Shanta Johnson's passion for healthy living inspired her to start her own business.
The owner of Essential Cleansing Center at 2045 Central Ave. was working as a correctional officer at a federal prison when she started having some health problems. She went to her doctor, but he wasn't able to diagnose the problem.
She wanted to be proactive about her health, so she started traveling to Atlanta for colon hydrotherapy. She was so impressed with the results that she wanted to bring the service to Augusta.
Johnson opened her colon hydrotherapy center four years ago, becoming the first to open a business of its kind in the area, she said.
Colon hydrotherapy, also known as colonics, is a procedure that cleans out the colon. Johnson, a certified colon hydrotherapist, performs the procedure, which uses water to flush out a person's large intestine.
To date, she has performed more than 5,000 colon hydrotherapy procedures.
Johnson advertises her business, but it's not that simple. Many people don't understand the service she provides.
"You really have to educate people along with the ad as much as you possibly can because this is new to the area, and it's also a medical town," she said.
During the procedure, a tube is inserted into the rectum. For 45 minutes, purified water flows into the person's system.
"This is a whole-body detox," Johnson said.
She acknowledged that she is not a physician.
"I don't diagnose, I don't prescribe, and this is not a cure for anything. But what this does is create a healthy environment inside the body so that the body can heal itself and do what God created it do," she said.
Lori Davis, of Augusta, has been a client for four years.
"I go once a month. For me, I think it's one of the best things that I do for myself. I don't mind spending that money because I feel like a new person. I think this is very important for the health of the person. The old saying is, 'Death begins in the colon.' I'm a believer in that," she said.
Before moving to Texas, former Richmond County school Superintendent Dana Bedden was a regular client at Essential Cleansing Center.
"I have actually continued trying it here," Bedden said in a telephone interview from Texas. "I think it's a quality procedure for health and well-being. Shanta personalized her service to her customers at a level that I haven't seen very often these days."
Johnson grew up in Augusta with her older brother. Her mother, Ida Johnson, worked in food service at a state prison. Her father, Wilbur Johnson, was the manager of a nightclub owned by her grandfather.
"We've always had businesses in the family," Johnson said.
Her aunt owned Eleanor's Kitchen, a soul food restaurant, for more than 20 years. Her uncle owns a local club.
"Even since I was a kid, I've had this entrepreneurial spirit. When I was probably in the sixth grade, I sold candy apples. I was really good at making candy apples. My dad thought it was a joke, but I had people knocking on the door all day and night to buy my candy apples," Johnson said.
After high school, Johnson got married and had children. At age 25, she enrolled at Paine College. She attended college for two years, then took a job with the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
"I got some real lessons on life. I was exposed to a lot of situations and people that I wasn't accustomed to dealing with," Johnson said.
She held the position for six years until she re-entered Paine College in 1997. One year later, she got a job offer from the federal prison in Edgefield, where she had applied years earlier.
"With it being a federal prison, they have an age limit of 35. I was getting near that age, so I decided to take the opportunity because once I graduated from school, I was going to need a job," she said.
She worked full time at the prison for two years while finishing her studies. It was difficult balancing her classes, work schedule and caring for her children, but earning her college degree was "a great accomplishment," she said.
Johnson continued working at the federal prison after graduation. She started having gastrointestinal issues, which she attributed to her diet.
Her doctor found a sore spot, on the wall of her intestines, though it had already started to heal.
"I was in my 30s at the time, and I felt like if I have a sore spot, something is not going right. I didn't want to wait to have a bad report," Johnson said.
She started reading a book on natural cures, which mentioned getting regular colonics. A chiropractor also recommended the procedure. The service wasn't provided in Augusta, so she traveled back and forth to Atlanta.
"With the very first one that I did, I felt better. I was so impressed. I was sure that if I hadn't changed my lifestyle, I was going to be facing some major issues down the road," she said.
Johnson decided to make a career change. She started taking classes at Awareness Institute for Wellness in Marietta, Ga., to earn a certification in colon hydrotherapy. She wanted to give people in the Augusta area "another option for staying healthy," she said.
Obtaining her business license was her biggest challenge, Johnson said.
She was the first person in the area to apply for a business license for colon hydrotherapy. She had to wait several months to be approved, she said.
Since then, several other centers have opened.
"I want to see people healthier and happier because that's what I want for my life. I think we all have that right," Johnson said.
Some of the inmates at the prison planted the seed for her to become a business owner.
"They would say to me, 'What are you doing here? This doesn't fit you. If you had your own business, what would you do?' The inmates were very instrumental because I had many come to me and tell me that same thing," she said.
Johnson enjoys her job because she loves serving people.
"This is a journey like I cannot describe. I have worked for somebody all of my adult life, and now I'm in charge of my own destiny. I look forward to waking up in the morning. My quality of life has improved tremendously," she said.