No Longer Running: The Rhonda Bear Story

Hiding from the police under a brush pile,  while sleet fell around me, I lay shivering  inside the black plastic trash bag of laundry where I slept.

It seems that I had always been running, trying to escape the sexual abuse  when I was 8 years old, a violent step-dad, deep poverty,  parental abandonment…

The Valium from my soccer coach at age 12  to calm my nerves before a tournament was the best feeling I’d ever had. I began using cocaine and dealing drugs before I was in high school….shooting up meth and stealing to support my habit,  kicked out of  a foster home, 8th grade dropout…sexual relationships  with  the lawyers prosecuting my case to make the charges go away…running away…joining a  biker gang…involved with the boss of an organized crime group…drug-induced blackouts…marriage to a Baptist minister’s son who believed he could help…bringing children born  while using methamphetamine and cocaine injected with a needle…drugs broke up the marriage ….selling drugs to support my kids…an attempted suicide…

I had been off the needle for six years, was in a drug recovery program, had obtained my GED and was working toward a social work degree when a  ‘one time’ shot of methamphetamine led immediately to an even more severe addiction.

I was wanted in six counties and two states for various crimes burglary, illegal drug possession, assault on a police officer and passing a bogus check.

The freezing cold and the wounds of childhood were nothing compared to the anguish I felt about the pain and shame my children were suffering.  The bounty on my head had kept me from seeing them because I knew the authorities expected me to show up there.    It is not unusual for children to turn to criminal activity to obtain drugs to deaden the pain. Emotional distress and household instability may lead to the child becoming homeless.

There in the darkness,  completely alone and isolated from everyone, I decided I would do whatever it took to get my kids back and protect them from living a life like this.
I didn’t really know if God was listening as I prayed for courage to change and do something with my life.
 
10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’   Isaiah 41:10  (NKJV)

ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT
Wanting to spare my children the trauma of seeing their mother arrested, I contacted the district attorney, promising that, if allowed  to spend one full day with my kids, I would turn myself  in. Celebrating Christmas early that year, I looked each of them in the eyes, apologized for being the mom that I had been and assured them that I would be different when I returned for them.

The Sequoyah County judge, who sentenced me to 10 years in prison, added a provision to suspend the rest of my sentence  if, while incarcerated, I completed a  12 month drug-treatment program.

THE CHILDREN
Imprisonment destroys families by disrupting the nurturing relationships that bond mothers and their children.  During a mother’s incarceration many kids end up living in poverty. Often others pass unfair judgment on children whose parents are imprisoned, making children feel undeserved shame and social stigma, leading to behavioral problems, depression and low self esteem. Wondering what they did wrong, a child’s embarrassment and pain can manifest as attachment disorders, physical health problems and attention problems in school that lowers academic performance. Thus, children do the time with their mothers.

While some children live with a grandparent, intergenerational incarceration is common, with grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts  imprisoned at the same time.  Nationwide, an estimated 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent will someday also become incarcerated. (Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Prisons were not created to address the brokenness and poverty from which many inmates come.

ENCOURAGEMENT PROVIDES HOPE
Hope empowers the women to accomplish their goals leading to restoration of the family, as they become more mentally, spiritually, and physically healthy.  Breaking the cycle of recidivism can save a mother, which in turn can save her children.

Trained volunteers for Stand in the Gap Women in Transition (WIT) program came along side to support me with love, acceptance and prayer during my transformation toward a normal life, after nearly three decades of drug abuse.

I finished the rehabilitation program in a year and  was released on parole, after serving only 19 months, due to the provision the judge had made.

Inmates are regularly released from jail at midnight on the day their sentence ends. Some have no one to pick them up and no place to go. Few have any savings. The stigma of a prison record  can act as a continued sentence, making it more difficult to gain employment to become productive, in order to support their family and gain acceptance back into society. The WIT volunteers mentor inmates through their entire transition back into society. According to the National Institute of Justice nationally, over 67 percent of released prisoners will return to prison or jail within three years, yet only 3 percent of women who have completed the entire WIT program, have returned to incarceration.

