It was 2001, and Vicki Stanley's life was becoming a mess.
The then 47-year-old had no steady source of income, and her money-making routine of collecting and then cashing in aluminum cans had landed her in trouble with the law.
A Norwalk man had accused her of stealing his cans, and she was charged with "pilfering recyclables." Convinced the charge was fundamentally absurd, Stanley fought the fine, which proved to be the wrong move.
Norwalk Municipal Judge John Ridge felt Stanley did not have a legal leg to stand on, and when she missed a court date, Ridge threw her in jail.
But Stanley's troubles were just beginning.
The lingering memory of the dissolution of her marriage did not help her emotional state. Nor did a gnawing anxiety that intensified as she struggled with her homosexuality.
"When I came out gay, my whole familyabandoned me," Stanley said.
Undermining all of her attempts to get her life back on track was an irreconcilable rage -- a brewing inner tempest -- she had toward her father, who had raped her as a child. Living a normal life was never a choice for her because of all the hatred and sadness she said she had boiling inside of her.
"People, when they are abused as a child like that, you are sentencing them to 40 to 50 years before they could even have a chance to rise above that," Stanley said.
Emotional problems became money problems. And after failing to pay her bills, she was evicted from her home.
Living on the street for two weeks was rough on Stanley, but no less difficult was bouncing from shelter to shelter, campground to campground.
Digging in the trash through rotting food, encrusted with mold and maggots, Stanley had to do things to survive she shudders to think about now.
"You wouldn't have recognized me," she said.
Stanley has three children, all of whom she said she loves, but her life situation at that time deeply affected their relationship. Not being able to provide for them tore her apart.
Stanley struck rock bottom one night in February 2003 while standing on a porch of a shelter in the county. She had been hired at McDonald's, which was a step in the right direction, but she wasn't making the kind of money she needed to support her family and had lost all hope.
Without hope, she turned to the one place where she said hope springs eternal: the heavens.
"I came to the point where I was on my porch, and I told God, 'I need hope,'" she said. "I told God, 'I don't think I can believe in you anymore. I need hope.'"
The very next day, she received a phone call from a data processing company where she had forgotten she had applied. That was the turning point.
After making livable wages at that company and better coming to grips with her emotional problems, she went to school to become a truck driver.
Life on the road was far better than life on the street, and Stanley saw 26 states while criss-crossing the country in her semi truck.
Having so few opportunities to see her children was difficult -- she was on the road all but three days a week. But Stanley said truck driving helped clear her head.
Stanley's heart sank when her mother died, she said. But her mother left her a chunk of money that allowed her to take a sabbatical from truck driving. Stanley invested in a vending-route business.
Although she is not in a relationship, Stanley says she is the healthiest and happiest she's been for as long as she can remember. And now she wants to share a message of hope to people whose lives, like hers, have hit a rough patch.
In 2007 she self-published a book, "My Turn on the Merry-Go-Round." Within the book's pages is her story -- the story of someone who found a way to march through times of sorrow and pain, and get on with her life.
The book is a way for Stanley to help others through the rocky waters of circumstance -- personal loss, incest and lifelong depression -- while making sense of her own life.
In addition to the book, Stanley is in the process of making an album full of songs about her life. The woman who was once on the streets is now on Youtube.com.
The healing process requires understanding the source of your pain, she said.
"If I sell books, that's great. But I am more interested in getting the books out there to help people," she said. "My kids went through so much ... I felt there were a lot of things if they read they would understand me more."
Her 22-year-old son, Brad Hall, said he remembers the tough years, but they do not overshadow all his mother has done to improve herself and provide for her family.
"She pretty much came from nothing to something, and I'm proud of her," he said.
Stanley said she paid to get him involved in the vending-route business, and they split up counties. He serves Huron County, and she takes care of Erie County.
"She paid for me to get my first 10 machines," Hall said.
Reading her story is still too tough on Hall -- he lived it not long ago. But he says knows how it ends.
"I'm just happy we're doing as good as we are," he said. "She has dealt with a lot of things, and she has always come out on top."