I first learned of TRI while participating in a prison ministry support group at my church. I was delighted to meet Reverend Kristi Hornick and Deborah Simmons as TRI was in formation. Since then, so much has been accomplished and developed to serve returning citizens before and after the point of release. Plus, the future plan is even more impressive. It was a privilege to accompany Kristi for a day as she assisted 38-year old woman (I will call her Tina) returning to Longmont from after nearly 5 years of incarceration.
Imagine for a moment finding yourself suddenly without shelter, food, clothing, job, phone, transportation, or friend/family support. This is what a woman is likely to face on her day of release from incarceration. At the same time, she must find a way to meet with her parole officer and get the support she needs for mental health and addiction problems.
We met “Tina” at the Denver bus station. She was dressed in scrub style pants, prison issue t-shirt and shoes and carrying a small cardboard box with her belongings. She appeared both apprehensive and relieved as we met. The three of us had lunch together and with a little prompting by Kristi she began to relate stories of her life and circumstances. She spoke of her hopes to reconnect with her children and grandchildren, find a job, and get a GED with the preparation she had done in prison.. She also spoke of many painful experiences with dysfunctional family members including a husband who had encouraged drug use and had beaten her. I was struck by her sincerity, openness and guarded optimism.
Back in Longmont, we started a long day of reentry tasks to allow her to take care of her basic needs. We accompanied her to find an apartment, to meet with her parole officer, to go to the OUR center in order to schedule appointments for mental health and resource navigator and to get food at the food bank. The clothing bank was closed so Kristi later took her to buy some clothing: no more prison apparel. Throughout the day Kristi skillfully asked questions about Tina’s life plan. We affirmed her good choices and encouraged healthy self- care and avoidance of codependent tendencies. We all shared moments of humor and healing laughter.
Throughout most of this exhausting day Tina was congenial and confident which I found amazing given her circumstances. She had some moments of painful tears of sadness and worry when she realized that her abusive husband was trying to communicate with her, and, when she realized a relative had thrown away almost all of her possessions, including her children’s handmade Christmas ornaments. Spitefully the wedding dress was kept. Her pain was of deep hurt and anger, grief and loss.
The following day, Tina and I drove to get a food stamps application and to meet with a WorkForce counselor. She was optimistic that Tina could get a job as a traffic flagger because she was certified. She also strongly encouraged her to think about a career (Tina hopes to become an addiction counselor to help other women) and to complete her GED testing as soon as possible. She wanted a vampire series book so we went to the library. I couldn’t resist finding a copy of Coehlo’s The Alchemist for her.
On the third day she did not show up as we had agreed. She called to say she had to do a urinalysis as a parole requirement so was unable to meet.
These 2 days were an educational and inspiring to me. I think that Tina began to build the scaffolding for a new life of healthier body, mind and spirit. She will need community support for some time but can someday give back to those around her. I loved seeing Kristi and the principles of TRI in action. She is energetically dedicated and I was exhausted. The community of Longmont will benefit from the work of TRI as well as these returning citizens being served.
Karen, TRI Volunteer