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    Meeting Kim Moore can feel a bit like a wondrous collision, an impression set in granite, impossible to forget. She has a story to tell and it isn’t pretty but she’s here to share it, loud and proud, no time for abbreviated, gauzy tales. Moore speaks fast, her voice husky, and as she recounts her 55 years, it’s clear she has marched through about three lives.

    Currently, Moore works as a caseworker with the city-led REimage program, encouraging young adults (ages 18 to 24) who’ve been charged with misdemeanor crimes to turn around their lives, guiding them toward job training, counseling — whatever they may need. She is also a self-titled “agent of change,” advocating for women and families struggling with addiction or domestic violence, sometimes both.

    Born in West Virginia in January 1963 to a coal miner father and a homemaker mother, Moore was the youngest of seven, a daddy’s girl, she says, who loved sports, socializing. When she was 17, her mother died, and that’s around the time Moore decided she wanted out of West Virginia. She told her family she was going to study at the University of Louisville. “But I never registered for one class,” she says.

    The lifestyle of Kim Moore in the late ’80s and ’90s, that easily could have ended it all. She started with cocaine. That led to crack and a fierce drug addiction. In the ’90s, she estimates, she racked up 30-plus charges, like possession and DUI. She’d get into fights. One time, in 1995, she took a bat to the face as one of her daughters, teenaged Laquita, watched. Now 36, Laquita recalls Child Protective Services taking custody of her and her three siblings. “I used to watch the news every night and any time they said a woman’s been found dead, (I thought): Please, don’t let it be her,” she says.

    In the midst of cycling in and out of jail, Moore was assigned a public defender named Brian Edwards, who’s now a circuit court judge. Moore says Edwards believed in her, telling her she would do great things if she could sober up. Edwards doesn’t remember those exact words, but he hasn’t forgotten Moore. “She was smart,” he says. “Her intelligence was there. Obviously she was dealing with an awful lot. But I never thought she was a bad person.”

    In the late ’90s, Moore entered the residential recovery program at the Beacon House on South Second Street. She says she’s been clean since, 20 years as of this past October. Edwards recalls Moore coming up to him at an event a few years ago and thanking him. “I told her she doesn’t need to thank me,” he says. “The best way (she) can thank me is by turning things around.” Laquita says, “Most kids are angry toward their parents. I was angry in my younger years. But the thing about hitting rock bottom is getting back up. She did that, and that’s all that matters.”

    Since joining REimage, Moore has assisted more than 100 young men and women, sometimes standing with them in court, assuring judges that there is more to the person sitting before them than the crimes printed on paper. “I don’t work with bad kids,” Moore says. “I work with some of the brightest people in the world. My job is to help them not be defined by the mistake they made.” It isn’t easy work. Some clients wind up back in jail, or even worse. One young man was recently shot and killed. “It makes me want to work harder,” Moore says. “It makes me never want to lose a kid again.”

    In 2015, Moore felt doubtful when applying for her role at REimage. It required a bachelor’s degree, according to the job listing. Upon meeting Moore, REimage waived that formality. She brings what many cannot — authenticity, credibility, proof that there’s more than one way to live a life. “I have a real story to tell. I have a Ph.D. from the streets,” Moore says. “When (my clients) say, ‘I sell drugs because we don’t have food,’ I can say, ‘I get it. I get it. But it’s still wrong. Let’s do what we need to do to be productive.’”

    This originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Reimagining Recovery." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar, jessicaebelhar.com

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