A place to live, a vehicle and a wonderful job, were all in answer to prayer.  The court gave temporary custody of my children to Stand in the Gap, which led to me regaining custody of them.   God reunited us; healing and restoring our relationship.

Finding safe housing where women and children can build a new life is very challenging, when landlords will not rent to them.  With support from the wonderful Claremore, OK community, my husband and I opened His House Outreach Ministries, in May 2008. While the original plan was to offer temporary housing for up to two weeks, God had a greater plan!

Today the program includes seven faith-based transitional homes for women recently released from prison. Twenty one women at a time, who focus on getting their children back, are helped with employment, education and goal setting.

Many of the women haven’t completed high school or earned a GED. A lack of skills, an absence of a steady employment history and few resources make it difficult to obtain employment to support their family. Unemployment is a prime motivator in criminal activity, when the only sources of income former prisoners can think of are illegal.

Employment, which is essential in reducing recidivism, allows former inmates to become a productive member of society and part of the community, while providing for their children.

STARTING A BUSINESS WITH $300

A $300 budget to create a job training program for former inmates might have deterred some folks, but the Lord had already given me a name for the business. The $300 purchased coffee beans, a coffee pot, hot chocolate, a crock pot for apple cider and space at a flea market in downtown Claremore. She Brews Coffee House opened for business, in November 2012, in that rented booth.

When a storefront, nestled in a block of antique stores, became available there was, once again, an outpouring of community support to move the coffee house from the flea market booth to the neat brick building. Donations came in for everything -carpentry work,  furnishings, cooking lessons, kitchen-grade equipment and even membership in the local Chamber of Commerce. A silent auction raised $12,000.

The coffee house provides a place, for women who live at ‘His House’, to gain valuable work experience as they learn responsibility, problem solving  and social skills. Appreciative of the opportunity to interact with members of the community, the ladies take pride in doing their best. Encouraged by the kindness and respect shown them they are eager to prove their trustworthiness.   From the coffee house the women move on to higher paying jobs or pursue degrees to better provide for themselves and their families.

I was an uneducated drug addict who had a life-changing experience. My recovery and transformation has been an amazing journey.  Thanks to the ongoing support of the community many lives have been impacted for the long term– the women, their children, future generations, and society at large. I give God all the glory for the success of the women who have been helped.

TODAY
I am happy to be going back to prison, where I serve as the  Program Manager for Stand in the Gap’s Women in Transition (WIT) Ministry to pay forward the generosity of those who gave me the hope I needed to change my life. I teach others the skills that I was taught for a successful transition, which allowed me to get my children back.  Over 1,000 women a year in Oklahoma prisons go through the 12-week course learning how to be productive members of society, as they transition to life on the outside.

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There are wonderful individuals with tremendous economic needs, who have had difficult lives filled with trauma. A handout often leads to co-dependency, not self-sufficiency. By teaching people ‘how to fish, instead of just giving them fish’, we help them make long-term, real life changes with employment skills, sobriety, good family relationships, budgeting and good spending habits.  –Buddy Stone, co-founder of Stand in the Gap Ministries which serves Oklahoma’s orphans, widows, and prisoners by connecting people in need with people who care.

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UPDATE: The above is Rhonda Bear’s story. Rhonda’s LinkedIn profile states that she has been the Program Manager for Stand In The Gap Ministry, in Tulsa, Oklahoma since April 2011.   Under experience she had put simply “I love that I get to teach women how to successfully leave prison and reenter society.”

