The Value of Second Chances

Witnessing the struggles that our residents with criminal records face as they work towards a second chance inspired us to develop and host the Re:Entry Summit this past September. The public’s lack of awareness of the lasting impact criminal records have on individuals makes it difficult for The Women’s Home, and organizations like us, to gain support from our communities for clients confronting this uphill battle. Additionally, many of those leaving the criminal justice system often aren’t informed about the resources available to them upon reentering society.

Three graduates of our treatment and transitional housing program agreed to be panelists in the Re:Entry Summit for exactly these reasons. Tina Carr, Natasha Jones and Anna Rabe all know the value of second chances, and the Re:Entry Summit gave them the opportunity to talk about the impact that a new chance can have while putting a personal face on the issues of reentry. Though their stories are different, all three received their second chance when STAR Court, a diversion court program, offered them the opportunity to come to The Women’s Home as a part of the judicial process. STAR Court offers those facing nonviolent drug convictions the opportunity to enter a treatment program and work to regain their sobriety and independence. Participants that meet STAR Court requirements by the end of their program then have their criminal records expunged, enabling them to move forward with a fresh start.

SONY DSCTina came to The Women’s Home after many encounters with the criminal justice system. “I felt like I was just a number,” she told the summit attendees. “I was called a habitual and was punished rather than provided treatment, which is what I needed.” STAR Court and The Women’s Home served as Tina’s introduction to recovery and life skills, which she embraced whole-heartedly. Today she works for The Harris Center for Mental Health, where she is a certified peer specialist in the Harris County Jail’s Mental Health Unit. “I never imagined that life could be so good. All of my liabilities have been turned into assets,” she says. Tina leads by example, helping those who are struggling the way she once was to believe that recovery is achievable for everyone. “People need a hand up,” she says. “And if we give this to them, we show them that things they did do not define who they are. We give them hope, and therefore they have hope in themselves and share this hope with others.”

Natasha told her story as part of a panel about the narratives of women in prison, but summit attendees had received a preview of her experience via this pre-recorded video that morning.

Natasha participated in the summit in the hope that her “experience and knowledge could help others understand how hard it is for women to get homes and work” after leaving the criminal justice system. Natasha had heard of The Women’s Home and wanted to participate in our program, but it was STAR Court that finally helped her be ready for The Home. “The Women’s Home gave me the support and tools I needed to live a fuller life,” she says. Today, Natasha is a happily married homeowner whose children are again a part of her life. Working as an apartment manager for a complex with a leasing policy that is forgiving to those with criminal histories, Natasha is happy to give others a second chance as well. She provides to her tenants a list of employers with inclusive hiring policies, so any residents seeking better opportunities know what’s available to them.

Anna RabeAnna spoke on a panel about the value of diversion court programs like STAR Court. “I wanted to give some insight into my experience with diversion court,” she says, “and to help paint a picture of the type of person they can help.” She came to The Home when STAR Court gave her the choice: either go through the traditional system or follow their guidelines alongside the structure The Women’s Home provided. “My court program gave me suggestions and held me accountable for [my own] job search,” she says. “The Women’s Home gave me support, therapy, job training, and helped me believe in myself and that I could recreate my life and be the person I set out to be years ago.” Today she is happy and healthy, with loving friends who appreciate who she is. Anna works as an employment professional, connecting those in need with important job opportunities. She adds, “Helping them put food on the table for their families is the best feeling in the world.”

The Women’s Home is grateful for the courage and honesty these three graduates from our program showed by standing up and speaking out at our Re:Entry Summit. By sharing their stories, they put a face to the often unseen and pervasive struggles that those reentering society encounter. They showed everyone attending the summit the value of a second chance.

Connecting with the Community

Small JC3Being connected to the community you live in fosters an important sense of belonging. At our supportive housing facility, Jane Cizik Garden Place (JCGP), events and activities provided by staff and volunteers give residents the chance to socialize. Every month, JCGP hosts at least three events for residents, including the much-loved Ladies’ Night organized by Terrace United Methodist Church, a potluck organized by residents, and an event organized by staff based on resident interest or feedback. These events as well as any others that occur throughout the month are all shared with residents via the monthly newsletter JCGP Sr. Case Manager Ashley Stratton and Case Manager Nena Chima compose and place on residents’ doors at the start of each month.

The newsletter not only covers the events at Jane Cizik Garden Place, but includes resident birthdays for the month and events around the city that are free or low cost. The newsletters also include healthy recipes, a literature spotlight, and a headline story that lines up with national events like Alcohol Awareness month. Resident feedback also plays a role in the featured coverage in the newsletter. For example, a resident came to staff interested in learning ways she could improve her overall wellness, and the following newsletter’s theme was optimum health.

