recovery graduation. 

She said “One of the misconceptions that has plagued those of us who have been working to improve the corrections system has been that all criminals should serve time behind bars. It is difficult to get the word out to all those Oklahomans who have not been exposed to difficult upbringings or addiction and who do not always understand what it is to struggle with such problems.”

She was never judgmental, sought to understand the complex issues and never relented to educate her fellow legislators.
I close today with a quote from Representative Tibbs that brought meaning to me and I hope it does you too  “I am not only excited by the changes going on at the state level, but I am also excited for each and every one of you personally. The history of the program indicates that you will go on to find good jobs and have more quality time with your families. For those of you who are mothers, I am excited that your children will get to spend more time with you because you were given an alternative to incarceration. I would love to see more mothers and their children have such an opportunity.”