Jenny Lee’s Story

Jenny Lee’s Story

During my 13 year sentence my greatest fear was being released. I know that sounds strange because prison is a horrible existence, but you see, I’d lost everything when I was arrested, including the clothes on my back.  I had no family, no healthy friendships — only those I’d gotten high with and didn’t want to be around anymore. I knew I would have no place to go once I got out and was terrified, especially of being homeless at my age.  In actuality, I felt only terror and anxiety when I learned I had won an appeal and would be released 16 years earlier than expected.

I prayed to God for help, and He was listening!  I learned of a new program at the prison that a group of Christian volunteers provided to help people like me transition out of prison.  When I went to approach the leader, Kristi, I told her my concerns and she promised me, “You will NOT be homeless!” I was jaded, because many people said what they thought I needed to hear, but weren’t able to deliver. Somehow, I knew God was with me and this lady meant it.

Long story short, if it weren’t for that program and the volunteers, I would not be free right now.  The parole board would not let me go on parole if I were homeless.  They would have waited to release me until my mandatory release date in 2019 if it hadn’t been for this transitional house — one of the only ones for women in Colorado.

The day of release, Kristi and my mentor came and picked me up.  After 13 years in prison, it felt so wonderful and scary at the same time.  They gave me some real clothes and hygiene items.  They took me out to eat for my first healthy and yummy meal –food I hadn’t tasted in so long.  We then drove to my new home. I was free and safe.  I had clothes, food, a roof over my head, a bus pass, and best of all, Godly friends.  In this clean and sober house, I felt reborn.

I know from years of watching friends leave prison that I was one of the few lucky women. The large majority of women released like me have no family, no help, and nowhere to go except back to the life of failure and addiction that had previously led them to prison.  Over and over I saw girls leave afraid and in tears on a day which should have been a happy one, only because they knew they were better off in prison than where they were going, because there were no options for them.

I remember one sweet girl who had no support of any kind.  She had only one option—to go back to the life of addiction and prostitution because the only one who was willing to pick her up and give her a place to live was her pimp.  On the day of her release, he picked her up, and with the clothes she changed into, she started right away working on the streets.  I felt so sorry for her, but she had no other option.

Time and again I witnessed this situation. While there are many houses for men leaving prison, there are hardly any for women. Women cry, “I don’t want to leave,” because they know they are better off in this horrible prison than they are on the outside when they are “set free.”

Throughout the years, we would hear of a girl we had known who had overdosed or had been killed once released. These were girls we cared about.  I am so thankful I was one of the blessed few, chosen for the pre-and post-release program option that included housing.  I have been out since March 7, 2016—a whole year! I remain drug free, in my own place now, owning my own car and working two jobs.  I love both jobs because I get to work with animals.  I am still in contact with the wonderful volunteers who were there for me. Without them I never would have made it.