Residents also play an important role in bringing events their neighbors can benefit from to JCGP’s campus. A few months ago, a resident was interested in participating in
, a program that helps eligible employed individuals and families with a flawed or no credit history secure and pay off a loan for a car. Ways to Work requires participants go through a one-time orientation before they provide one on one consultation services to secure a loan and support services. The interested resident asked Ways to Work to host the orientation at Jane Cizik Garden Place, allowing her and nine other residents to participate.

Another resident brought nutrition classes to JCGP when she heard her doctor’s office was offering them in the community. Other events that residents initiated have been a community-wide garage sale, and next month the opportunity for free haircuts. Knowing their suggestions effect the events and calendar each month, and hearing positive feedback from their neighbors, ensures that residents feel like they have a positive impact on their community.

The events that residents most appreciate most are ones that provide enrichment and skills they can apply in their lives. Popular classes include a financial boot camp put on by Easter Seals that teaches residents important budgeting, credit, and financial literacy skills. On a different track on Friday, October 16th a make-up artist came and gave residents styling and beauty advice. Events on site at Jane Cizik Garden Place allow all residents, even those with limited time, money or mobility, the opportunity to connect and feel a part of their residential community. One of the newer residents told case managers that the events at JCGP make her feel like “she belongs and that she’s involved.”

Paying it Forward: Arlene’s Story

ArleneMy doctor prescribed Vicodin to me following major surgery. Neither of us knew those pills would consume my every waking moment. Years before, I was diagnosed with major depression disorder, and Vicodin gave me a euphoric energy that overcame my melancholy. Nothing could compare to that high – not even my successful 17-year career as an executive recruiter. But my family was very important to me, so I weaned myself off the drug. I was on the Board of Trustees for the Council of Alcohol and Drugs when I relapsed. My mother had recently passed away, and I wanted to numb the pain of losing her. It was shameful admitting my addiction to my peers. By then, I had reached a devastating low and had to sell my car to pay rent. My children stopped speaking to me. Within a very short time, I lost everything.

I completed another chemical dependency treatment program, but upon release I was depressed and suicidal. My sister told me about a placed called The Women’s Home. I was hesitant about committing to an 18-month plan, but I decided to give it a try.

I entered The Women’s Home broken and lonely; I kept my hair pulled in a pony tail and wore a sad expression to match. The admissions coordinator kindly welcomed me in, and shortly afterward, everyone was treating me like family. Since then, the entire staff has made me feel like I will never feel alone again.

The Women’s Home can provide us with the resources we need, but we must trust the process and work for our success. We may not see the immediate benefits of doing chores or working at the Cottage Thrift Shop, but as the process starts to unfold, it all comes together. Trusting the process is what we call the “lather, rinse, repeat” approach in therapy, which means if you do the same routine each day and have faith, you will see the results, and the results will be good. And for me, they have been phenomenal!

I really love my life today. I have less money than I have ever had before, but I am happy. The networking skills I gained through vocational training helped me discover a new position working as an assistant to an addiction specialist at The Park at Memorial Hermann. I look forward to calling Jane Cizik’s Garden Place my new home when I graduate. My children and I are back in touch and my daughter is expecting her first baby girl. My goal is to use the skills I have gained and become a recovery coach one day. This dream to “pay it forward “ would not have happened if not for The Women’s Home. Everyone — from the counselors, to the support staff, to my fellow sisters — have inspired me to believe no matter the storm, I can endure. I will prevail. I am not alone.

Jessica’s Story

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“A turning point for me was when I learned I have power over choice,” she said. “A healthier life is my decision.”

At age 12 Jessica was introduced to marijuana and alcohol by her mother, an active drug user. Her mother died a year later, leaving Jessica with the thought that addiction was her only option in life. Jessica told herself she could quit using anytime, but the next ten years became a pattern of self-neglect and desperate attempts to do whatever she could to sustain her dependency. She depleted her father’s savings and disability income, leaving both of them homeless. She roamed from shelters to abandoned houses and spent many nights in jail.

Her aunt, who overcame her own addiction, encouraged Jessica to seek treatment and attend 12-step meet¬ings. Each day she set a place at the dining table for her niece with the hope that one day she would fill it as a sober young woman. Jessica is grateful that her aunt pushed her to achieve sobriety, which led her to complete recovery at The Women’s Home.