We had to do research on the  internet to learn that, in addition to her work at the coffee shop and  executive director of seven transition  homes, this devoted, wife, mother and grandmother:

  • teaches re-entry courses to more than 1,000 women a year who are leaving  prison.
  • received her degree in Social Work from Northeastern State University, actively advocates for change in our justice system on behalf of incarcerated women at the legislative level  through her role on the Board of Directors for the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition.
  • a DOC volunteer, she volunteers at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center (where she was named Volunteer of the Year), Mabel Bassett Correctional Center and Rogers County Jail.
  • teaches anger management to women from Turley Correctional Center at St. Luke’s Redemption Church the Tulsa and Rogers county jails, and several Oklahoma City area facilities.
  • became a Kairos volunteer three years after her release.
  • group leader of Women’s Celebrate Recovery at the First Baptist Church of Claremore, OK.

AWARDS

Rhonda doesn’t brag about her awards and recognition, but so far, we found these:

  • Claremore Main Street and the Claremore Chamber recently honored “Leading Ladies” in business and the community. Rhonda received the “Leading Lady of the Year”
  •  Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • One of the top 10 Young Women in the State by the YMCA  – YWCA Tulsa’s Women of the Year is a distinction  reserved for 10 fearless Green Country women.

A Grateful Heart is a Magnet for Miracles. -author unknown

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Michael Franzese, former mob boss, will be in Tulsa on Nov 15, 2016

On November 15th former mob boss Michael Franzese, the Brooklyn-born mobster son of famed 92-year-old Colombo enforcer John (Sonny) Franzese will be speaking in Tulsa at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

The younger Franzese, once nicknamed “The Prince of the Mafia”, became a “made” Colombo soldier in 1975, made millions bootlegging gasoline until he was indicted in 1987. The ex-wiseguy – who once bragged that he made more money than Al Capone- decided to leave the Mafia behind, accepted a prison sentence and testified against his former family.

He served three years and upon his release he wrote a series of mob-themed inspirational books with titles like, “The Good, The Bad, and the Forgiven” and “I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse.”

Having personally experienced transformation in his life, today Michael is a man on a mission who will attest that no one’s life is beyond God’s reach

 

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Free Places for Veterans to Eat on Veterans Day (OKLAHOMA LIST)

With gratitude and admiration we honor our Veterans  who have devoted themselves to serving and defending our  nation with brave and selfless service and extraordinary courage….to make a difference in this world.

And now, without further ado….Tulsage presents the 2016 list of places for Oklahoma Veterans to eat for free on Veterans Day

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Finally! The Desmond Doss Story

The true story of US Army medic Pfc. Desmond T. Doss who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life — without firing a shot — to single-handedly save 75 of his comrades in the Battle of Okinawa, while under constant enemy fire.

Here is the documentary that makes me cry every time  I watch it. For years I have wished someone would make a movie of his story. Humble, Desmond  didn’t want it done. He passed on in 2006.

Hacksaw Ridge had its world premiere on September 4, 2016 at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation.

 

 

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HEALTH BENEFITS OF LAUGHTER

Did you know that seventy percent of disease processes are directly related to stress,  which triggers hormones that suppress the immune system,  raise blood pressure and can lead to fatal obstructions in arteries?

Cortisol and adrenaline are activated during times of stress, hostility and rage.  Adrenalin bombards the heart, forcing it to beat as if in a constant state of fight or flight.  Mental stress can cause inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.

THE GOOD NEWS
Research has confirmed that intense laughter causes the body to produce dopamine, a natural stress-reducer, which  has a vital role in protecting health, provides a general calming and anti-depressing effect and can help reduce  potentially more-serious illnesses.
Dopamine lowers cortisol, a culprit for fat around our midsection and central organs.

Hearty laughter:

  • lowers blood pressure by increasing the diameter of the blood vessel which allows more blood flow.
  • boosts the immune system by increasing infection-fighting antibodies and T-cells (natural killer cells that destroy viruses and tumors). Many doctors attribute cancer patient’s longevity to their choice of a positive outlook by looking for the humor in every situation.
  • increases respiratory rate and enhances oxygen consumption, stimulating the heart and lungs and aiding muscle relaxation. Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, recommends laughter as part of a heart healthy program for patients.
  • reduces pain. Researchers at Oxford University found that those who laughed at comedies tend to withstand pain longer, while laughing along with others relieved pain better than laughing alone.

