This blog post is first in our series on the 48,000 obstacles to re-entry formerly incarcerated people face when they return to society.
As formerly incarcerated women try to reclaim their lives and their families, their quest for stability is jeopardized by tens of thousands of collateral consequences as a result of their incarceration. These barriers to reentry can be very discouraging to those who have been recently released from prison and are eager to embrace their newfound freedom. Selena, a new resident to at A New Way of Life (ANWOL), hasn’t allowed the obstacles she’s faced during her reintegration to throw her off track from achieving the goals she has set for her life.
Selena’s journey to reentry began less than a year ago when she was faced with a decision about where she would go upon her release from county jail.
“My cycle of incarceration started when I was 20 years old. I was in and out of the county jail for about a year until I finally caught a case for burglary; they gave me six months for it. That was the biggest case that I’d ever got, and it’s put me on probation for three years.
“I was struggling in between going back to my area, going to the hood, or going to a land that I never met, which was soberness and recovery homes. I wasn’t familiar with that, so it was really hard for me.”
Before coming to ANWOL, Selena, now 22 years old, had a few false starts as she struggled to find a stable living environment. There was too much temptation to engage in old behaviors while living with her grandmother and when she began drinking again, she was kicked out Shields for Families due to a DUI. Selena did not allow these instances to discourage her from trying to make a better life for herself and her son.
“I had to really grasp that I was out and that I wanted something new. I did not want to go back in. Because I remember being in jail and asking God, ‘Please get me out, help me.’”
She then joined Alcoholic Center for Women, where her counselor in the program directed her to ANWOL. Since coming to ANWOL, Selena experienced stability for the first time in her life and is learning not to let her past define her.
“ANWOL has shown me that there are so many opportunities in life. They motivate me to be a mom and fight for my rights. They’ve taught me that yeah, my past is my past, but I don’t have to wear it every day. I don’t have to be that person every day, and that’s a big thing for me.”
Through her participation in ANWOL, Selena has gotten involved with Women Organizing for Justice (WOJO). WOJO is a six-month training program that fosters critical analysis of the criminal justice system, teaches the history of civil rights movements, identifies barriers to social justice and provides advocacy opportunities to affect policy and systems change. Selena graduates from the cohort in April.
Her involvement in WOJO has been an enormous help on her journey.
“My mom used drugs my whole life, so I didn’t really have a family, and I had to fend for myself. The women of WOJO have guided and supported me like how a mother nurtures a child. I am becoming who I am because of all that they are teaching me.”
Selena also joined All of Us or None, a grassroots organization that works to restore the human rights of formerly incarcerated people and those still incarcerated, which taught her about “Ban the Box” and her right to vote. She is now confidently applying for jobs and is excited to vote for the first time in the upcoming primaries.
Selena has not allowed her probation to cripple her, and in addition to regaining custody of her 4-year-old son, she is now confidently applying for jobs and plans to attend college so that she can eventually begin a career as a drug counselor. She graduates from Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center with her GED in June.
“I feel like there was a reason why I struggled in and out of using. I went through such a hard time because God wanted me to leave that area of my life and the experiences that I went through so that I could help somebody else.”
Even though Selena struggled during the first few months to stay sober, her faith, ANWOL, and her involvement in programs like WOJO and AOUON has kept her motivated throughout her reentry journey. Her eyes are now open to life’s opportunities, and she is determined more than ever before to stay focused. She fought for her sobriety and continues to fight every day.
“I try to be as involved in programs as much as I can now because it motivates me and it reminds me that I’m at the right place doing the right thing.”