Staff at The Women’s Home not only helped Jessica maintain sobriety, they allowed her to recognize her full potential. Their faith in her success made all the difference. Her counselor and therapists developed an individualized treatment plan based on the WholeLife program, through which Jessica gained emotional/mental, spiritual, financial, physical, social, and vocational stability. Now she knows how to manage a budget, provide for herself, and maintain successful relationships.

“Years ago, I couldn’t keep a job. Today, I’m honest, hardworking, and passionate,” she said.

Jessica is completely substance free and enjoys sober living at Jane Cizik Garden Place, a safe permanent housing complex owned and operated by The Women’s Home. She receives aftercare services at The Women’s Home and attends weekly support groups. She works full-time and is a part-time student at Houston Commu¬nity College. She has more energy to pursue other goals including becoming a skilled guitarist.

In her support groups, Jessica confidently tells others that the tools she gained at The Women’s Home saved her life. With her aunt by her side, she had the courage to share her journey in front of hundreds at The Women’s Home spring luncheon and was a featured spokesperson for United Way’s 2012-13 video campaign.

When Jessica compares the person she was before to the person she is today, a smile lights her face. She looks to her future with excitement and dreams about having a career, building her savings, and moving into a home of her own one day.

See Jessica’s story featured in United Way’s 2012 campaign video.

Giving Back, Going Forward: Bryson’s Story

IMG_7452 - bwBryson Blair was welcomed into The Women’s Home in 2012 and immediately took to the structured, disciplined WholeLife® program. She appreciated how the WholeLife® approach addressed her underlying issues, and didn’t focus solely on her alcohol addiction. Bryson was able to find role models and understanding friends in her new community. She also learned why drinking had taken such a firm grip on her life. She was treated as an individual with her own needs, and soon her road to recovery felt sure.

“My disease no longer defines who I am,” Bryson says of her chronic alcoholism. “I have learned to find self-confidence, and I have left behind debilitating insecurities and self-image issues that kept me down.” Today Bryson lives in a house she shares with her fiancé, and they are getting married in October of this year. She enjoys her daily run: exercise makes her stronger and healthier. Bryson works in a coveted retail position with a national employer—a position she earned not only with her skills, but also through her candid honesty about her journey to recovery in her interview. Her job is exciting and demanding, and Bryson’s journey of recovery keeps her grounded.
Bryson is proudest of the time she spends “giving back.” She tells her story to groups and on various television appearances with TWH staff, and she volunteers with current residents of The Home. This work reminds her where she’s been, where she is today, and where she’s going.

Congratulations for all of your successes, Bryson! The Women’s Home applauds you for your strength and honesty; you truly embody what it means to live a whole life. May you continue to inspire other women on their journey to empowerment!

Lifted by Her Father’s Love: Deborah’s Story

DeborahShorten3FINALresizeGrowing up, Deborah was a sheltered straight “A” student. A Daddy’s girl. To make ends meet, her father worked long hours, and she was often left in the care of her much older siblings. Unfortunately, they were dabbling in drugs and as fate would have it, they soon introduced their younger sister to this darker side of life.  By age 14, Deborah was regularly smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol.

For many years, she tried to hide her drug and alcohol use from her father. The decline was gradual. She graduated college and successfully completed an advanced degree. She held a professional job as a pharmacist, and managed her own busy store.  Slowly, however, the weekend “highs” spilled over into week days. A consistent work schedule became harder to maintain. And eventually in the death grip of crack cocaine, she spiraled out of control.  She lost it all…everything. Her car, her home, a rewarding career, and most importantly, her dignity.

“My spirituality left my heart.  I was empty, lonely and tired.”

Shame immobilized Deborah as the years dragged on, difficult and devastating. Her father, however, still believed in her and had faith that she would one day turn a corner toward sobriety and dignity.  Despite failed stints in drug rehab, he never gave up, and constantly reminded Deborah that she had something positive to give this world.  Her experience and education counted for something. Her life had worth.

Still, she hid in the misery of her situation until years later when her father’s continued belief and the expertise of a Houston Police Officer from the Mental Health Crisis Unit finally broke through the haze of despair. The Officer convinced Deborah that it was time for her to require more of her life. It was time to once again believe, to stand strong and to heal. Deborah agreed to try once more, and left for treatment with just the clothes on her back. By this time, her father was gravely ill and she was determined to conquer her addiction before he left this world. He deserved to die in peace…with the knowledge that his baby girl was finally on the right path.

Deborah approached her treatment with renewed vigor. She was assigned a doctor to assist her on her journey and to provide her with the hope she so desperately needed. After three months of sobriety, she followed the strong advice of her case counselor and applied to The Women’s Home. She prayed with all her might that she would be accepted.

