July 18 2009 12:00 AM

JANIE MARSH’S PAST HAS NOT BEEN an easy one. When she was 12 years old, she began sneaking alcohol out of her parent’s liquor cabinet, and was smoking marijuana on a regular basis. By 15, she was using methamphetamines, and at 30, she was an intravenous drug user. She was no stranger to crime, either. By her third decade, Marsh had been arrested 24 times. “I had always believed that I would die young because of the lifestyle I led. I never knew I could start over at age 36,” says Marsh. But start over is exactly what she did.

Marsh’s 24th time in prison would be her last. While at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, she decided to turn her life around. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Turning Point, a nationwide substance abuse treatment program. She went to counseling, she took classes and, perhaps most importantly, she completed a three-week course designed to build skills for job-seekers.

She learned how to create a strong resume and gained valuable information on how to conduct herself on a job interview. The program worked. Just days after being released from Coffee Creek, Marsh was hired by the first company she interviewed with—Oregon Green Landscaping of McMinnville, Oregon. Marsh knew next to nothing about the landscaping industry. All she knew was that she didn’t want to be cooped up in an office all day. “After spending so much time in and out of institutions, jails and prisons, I just knew I wanted to be outside, so I jumped at this opportunity. I had no idea whether or not I would be good at it or if I would even like it,” she said.

It turned out that Marsh didn’t like her new job. She loved it. Just after she began working, a snowstorm hit, keeping her out of work for a number of weeks. She missed her job. Marsh was itching to get back to it. “I really missed it. When I got back to work after the snowstorm, my heart started beating like crazy, and I just knew that I had made the right career decision. After that, I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the industry.” She had found her passion.

When she got the job at Oregon Green Landscaping, Marsh’s biggest concern had little to do with whether her career would prove to be satisfying. She was more worried about what her new boss would think when he learned of her checkered past. It was a concern that proved to be unfounded.

“When I hired Janie, I had low expectations,” says Joseph Evers, owner of Oregon Green Landscaping. “Not because of her past, but because I was having a hard time finding people with the work ethic this industry requires.” When he learned of what Marsh had gone through, it didn’t really bother him. “Nobody is absolutely perfect, so I wasn’t so concerned with her past; I was more concerned about the future and how we would interact together,” says Evers.

It turns out Marsh and Evers interacted quite well together. “I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. She’s really motivated, eager to learn and a pleasure to be around. She quickly became one of my best employees. Plus, she’s a real spark plug on the jobsite, which is always great to see,” said Evers.

Just how good of an employee is Marsh? A couple of years ago, Evers decided to restructure his company. He reduced the installation portion of his company, which required him to seriously scale back his workforce. Marsh was the only employee to survive the downsizing.

As for working in an industry typically dominated by men, Marsh is unfazed. “I feel privileged to work in this industry, and I know I’m totally capable of doing everything that is asked of me,” she said. “If anything, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I haven’t found any prejudices. In fact, everybody thinks it’s pretty cool when a girl shows up to perform their landscape maintenance. I just can’t think of any downsides.”

Marsh plans to continue to pursue her passion for the landscape contracting industry. She is constantly reading about the subject and is currently taking courses at her local community college. When she’s done with her prerequisites, Marsh plans to attend the University of Oregon to study landscape architecture. “I’m really interested in becoming involved in new commercial construction,” says Marsh. “But I also love the idea of preserving historical landscapes. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see where I end up.”

Whatever Marsh decides to pursue, her enthusiasm for the industry will guarantee her success.