Triumph from Tragedy: The Diane Joiner Story

In 2004, a parent’s worst nightmare came true for Diane Joiner. Her son Aron was killed, shot in the back by an unknown assailant, his body dumped in a field.  The unsolved crime broke up her family and broke her resilience as a person. Stricken with grief, she turned to drugs and alcohol and ended up first on the streets, then in prison.

“I wasn’t arrested,” said Diane later, “I was rescued, rescued from myself.” So began Diane’s long journey from a place utterly without hope. Upon release from prison, Diane recounts, “I had nothing to work with. No self-esteem, no pride, nothing to fall back on…until I came to Goodwill.”

Although Diane credits a web of many different social service agencies with the support she needed to regain stability, when it came time to look for work, she found herself blocked out of job after job due to her history of incarceration.

At SFGoodwill, she recalls, “They didn’t judge me. They hired me with a clean slate and gave me an opportunity no one else would.”  Goodwill Career Advisor Anne Young helped connect Diane to a Transitional Employment program that allowed her to rebuild her neglected resume with actual work experience, learn Microsoft Office and QuickBooks skills, and learn how Goodwill operated as a social enterprise. Through this training and support, Diane landed a job in one of our San Francisco retail stores, and this made all the difference.

“Goodwill instilled in me that I was worthy,” Diane recounts, “They trained me so that I could take care of myself again. Now I belong someplace, I’m a part of a team and I’m thriving. Working for Goodwill has given me self-esteem and determination. “

Today Diane speaks to audiences of men and women returning to ordinary life after serving prison terms, and she tells them to believe in themselves, stick to a program, and begin to work again as quickly as they can. “We have done our time and paid our dues,” she said to one San Mateo gathering, “If given a chance, we can prove that we are ready to shine again.” Diane’s personal testimony about how she revived her life through personal perseverance and hard work has encouraged many others to follow her path.  “I want to give something back.” Diane says, “From what Goodwill has so freely given to me, it’s my turn to help others now.”

Early in 2013, Diane was selected by Goodwill Industries International to accompany a team of program graduates from throughout the country to visit Capitol Hill for the annual Day of Advocacy. She visited Washington, D.C. for the first time and met with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congressman Jared Huffman, and California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, among others.

Recalling the trip, Diane writes, “Being in those offices and working on behalf of Goodwill was an overwhelming experience…I don’t know how to put it…to go from Chowchilla State Prison to Capitol Hill…I finally saw all the hard work pay off. I’m here to show others that it can be done.”

Diane works in the Menlo Park Goodwill Boutique today to be closer to a low-cost housing in Santa Clara County. Of her Goodwill career she says, “I don’t intend to stay as a selling supervisor. I want to go to the top.”