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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

Kindra Trawick

Kindra Trawick

Incarceration has an exponential effect on the structure of the family. The children of incarcerated parents have to make the choice daily to survive and thrive instead of giving into hopelessness. Faith and forgiveness allowed the four Trawick kids—Kindra, Kerell, Kalon and Kendle—to emerge on triumphant from a desperate situation.

Since Kindra was 10 years old, her mother has struggled with addiction. Kindra, her mother and her three brothers lived with Kindra’s grandmother. The influence of Kindra’s grandmother helped equip Kindra with the tenacity she would need when she found herself alone, responsible for her three younger brothers. Kindra’s grandmother died in January. Her mother was incarcerated on drug related charges less than a month later.

After the death of her grandmother and the incarceration of her mother, Kindra had one more life-altering surprise in store. She went with her 17 year old brother to court for a juvenile appeal. When they got there, they found that court had been cancelled but the probation office had a copy of the police report from the newspaper showing that their mother was in jail. They also had the obituary from the newspaper showing that their grandmother had passed away. DHR was there waiting to question Kindra about the custody of her little brothers. As the questions were sprung on her, the gravity of the situation weighed heavily on 19-year-old Kindra.

“My whole life changed in 30 minutes,” she says. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this all happened in one day. I felt like I was in a dream.”

Kindra was given 15 minutes to go pick up her brothers—one from school and one from the baby sitter—and go to court that day or be found in contempt. She stood before the judge as her own attorney and pled her case. She was determined to keep her family together.

“I told the judge I just lost my grandmother, my mom just went to jail. I’ve lost everything and everyone,” she says. “I can’t let them take my brothers. Others have kids at 19 and get help. Please help me.”

Kindra was awarded physical custody of her bothers and DHR had custody. Kindra was required to take parenting classes. She received no TANF or food stamps for the first month. The only assistance she received was a few Wal Mart vouchers. Kindra worked part time at Dollar General. She only received $600 from her grandmother’s estate. When she signed the lease on a place for them to live, she found that she was already in the hole for $1,000 due to her mother not paying previous months’ rent. After six months, they were evicted.

“I had to choose between rent and groceries and I could never catch up,” Kindra says. “The hardest part was being strong for them. I couldn’t have weak moments. I had to be protective even though I didn’t feel protected myself. I was in shock and in debt. I had to make decisions. Some guidance or mentoring would have helped.”

Life was hard for the Trawick kids. Kindra found herself having to act as mother, sister and friend. At first, they didn’t want to mind their sister. But, they all made it to school with no major problems.

“Kalen’s classmates were very nice to him and he was ok,” Kindra says. “Kendle went to daycare, and his teacher always gave him biscuits and syrup, his favorite.”

After the eviction, Kindra, Kalon and Kendle moved in with Kindra’s best friend’s mom and her three kids into a three bedroom house. Despite the close quarters, It was like one big family. Everyone took turns taking care of Kendle. But this arrangement only lasted for five months. DHR intervened to say that they couldn’t live in a house with that many people. Kindra’s mother was in and out of prison during this time and was only allowed to see the kids under supervision. When she was caught defying this court order, Kindra lost physical custody and and another friends’ mother got physical custody of the boys. Fortunately, Kindra and her brothers were able to see each other all the time. Eventually, Kindra’s aunt filed for custody of her Kendle and Kalon moved to New Jersey to live with her. Kendle was five at the time and told Kindra that he didn’t want to go. He wanted to stay with her.

“That was when I finally broke down,” Kindra says.

Rather than succumb to the darkness of their circumstances, the Trawick kids chose to thrive. Today, Kalon is in college at Georgian Court University, studying criminal justice. He loves sports and cooking. Kendle is in the sixth grade in New Jersey. He makes good grades and is close to his cousins who live nearby. Kerell lives in Dothan, works for a moving company and is father to one son. Kindra’s mom is out of prison, has gone through rehab and is doing well. She is reestablishing relationships with her children.

“She loves them to death,” Kindra says. “We are being as supportive as possible. We are forgiving.”

In 2011, Kindra took Healthy You’s Healthy Marriage class. She was the only single person to attend that class. It was there that she realized she wanted to do the kind of work done at Healthy You. Kindra now serves as night manager for Healthy You’s transitional home, Genesis II.

“I wanted to learn how to get along better with people,” Kindra says. “This is my dream job. I will have the amazing opportunity to work with women like my mother. it will be amazing to see relationships grow and manifest.”

Kindra believes that with the proper support, women will renew their relationships with their families and stay out of jail.

“It’s one thing to help them. It’s another thing to understand what families have gone through and the low self esteem of the women,” Kindra says. “I want to let them know their kids still need them. This is the first and most important step of their lives. I take the responsibility very seriously. I’m not here to make a dollar. I’m here to make a difference.”

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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