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A life in vivid colors

January 10, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Candyce Scott

Growing up and living life in Oakland, Calif., those who knew Candyce Scott probably never suspected what was happening behind closed doors. The single mother had an 11-year career as a computer technician for a public transit agency, had her own house that she was making mortgage payments on, and was a crack cocaine addict.

As with any addiction, Scott says the drug became more of a problem than she ever imagined possible. Eventually, she got in trouble with the law for shoplifting and went to jail on multiple occasions. Thinking she could run away from the drug problem, Scott moved with her son, mother and brother to Portland, Ore., where she obtained a job in broadcasting. “It doesn’t matter where you are,” she says. “You will find the drugs if that is still a problem. And it was.”

While living in the Portland area, Scott again went to the county jail multiple times due to aspects of the addiction. The last time she was in jail (mostly stemming from possession charges) the judge told her she could either spend two years behind bars or go to rehab. Scott went to jail for four months and then began treatment at a Volunteers of America (VOA) program.

“Initially, I thought I was just going to go through the program and I would probably continue what I was doing when I got out, but while in treatment I learned a lot of valuable lessons and started to use them. And, I haven’t gone out since,” says Scott, 64.

Because of VOA and Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART), Scott says she was able to change her beliefs, stop pursing drugs and start a new chapter in her life.

A lucky break

At the end of the treatment program, clients were to choose one of three options: getting a job, going to school, or volunteering. Although she had never entertained the idea of going back to school, Scott agreed to a friend in treatment’s suggestion to attend an orientation at the local community college. While there, she was added to a lottery for a free first term of school and she was chosen. “I took it as a sign,” she says. “It turned out to be the perfect thing for me.”

At the age of 57, Scott began college for computer technology in order to upgrade skills that she had previously used in her career. However, she soon realized that her passion didn’t lie with technology, but rather with art (she was enrolled in a sculpture class as an elective credit). In her art class, the students made mobiles and Scott found her new love. She completed four years at the community college and continued on to Marylhurst University where she studied psychology, human behavior and art in the interdisciplinary program. She graduated this past December. 

“While in school in the art therapy program, I realized that I didn’t want to teach other people to do art for therapeutic reasons, but it was more that I want to affect people with my art,” she explains. Scott makes mobiles out of a special combination of ingredients that she pours into wire molds. They are colorful and fluid and give off the same feeling as “tropical fish without the water.”

She says that her art pieces have the same soothing and calming properties as fish tanks in waiting rooms, and she is excited to share her joy with others. At a church art show, she was given her first order – to create a large mobile for the church’s three-story atrium. The mobile is 20 feet across, hangs down 13 feet, and includes 2,500 hand-made pieces.

Today Scott is one of eight artists being featured in the visual arts exhibition, MIND TO HAND: Art, Science and Creative Collision presented by The Geezer Gallery, in collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University Brain Institute (OHSU) and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). The exhibition highlights artworks that incorporate science as both an inventive vehicle for artistic expression, and as an agent for the positive impact on how people feel. 

Giving back

Besides her art, Scott volunteers as a facilitator for SMART meetings once a week at the Portland Community Campus and has been working part-time at the VoA for three years as a residential counselor. She says she helps the women cope as they come into the VOA program and are often unfamiliar with rehabilitation. “We deal with the county correctional department so all of our clients are court-ordered to be there,” she explains. Many of the women are young and some have mental problems.

In addition to speaking to women and helping with support groups, Scott will soon be teaching an art class at the facility. The current art teacher is retiring and has taught classes that teach the women how to quilt—Scott’s class will teach them how to make jewelry and mobiles.

Scott, wants to stress to the women she speaks with to be prepared for when new doors open. “Being involved with drugs, those possibilities don’t come up,” she says. A big reason for her being at the VOA is because she wants to inspire others with her story.

“Because if I can do this at this age—and these women that come into the program are so much younger—what can they do with their lives? There’s great life after recovery and you never know what’s around that corner,” Scott says. “Just be prepared to accept it.”