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Statistically, women who are incarcerated are likely to have been victims of domestic abuse. Even before their incarceration, they are often prisoners of bad relationships and unhealthy life choices. They don’t know their own worth. They have never been told they have value. Learning about their own self worth can bring a lot of tears to the eyes of those who are incarcerated. Within the confines of the walls, women can uplift each other when given the proper tools.

When Healthy You Inc was recently invited to present our Active Relationships class to the women at Houston County Jail, the participants not only learned a lot about their own self worth, but they had a little fun as well. One day as my colleague and I approached our destination, we noticed a couple of the clerks outside paying close attention to an object in the flower bed. As we walked closer, we realized that they were feeding a chicken. They told us that the hen had ventured close to the road and they were worried she might be road kill. They called her Jail Bird. She had feathers of rust which reminded me of the orange uniforms the ladies in county wear. Because I live on a small farm and have chickens, I offered to take Jail Bird to safety to live with my chickens after our class that day. When class was over, I was met by the clerks who had Jail Bird in a cardboard box taped and windows cut that reminded me of the old prisoner transport wagons. They explained that while in class, they asked one of the male inmates to catch her because she had headed for the highway. I laughed to myself at the image of this and wondered if individuals passing thought this was supposed to be dinner at the jail that evening. Jail Bird was quiet traveling to the farm and upon release with similar birds-of-a-feather, she seems to be settling quite well into probation, showing her appreciation by contributing an egg or two. The students in the class, however, showed their appreciation by contributing their stories.

“For several years, my life has been an uphill battleground with alcohol. I’ve been in and out of jail. I felt hopeless. I looked for treatment several times, but to me, AA was a way of helping me get out of trouble with the law, just to get the signatures and move on. However, this last arrest opened my eyes a little wider so that I could see. At this time, I got serious about the way I was living my life. Of course, I started AA again but I took it seriously this time. I even started courses through the chaplain at the jail. That all helped and on the day the chaplain came in the dorm and announced that he has started a class and if we wanted to go, come on. I decided to go. It was the best decision I ever made. The class changed my life. ‘Active Relationships’ helped me look at life in different ways, not only from my point of view, but from others as well. I learned how valuable I am. I now know what I do affects others, my kids being number one. My whole outlook on life has changed. I take time to think before I do anything. The class really changed my life in a few short weeks. The instructors are caring and understanding. They didn’t look at me as a prisoner, they treated me with respect and caring. Taking AA and this class is what I needed, because both of them together gave me a new life, a better way of living. Now I can be the woman God wants me to be!” –Rebecca

“This class has helped me understand about relationship with my mother. I have been deaf my whole life. I blamed my mom for a long time but now I can try to get along with her since she realizes that I am trying to change and better myself. I was also a drug addict. I ran to drugs to solve my problems but now I’ve learned that drugs don’t solve it. to use the SMART cards to stop arguing and cool off or give each other time away then come back and talk calmly. I’ve been working on myself in class, she even accepted to go to class with me to work on our relationship! –JoAnna

“I want to thank my facilitators for all they have done for me. I was married to my husband for 10 years. He was not a very nice man at times, but I felt helpless and felt less than. I didn’t feel like I deserved any better so I stayed. My husband died in December 2013. I really felt helpless when he passed. But since I have been taking this class I have become so much stronger. I know now that I am valuable and I do deserve a better life. I do deserve someone to treat me with respect and love. I have learned how to pick out good characteristics, not only a partner, but in people in general. I believe the class has helped turned my life around. I have higher self esteem now and believe I can do anything I put my mind to. Thank you. You are life savers.” –Tina

“I have been on drugs since I was 15 years old. I have been in and out of bad relationships since I was 17 years old. This has all caused me to be in and out of jail and prison due to drinking and drugs. I am incarcerated for a very serious crime that would never have happened if I was living my life right. Since I’ve been here I have taken ‘Active Relationships.’ This class has really changed my way of thinking. I now know what to look for in a relationship, not just with a man, but with my family also. I now know that I am somebody and I deserve better. I thank God I had a chance to take this class.” –Gracie

Stella "Sunshine" Eady at the Taylor Grocery

Stella “Sunshine” Eady at the Taylor Grocery

Every morning, Stella “Sunshine” Eady gets to work at 5 a.m. to cook at the Taylor Grocery deli. Customers and staff look forward to her chicken and dumplings, pork chops and other lunch specials. Stella loves her job. But getting her job took a little extra preparation. Thanks to the Healthy You Inc. Employment Program she attended, Stella gained the confidence she needed to put her past behind her and move forward with her life.

Stella ran into trouble anytime someone found out about the felony conviction in her past. When filling out applications, she felt defeated when she had to check the box stating that she had been convicted of a felony. After losing a job that she had for over a year when her employer found about about her past, Stella decided to take the time to attend a class on Relationships in the Workplace. There, she learned how to be honest about her past without jeopardizing her future. She attended the class on a Friday; on the following Monday, she landed her new job with Taylor Grocery.

The deli at Taylor Grocery had been closed due to the need for a new cook. Manager Frances Condrey interviewed Stella and they immediately clicked. They felt like they already knew each other. Stella’s past was never a factor in Condrey’s decision. She told Stella to make herself at home so Stella rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

“The first thing Stella told me was that she loved to cook. She was perfect. She is one of us now,” Condrey says.

Stella’s job gave her a new outlook on life. She learned her way around the gas stove at the deli and perfected her recipes. Stella has always believed she was born to cook, and her regular customers agree. They often post pictures on Facebook of her biscuits, country fried steak and gravy and other specialties.

“I trained at home. It’s called Mama’s Kitchen. I am missing from some of our family photos because I was always in the kitchen cooking,” she says. “I have customers now who are so regular I put their names on their biscuits every morning. My number one customer can’t go to school without one of my biscuits.”

Now, Stella is planning to go back to school to get her GED. She feels inspired and motivated and is thinking about going into physical therapy after she finishes her GED.

“The class taught me that I can do anything,” she says. “I do love my job. I even cook when I get home from work.”

We’re sharing this timely blog post via Family Bridges.  It was written by Alicia La Hoz, PsyD, and is definitely worth a read.

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At a time where many anticipate the joy and good will ushered by the Christmas season, our cheer is detained.  The peace and hope we wish to all through our sharing of Christmas cards, goodies and gifts feels helplessly out of place when what we otherwise feel is sorrow, fear, disillusionment and grief.  The traumatic event at the Connecticut Elementary School goes far and beyond any parent’s worst fear. Evil plagued the safest of communities, the safest of settings and shattered what we most trust. While most of us were spared the grief with our own children, and while we can never truly understand the depth of pain that the parents who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary feel, our hearts pang for the loss. We love, we hurt and we try so hard to protect the lives that have been cherished under our care. Lurking in the shadows of the media frenzy covering the trauma, is the voice that quietly says, “this could have been my child”.

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