Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘The last time I got arrested, I said I can’t do this anymore.’

Pamela Neely, Huntington Station

“At 26 years old I was in college, I was working full time, had mutual funds and I was saving to buy my own home. My mother died. She taught me everything about life, but nobody teaches us about death. After I lost my mom, and I had a breakdown and I started using drugs.

“I got involved with a lot of the wrong people, I was naïve and gullible, and I thought people were loving and caring because that’s what I came from but it’s an evil world. I kept getting arrested and continuing to go in and out like a revolving door. Part of why I kept returning was there was never anything available to me when I got released. I couldn’t continue to live that way.

“The last time I got arrested I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I went cold turkey; I didn’t go to a hospital for detox. I got clean on my own. That was in 2000 and I haven’t looked back. I’m not that person anymore.

“I had a little Yorkie that was my baby named Lightning. I called her Light Light. She got very sick and I had to put her down. After that, I had to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life because she consumed my life. She was like my physical therapist, I had operations and she was always with me.

None of us are bad people. We just make some bad choices.

“I’d be feeling sorry for myself, but I had to get out of my bed and walk the dog and take care of her. She gave me a reason to get up. Then I got involved with New Hour for Women and Children. I was part of the first cohort of the emerge program a few years ago. It’s been amazing. I became a peer leader in an advocacy program, a 10-week program to become an advocator. They give you support.

“I got the chance to see women coming home from incarceration and they’d get involved in the program and say, ‘I don’t have a job, I’m living in a shelter.’ Then the next week, they’d say, ‘I found a job, it’s gotten better.’ It’s like watching a flower grow, blooming and blossoming.

“I became very empowered, that helped me a lot. Now I’m the social justice coordinator for New Hour. I’m a team leader advocating for two parole bills for elderly people in prison and so people who are eligible for parole get out unless they’re a risk. None of us are bad people. We just make some bad choices.”

Interviewed by Rachel O’Brien – Morano