Ashleigh Thompson Overcame Addiction & Incarceration To Study Social Work At Limestone University

Charles Wyatt

Ashleigh Thompson, a Limestone University social work major from Little Mountain, SC, is currently on pace to graduate in December and she was recently named to the Dean’s List for the Fall 2023 semester.

What makes those accomplishments even more impressive is that just six years ago, she was beginning a 17-month stint in prison.

For Thompson, these achievements at Limestone represent the most recent steps in what has been a long road to recovery. She originally began college straight out of high school, moving to Charleston and finishing three years of education before dropping out and moving back home due to her private battles with substance abuse. The problems persisted, though, for 12 more years before her arrest in 2018.

“There were plenty of little mishaps and plenty of red flags where I should have realized I had an issue,” said Thompson, who is working toward her degree through Limestone’s Online Program. “I didn’t have the right mindset. My turning point was getting incarcerated.”

Ashleigh Thompson 2024
Ashleigh Thompson

Through working with counselors in prison, she grew a passion for recovery, became a peer support specialist, and led a program for other incarcerated people dealing with substance abuse struggles. She continued to lead that program until she was granted parole in July of 2019.

Three months after her release, she found a job with Westview Behavioral Health, serving people within Newberry and Saluda counties. This coming October will mark five years of employment for her at Westview, where she offers unique support to clients by disclosing her own experiences getting sober.

“At this point, my clients don’t even believe me, so I typically have to show them my prison identification card,” she said, laughing. “I just want to let them see that change can happen, and that your past doesn’t define you.”

After working beside the social workers at Westview over the years, Thompson decided to make yet another major change in her life and started to look for social work degree programs. She heard about Limestone from a friend who is an alum and applied through the University’s Online Program, now known as Limestone Online. Though she had a lot of fears – going back to school at the age of 43, figuring out how to learn in an online setting, and the potential judgement or rejections because of her past. Despite those worries, Thompson knew that she was ready to take the next step in her mission to help others.

“I was able to share my story with my professors, and they have been nothing but supportive this whole time, helping me to realize that I can succeed in all of this,” she explained. “I know now that I could not have selected a better school. I can reach out to my Limestone professors for help on assignments, and I can also reach out to them when I need encouragement.”

Because of the flexibility that Limestone Online offers, Thompson is also completing her social work internship at Westview, where she says the familiarity there has been vital to her success. Even with her job and her internship, though, she still finds time to volunteer at a local recovery home for women, using her life and work experiences to encourage others in their lives.

She is incredibly excited about her parents being in the crowd for her graduation ceremony at Limestone in a few months, knowing how supportive her family has been throughout her addiction, arrest, and recovery. Her husband, who she married in 2022 and calls “another blessing in recovery,’ will also be in attendance to celebrate a journey that ultimately began 20 years ago at the College of Charleston and took lots of twists and turns along the way.

“Limestone to me is my equivalent to redemption,” she said. “It’s a big part of my journey. I knew I was going to be able to be successful, and now I have taken steps to change my life and be a better person, while also helping other people just like me.”

March is National Social Work Month, an observance that recognizes the dedication and empathy social workers across the country deliver while providing services to children and adults in need. Social workers are advocates, advisors, counselors, and facilitators in schools, clinics, businesses, and government offices.

To learn more about Limestone University’s social work program, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, click HERE