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.
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 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. God reunited me with my kids; 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.
I am happy to be going back to prison, where I serve as a Program Manager 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
UPDATE: The above is Rhonda Bear’s story. Rhonda’s LinkedIn profile states under experience 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.
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