By Kylie Blanchard
“Everything about the F5 Project (F5) is about second chances and opportunities,” Twila Johnson, support staff with F5 in Bismarck, says. “Our past does not have to define our future and we can change at any given moment with the right support and resources.”
F5 was started in Fargo by Adam Martin, a five-time felon-turned-entrepreneur.
“Adam’s story is one of struggles, which included addiction, felonies, and incarceration. In 2016, he was working as a successful businessman but was drawn to the needs of those incarcerated in the Cass County Jail,” Twila says.
She says Adam started meeting with incarcerated men, which soon developed into F5, named for his five felonies and a keyboard’s F5, or refresh, key.
Today, the organization has more than 20 employees across North Dakota; care coordinators and peer support specialists in six cities; houses in four cities; and meetings in jails in four counties, the State Penitentiary, and the Missouri and James River Correctional Centers.
Searching for a Purpose
Twila has been involved with F5 since its inception, having met Adam in early 2016.
“I was on my own journey in recovery, struggling to find a purpose and looking for a way to give back,” she says. “I reached out to him and we agreed to speak of the extension of F5 in Bismarck. Eventually, I became a part-time employee.”
One of six support staff with the Bismarck F5 team, Twila is also a full-time nurse.
“Being involved with F5 has taught me to see the person and not their wrongs,” she says. “We all have a purpose and we all need someone to believe in us to find that purpose.
“We want to get people connected and keep them connected to services,” she continues. “F5 is another resource to give people a hand up.”
F5 also participates in the Free Through Recovery Program to provide care coordination and peer support services.
A Hand Up
Desiray Paradis was first connected with F5 when she needed help most.
“Twila was there when I needed someone. She believed in me when I needed someone to believe in me,” she says. “Her biggest worry was whether I was in a safe spot.”
When she was ready to move into her own housing, Desiray says F5 provided the necessary recommendations.
“They help you to get back into society, but they are not going to do it for you. They give you a belief in yourself and they don’t let you give up.”
She says getting involved with F5 was lifesaving.
“When you mess up a lot in life, you don’t have a lot of people to support you. With F5, you are welcomed into a family.”
Desiray now works full time and volunteers with F5, providing assistance to others and meeting with incarcerated individuals.
“They help drug addicts, felons, and people who no one else wants to believe in. It has touched so many lives in a positive way.”
Derick Seney says while incarcerated he met a friend who was involved in F5. After being released, he was inspired to reach out to the organization.
“There is such a stigma around addiction and incarceration,” he says. “It was a good opportunity to get back on my feet.”
He relocated to Bismarck and F5 helped him get settled.
“I surrounded myself with positive people,” Derick says. “What F5 is doing for people in recovery is amazing. These people need this second chance.”
Derick is now living in his own house and recently started a flooring business.
“Part of my recovery is going to be serving others and getting my story out there,” he says. “It’s really important that other addicts have hope. I owe F5 everything.”
F5 is a non-profit 501c(3), which operates on donations and community support.
“We are always looking for people to share their personal or professional knowledge or message of hope,” Twila says.
Grateful to Serve
Twila says serving others through F5 has kept her grounded with gratitude and humility.
“Until I had some wellness in my own recovery, I didn’t realize how much I had taken for granted, how much I was in my own little world, and how much I was trying to fill my inside self with external things,” she says. “Things are just things — that’s it. I can tell myself, with or without all I have, I will be OK. That is the simplest idea that is so far-fetched to someone trying to get back on their feet, but it proves to offer small successes on their journey.”
“Addiction can be a super lonely thing,” adds Derick. “To have others who have gone through it means everything. It’s really important other addicts have hope.”
Desiray says she is grateful for F5 and her chance to serve others.
“If you go into F5 with an open mind,” she says. “You are going to believe you can change.”
For more information on the F5 Project, visit www.f5project.com.