second chance

By NIKKI ROWELL,

Recently released female prisoners find help in adjusting through crossroads ministry

Within three years of release from prison, nearly 70 percent of released prisoners were re-arrested. A Madison County program is aiming to cut back on recidivism and help those who are recently released turn their lives around.

Vicki DeMoney, executive director of Crossroads Ministry, was instrumental in getting this program off the ground 10 years ago and is passionate about helping women overcome the challenges they face after their release.

About 13 years ago, DeMoney was working inside the prison as a volunteer chaplain.

“I just began to realize the great need for women to have a safe place to come to,” she said. “So many women have made parole and are stuck in prison because they don’t have what is called a good address. In other words, they don’t have anywhere to go.”

This could mean their family lives outside of the state or other circumstances.

“Sometimes, where they have to go is not safe,” she said.

DeMoney said the population of women in prison has grown over the years, and she said drug abuse is typically at the root of the problem.

“I saw that years ago while I was working on the inside,” she said. “A lot of women may have been there on other charges, but addiction was the root of why she was there.”

Crossroads Ministry doesn’t only handle the issues that arise for women from being incarcerated, but also helps them to move forward in life after they get out of prison.

“We not only deal with them being institutionalized in the way they think, but we are also battling for their sobriety and how to live in what they call the free world now,” she said. “There are lots of women fighting for their lives.”

Through the ministry, up to 25 women are able to move into a home after they are released. The ministry has two homes, one for primary care and one for after care.

The primary care home is located in Madison and is for women to stay in for four months after their release.

“They face a four-month program,” she said. “They don’t have a phone. They aren’t on the internet. They’re like in a safety bubble while they grieve and rethink how they look at things. While they do that, they’re safe.”

DeMoney said this process is important because a lot of times the women have lost loved ones while they were in prison. Because of this, they were not able to attend the funeral or properly grieve the loss of a loved one.

“They hadn’t even had time to grieve,” she said. “If you lose somebody you love while you’re incarcerated, it’s just tough. You don’t get to go to the funeral. You don’t get to do what everybody else is doing. You’re just kind of stuck in your grief and then you’re ashamed of yourself for being where you are.”

She said this causes a lot of shame issues for the women to overcome as well. According to DeMoney, the house offers a place to exhale all those negative things and begin to put the pieces together.

Volunteer therapists make visits to the house to do group exercises with the women.

DeMoney said about 15 volunteers are in and out of the house each week doing classes on everything from life skills to anger management to financial advice.

Since Crossroads is a faith-based program, the women are also immersed in Bible classes as well. DeMoney said the lessons are all focused on strength and growth, which is the goal for the women during their stay.

After the four months are up, the women who complete the program are given a graduation ceremony at a local church. DeMoney said these are often emotional services because for many of the women, this is the first ceremony they’ve had recognizing them for an achievement.

“We give them a certificate, which goes in their file and is sent to Mississippi Department of Corrections,” she said. “We also give them bracelets with our program motto on it, ‘My story isn’t finished yet.’”

Tears spring up in DeMoney’s eyes as she remembers a graduation ceremony for a young woman who spent much of her young life in prison, so she never went to prom or had a high school graduation.

When DeMoney arrived to pick her up for the ceremony, she was wearing a prom dress.

“I remember telling her, ‘Wow, you’re dressed up,’” she said. “She told me, ‘I didn’t have a prom or a high school graduation.’ I just sobbed.”

The after-care house is available for 10 women who have completed the primary care portion.

“This allows them to start living independently,” she said.

The women then have access to a computer. They get their cell phones back.

Crossroads Ministry works with local businesses to help find the women jobs and provides transportation to and from their jobs each day.

“We give them this time to save money and pay off fines they have or pay tickets, so they can get their driver’s license restored,” she said. “We do whatever they need to finish up what we haven’t been able to do in primary care.”

Sobriety continues to be a focus for the women during this time.

“They can stay with us for up to a year or a year and a half if they need to, to get their feet on the ground,” DeMoney said. “So, you can imagine being incarcerated for any amount of time and being released and not having anything. Not even a toothbrush.”

Some churches bring the women gift baskets filled with items they need upon their release.

“We provide all of that afterwards,” she said. “We put them back together. While they’re incarcerated, they are just a number. That’s just how prison is. We remind them that your identity is not in your past but is in your future.”

Crossroads also has a thrift store, which is where most of the clothes from the women are found.

“We get really good donations,” she said.

When the holidays roll around, that’s a time when Crossroads needs help from the community.

At Thanksgiving, the women can invite their families over to the house and prepare a Thanksgiving spread.

Churches, organizations and community members often donate hams and turkeys and ingredients for side dishes to help put together a Thanksgiving meal for the women and their families.

DeMoney said they had a large crowd for last year’s gathering. The women spent days decorating the house and cooking to prepare for the meal.

At Christmas, families will “adopt” one of the women and buy Christmas gifts for them.

“I hear them say sometimes that this is the most I’ve ever been given for Christmas,” she said.

Approximately 40 percent of the Crossroads budget is funded through the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The other 60 percent comes from partnerships with churches and donations from members of the community.

To donate or learn more about the ministry, visit crossroadsms.org.