 
Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, M.D wrote in  ‘A Book of Miracles: Inspiring True Stories of Healing, Gratitude, and Love’  that survivors who laugh, live longer.


Some effects of laughter are still present the next day.

Laughter is contagious.  When we see many people laughing, we end up laughing involuntarily, according to a study at University College of London.  Laughter connects us with those who make us laugh by making us feel more comfortable, and thus strengthens relationships.  Just try to watch this all the way through without laughing

Laughter has no side effects, is available for free, wherever you are. Choose to look for the humor in every situation in your daily life…and share your laughter with others.
A merry heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.(Proverbs 17:22)

~

Tulsage 2016

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For it is in giving that we receive.

BENEFITS OF HELPING OTHERS

  •     Those who help others often benefit as much, or more, as those they serve.
  •     Feeling needed provides a sense of satisfaction and a purpose for living.
  •     Helping others reduces stress and boosts overall well-being.
  •     Better health can lead to a longer, more fulfilled life.
  •     Volunteering provides numerous opportunities to build a social network.

The City of Tulsa issued a proclamation making  October Volunteer for Health and Happiness Month.  October 22, 2016 is National Make A Difference Day.

Read full article here.

 

 

 

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(SECRET) Volunteer Work Can Open Doors

Doctors and psychotherapists have long observed that those who help others tend to enjoy healthier, happier lives.

Often those who have been helped want to do something in return, preferring a hand up, to a hand out. Feeling needed and appreciated, and maintaining their dignity, is important to good physical and mental health.

Experts believe that those who suffer from “the blues” or those who have experienced a life-altering trauma, such as losing a spouse, often benefit from doing volunteer work as much, or more, as those they serve. When we believe that we’re making a difference here on earth, it gives us a purpose for living and sense of satisfaction, which can lead to a longer, more fulfilled life. Studies show the more consistently we do good for others, the happier we become.

When we give to others it activates the release of dopamine, the ‘Feel Good’ hormone, which triggers what is often referred to by psychologists as a “helper’s high”. MRI studies  found that this euphoria reduced chronic pain for several participants. Dopamine also reduces stress levels which has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety, boosting overall well-being and motivating us to do more kind acts, in order to get that “high”. Research revealed that dopamine also plays important roles in sleep, motor activity, and concentration which is important to learning.


Volunteer work can open doors

Although many business executives didn’t go to a private school or have parents who belonged to the country club they realized the importance of strong social connections to their success.  Volunteering in the community is a way to build a solid social network. The  more vast ones network, the more opportunities one has.

Most jobs are never posted to the public. Many companies identify potential job candidates through employee referrals. According to a recent study, referrals are the No. 1 source of new hires. A “social connection” inside a company may be in a position to make a recommendation for a job that is never advertised.

Companies encourage employees’ passion to make a difference in the community. Applicants who are heavily invested in the community bring much more to a company than just their credentials and education.  Aware that volunteer work can provide invaluable skills and knowledge HR Managers often look closely at it on an applicants resume.

Whether on the ascent up the corporate ladder or already sitting at the top, one is always part of a team. Business leaders who volunteer in the community often take notice of “team members” who show leadership potential.

This October 22nd, millions of volunteers across the nation will unite on National Make A Difference Day,  the largest single-day of volunteering in the country. That link will tell about the $10,000 prize you can win for the non-profit you choose.

Looking for some ideas? Here are a few.

You can also Click here so the page will reload, then scroll down toward the bottom to see responses from others.

GOOD LUCK!

©   Tulsage 2016     Permission is granted to share the above, in part or in  entirety, as long as credit is given to Tulsage.

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