As noted in a report by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Safety and Justice Challenge, “Women often become involved with the justice system as a result of efforts to cope with life challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and significant physical or behavioral health struggles, including those related to past histories of trauma, mental illness, or substance use.”
This rings true for many of the women who transition through A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL). Veronica, an ANWOL resident who recently discharged from probation, credits the organization as giving her the safe space needed to reach her goals.
“Safe spaces are important because if I’m worried about my basic needs, like food and shelter, then I cannot concentrate on myself or succeeding and moving forward and doing something for myself. If you’re always worried about survival then you can’t live.”
Prior to ANWOL, Veronica had never experienced a stable living situation. As the daughter of a drug addicted mother, Veronica’s life was riddled with trauma, including sexual abuse, from its very beginning. At the age of 15, Veronica entered a marriage with the hope that she was moving to a better situation for her life. Soon after her marriage, she found herself living in a nightmare.
“I married a very, very abusive man. During the course of 20 years, he beat me unmercifully. During that time, we were selling drugs and robbing people. It was just anything for him, and anything he said, I had to do.”
One night, her husband shot her in the ankle, and now she suffers a lifelong disability.
As she cycled in and out of prison, Veronica realized that she truly wanted a meaningful future.
“The revelation hit me about eight months before I was scheduled to go home. A lady inside asked me, ‘if you died today, who would show up to your funeral and what would they say?’ I couldn’t pick five people on my hand that would show up… That was the worst feeling in the world for me. But then it’s like ‘Get off the pot – what are you going to do?’”
Following this revelation, Veronica began doing research and looking for opportunities post release.
“I knew I couldn’t do this by myself or with the same mentality and the same people. You can’t do the same thing and expect that it’s going to be different.”
Now, for the first time since she was a teenager, she is not under any mandatory supervision.
“I knew how to live in society, but I was living for the next day. But now I could live and kind of plan a little bit for a future and I was never able to do that before. I had to live in the moment; I was surviving. I was never living, and now I finally have a chance to live.”
With her newfound freedom, Veronica realizes she deserves to embrace and live a happy life.
“My motivation is different now – it’s not for anyone, it’s finally for me. I’m trying to build my relationship with my daughter again. My daughter is 24 years old and she doesn’t know her mother. I’m trying to build a relationship with me again, like ‘Who are you? Who am I?’”
Veronica is currently a dispatcher for a construction company and hopes to one day open a battered women’s shelter that will cater to both women and their children.
“Life is exciting to me at almost 50. It takes some longer than others I guess, but I’ve got it.”