And she was. Deborah was welcomed into The Women’s Home in 2010 and immediately took to the structured, disciplined WholeLife program. She had great regard for the WholeLife approach, which she felt addressed healing a number of underlying issues, versus focusing on only her addiction. Deborah was able to find refuge in her new community. She began to understand why and how drugs had taken such a firm grip on her life. She was treated as an individual with her own individual needs, and soon, it all just clicked.

“I could relate to the chemical dependency education,” said Deborah. “My pharmacy training came back quickly and it helped me to understand the information presented. More importantly, I was able to apply the learning to my new life.”

Through her individual therapy, Deborah was also finally diagnosed and treated for major clinical depression. Her counselors were able to reach the hidden places she had walled off for years. Everything was shifting and Deborah began to feel more and more empowered with each passing day.

“I knew I had found my peace when I was able to deal with the death of my beloved father without relapsing,” said Deborah. “The staff and the residents at The Home believed in me. I had the strength to stay on top of it.”

In April of 2012, Deborah moved her father’s furniture, art and keepsakes into her own apartment at Jane Cizik Garden Place (The Women’s Home’s supportive housing community in Spring Branch). At Jane Cizik, Deborah has found a peaceful refuge and a caring community that supports her through her sorrows, pains, and joy. Deborah is also very proud of her steady job at the Goodwill shops. There, she applies the skills she learned in her vocational training at The Cottage Shop and emulates her mentor, Shelley Bridges (the shop’s previous manager). With great humility and gratitude, Deborah has learned that, no matter your circumstance, you can start over.

“This is what it feels like to do what my daddy always wanted for me. This is what happens when you do the right thing for your life.”

Moving Out to Moving Up: Laura’s Story

_DSC0069Laura came to The Women’s Home after escaping an incredibly abusive eight year relationship.

She left, when she could not take it anymore, leaving with a tiny overnight bag and no money.

Laura found refuge at a small community hospital when her “angel”, a receptionist at the entry desk, saw her outward wounds and found a shelter for her to find safety. On the first day at her temporary residence, another client told her of The Women’s Home. She knew then, she had found a way to mend her broken life.

Her abuser had virtually controlled her every decision:  isolated her, stripped her dignity – because, you see, she was vulnerable. For her entire life, Laura had never had someone care for her and make her home a safe place to live. She dealt with homelessness and the foster care system as a child. She watched both of her brothers die, often the caretaker for their needs. Laura saw addiction and alcoholism take their toll on her parents and step-parents. She was the victim of sexual violence.

As a teen, Laura rebelled. She ran away from home and was truant from school. In her twenties, she grew quiet and accepted what she thought was her fate.

During her time at The Women’s Home, Laura found hope again. She set goals. When asked what made the difference, she was quick to say: “It was the counseling. They asked me to write letters to release all the pain inflicted on me. I learned to forgive, and I forgave myself.”

While at The Women’s Home, Laura’s vocational counselors assisted her with the confidence to interview and begin a job as an early morning baker at Einstein’s Bagel. Two years later, she is the preferred candidate for their general manager position.

A Guiding Light to the Lost: Tina’s Story

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For 10 years Tina sought shelter at a bus stop, living a life consumed by addiction and a struggle to stay alive, by any means necessary. We may have all passed her by, a woman marginalized and out of touch with basic needs.

It wasn’t always this way. Tina grew up in Abbeville, Louisiana the daughter of a very young mother. She graduated from high school, became a nurse and started a family. Her marriage was violent and emotionally abusive, not too different from her childhood.

When her husband left her to raise the children alone, her economic struggles began. She turned to alcohol as a means of escape. She quickly lost control. She lost her job, her family, and she began to suffer from debilitating chronic depression. Tina attempted suicide twice. Her family rejected her and put her on a bus to Houston, broken and dejected.

Upon her arrival in a new city, Tina found work and an apartment; but her addiction again interfered. She was evicted and with no place to go, she turned to life on the streets making her home at a bus stop.

After a severe brain stoke in 2007, Tina began to pray that something would change. An arrest saved her life.

Tina was placed in the STAR Court, an alternative of treatment and support for repeat offenders. Rather than incarceration, she was guided through a continuum of care that led her to sobriety.

After cursory drug treatment, Tina found The Women’s Home Treatment and Transitional Housing Program. There she was immersed in the WholeLife Model of care. Mental health counseling was offered to her for the first time. She developed a spiritual life with the guidance of a volunteer spiritual companion.

Vocational counselors helped Tina formulate a plan and secure needed income through the social security disability program and food stamps. She learned to believe in herself and dream of a better future.

