I was in prison from 2003 to 2013, but my preparation for a new life started before I was released. My preparation started by taking a year-long pre-release program to help me make decisions to benefit my future. I never realized just how hard outside life was going to be, but I knew I wasn’t prepared.
I had the opportunity to go before Parole, but I waived it and set myself back a year to take this pre-release program that had many benefits. When I was accepted into this year-long program, I told the leaders I wouldn’t want any of the accompanying benefits—not the housing, transportation, or anything. All I cared about was the education and principles of the classes. That year was full of classes three nights/week, lots of homework, praying, and studying. I graduated, but just because you complete a class doesn’t mean you’ll get out. I still had to wait, but I continued to stay strong because I knew I was on the right path for success.
After a year of classes, homework, praying and studying, I graduated, but just because I completed the program and postponed my release a year, that didn’t guarantee that Parole would let me out of prison. I still had to wait, but not for very long. I was assigned to Community Corrections to await acceptance into a for-profit county halfway house. I continued to stay strong, and I knew I was on the right path for success.
In 2013, I finally got accepted into the halfway house. Awaiting in the real world was a solid support system which included my mentor, family, friends and volunteers from programs I had participated in while incarcerated. The real challenge was managing my time and meeting all my parole obligations around the schedule set by the halfway house. It was not easy. They want you to start paying rent immediately, whether you have a job or not. Many people go into debt before they can find work. If you find someone to hire you with a criminal record, they must be understanding enough to flex your work schedule to accommodate impromptu mandatory urinalysis (UA) or breathalyzer (BA) testing and classes. They assign chores, monitor your money, and only give you your own money on certain days.
My first job started at 5:30 a.m. but the halfway house couldn’t release me from there until 6 am. I was embarrassed when I had to ask my boss to come down to the halfway house and have him talk to the house staff so I could get approval to leave at 4:30 in the morning. The halfway house made it impossible for some of the residents to keep a job because of classes they required. Previously when I heard that halfway houses were set up to fail you, I didn’t believe it. The truth is that if you don’t have a good support system and a good job with an understanding boss, there’s no way you can succeed.
I finally got situated and able to get care packages from various places. I had my family bring me stuff. Unlike so many others, I was able to save up money and was in the halfway house for only about five months before I had saved enough to be released from there. I went to my family’s house, but they were strict too, and it didn’t last. I bumped heads with my sister-in-law who requested that I go back to the halfway house.
I went back for another two months before I was able to go to a non-profit women’s transitional home. That was also a struggle because now you have other women who are your house manager but they themselves are just like me—returning citizens, making it hard for you to do your own thing when everybody in the house is in your business. I got reprimanded about silly things, so I just saved up and ended up moving out.
Eventually I got married, which lasted less than a year. I rushed into it because I thought it was the right thing to do, and ended up getting pregnant. He was mentally abusive and then started to be physically abusive, so I left him. I had a good job and a brand-new car.
When I left my husband, I was pregnant. I ended up getting a place with my co-worker Adrianna who helped me through my whole pregnancy and ended up being my best friend. She helped me leave my husband for good. I now have a son and a very loving relationship with an amazing woman.
I am still on parole, but I am proud to say that I consistently have held a job, never had a “dirty” or “hot” UA, never been in trouble, but yet I still have parole on my back. I’ve learned how hard life is when you’re labeled a “felon” or “ex con.” It’s hard to get an apartment or house. Jobs are quick to turn you down. That’s really defeating and disappointing. People still see me as a felon and that’s sad sometimes, but I’m strong and have come a long way.
This has been a long, hard journey, and the system does not make it easy for you to succeed, but because I have a great job and a boss who is understanding about my parole appointments, I have made it. I feel bad for the women I know that are still struggling against the system to succeed. Halfway houses, offender houses, parole officers and other programs need to be more lenient to the needs of ex- offenders if they want them to succeed. I have about a year and a half left. I will make it through it all. Amen!