After her stay at The Women’s Home, Tina continued her journey through part-time work and study. She was able to have her own time and space to discover the God of her understanding. She spent months healing her body through access to public healthcare.

Today, Tina has created a new life. She has her own home, a beautiful apartment at Jane Cizik Garden Place. She is sharing her experience, strength and hope as an outreach employee for a local mental health association. She is a state certified recovery coach continuing her training as a peer counselor. She is a beacon of hope to brothers and sisters who find themselves lost and alone in shelters, on the street and in treatment centers.

Tina pays her own way for all her needs, having turned back the government assistance she once relied upon. Her journey from crisis to self-sufficiency is truly inspirational and nothing short of a miracle.

Strength did not come overnight: Deshon’s Story

TWH_ 217 9A - lower resThe strength she needed did not come overnight.

For many years, Deshon soothed the emotional pain of her traumatic childhood with destructive habits and addictions.  She needed time and a safe place to deal with the traumas of her past.  She found The Women’s Home.

Upon arriving at The Women’s Home, Deshon tried desperately to prove that she was the model resident.  She eagerly attended each class, participated in therapy sessions, completed assignments, and did her best to present herself as a confident woman full of hope. As the weeks passed, Deshon believed she was adequately equipped to begin searching for a job.

Re-entering the workforce was more difficult than Deshon had ever imagined. Her efforts to find a job were constantly met with rejection. Overwhelmed by disappointment, she finally surrendered and shared her fears with her counselor.

Some would say that act of surrender was a divine moment. By being completely vulnerable with her counselor, Deshon found the support she needed to change. She began to acquire new tools to control her emotions and soothe herself. After years of self destruction, Deshon finally recognized her own worth and her potential to create a life of balance and meaning.

Not long after, Deshon began a new temporary job assignment. She built a reputation as a productive employee and secured a permanent position and eventually received a promotion with recognition from her supervisor.

At home, Deshon turned to writing and choreography as a way to express the tumult of her past.  Through it, she found a release and connection to others.  Her life now reflected a spiritual awakening that afforded new possibilities.

All along the way, The Women’s Home was there to offer Deshon the care and healing environment that she needed.  Like the many others before her, there was no “quick fix” to her damaged life.  It was instead a process of establishing wellness and a balanced lifestyle based on the principals of The Home’s WholeLife model.

 

I Have Peace at Jane Cizik Garden Place: Cheryl’s Story

Cheryl had made it. After years of working in Corporate America, she was promoted to an executive position at a Fortune 500 company. She enjoyed her fast-paced career. She managed people and projects. She gave motivating speeches in classrooms and
Her colleagues admired her ability to accomplish huge tasks with confidence and ease.

But on the inside, Cheryl suffered. She grappled with unpredictable low and high moods and could not explain her prolonged sadness. The smallest problems became insurmountable. Work overwhelmed her to the point that she wanted to quit. For a long while, she had mastered disguising her turmoil. Those days were over.

“I’m a person who likes to dress nicely and wear makeup,” Cheryl said. “When I was severely depressed, I would put on more and more make up to cover the pain.”

The white-collar life so familiar to her came to a halt in her 30s when she was hospitalized. Doctors diagnosed Cheryl with bipolar depression disorder, putting a name to the illness that mystified her for a lifetime.

“I had symptoms of depression as a child,” Cheryl said. “But my family and I never knew what it was.”

After moving in with her aging parents and becoming their primary caregiver, Cheryl’s condition deteriorated. Stress at home compounded her disease, yet she feared she could never live on her own again. She wanted peace but had no place to go.

Cheryl found help at the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance and the Fort Bend Center for Independent Living. Both programs empowered her to trust in herself and the recovery process to reclaim the life of independence she desired. An employee at the Fort Bend Center for Independent Living encouraged her to visit Jane Cizik Garden Place, a safe-haven for single women with modest incomes or those who are chronically homeless due to mental illness. She went to an open house and knew that she would call it home one day.

“Everything here — from the seemingly minor details — is so beautiful,” Cheryl said. “The place speaks for itself.”

Since last November, Cheryl is living happily and self-sufficiently at Jane Cizik Garden Place and plans to use her public speaking skills to
inspire residents in transitional housing at The Women’s Home. Cheryl’s experience testifies that a worthwhile life of interdependence within a community of courageous women is attainable. She feels grateful coming home to a secure, comfortable apartment she can proudly call her own. Each morning as she drinks a cup of coffee and looks across her balcony to the meditation garden, she takes it all in, realizing she has arrived.