The Aftercare program at Friends of Guest House is one of the main influences that determine whether or not a woman will continue to live a successful lifestyle. It is typically a 6-9 month program where women who have graduated from Friends of Guest House will continue to have support through Guest House. The current Aftercare specialist, Mary, continues to support these women once they have left Guest House. The specialist helps them utilize the county resources they may not be familiar with themselves. These resources include grants for school, housing assistance, food assistance, and items through community donations (such as clothes and furniture). While interning at Friends of Guest House, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the home of a woman who is currently in the Aftercare program. From the moment we walked through the door, until we left, she was so excited we were there to visit her. This particular woman went back to school after graduating from Friends of Guest House; she received her associates’ degree and is excited to start working on her bachelor’s degree. With the help of the Aftercare Specialist, she applied for financial aid and was awarded grants to pay for tuition. When asked how the woman felt about the Aftercare program, she responded that it was important to her because not many people in her life have stuck around when she was doing well, and Friends of Guest House has done just that.
Amanda, GMU Intern, Friends of Guest House
My experience at Friends of Guest House has shown the importance of relationships. Knowing someone is there to support you and also show you around is important. At Friends of Guest House, one will help others find their way around Alexandria and there way around Friends of Guest House. After interviewing different employees at Friends of Guest House it has become apparent that women need to develop healthy relationships with everyone around them from boyfriends/husbands to friends and other residents. Healthy relationships produce healthy people. Working on past relationships and developing them to be supportive is important too. “Reconstructing relationships can be a source of healing, connection, and support that women exiting prison need.” Healthy relationships help support the recovery process for women. Programs like life skills and parenting classes help develop their knowledge of healthy relationships with their children and significant others.
A criminal background really makes it hard for many of these women to find a job. Working with one of the ladies here at Guest House, I was able to take some time to observe and learn how valuable the small things are. I was able to help her make and organize her resume and I could tell it meant a lot to her. The women here have so much potential and I could personally see this through the resume I helped create. One of the women stated, “I really saw how much I had accomplished when I put it on paper” because it was visible. Individually the women must desire to succeed and accomplish things themselves first, but they do need a push in the right directions and that is a reason for Guest House existing. The staff does a phenomenal job interacting and being present for the women. They offer help, their opinion and truthfulness to get them on the right track. Job searching is a very difficult, but it isn’t impossible.
The women here have opportunities to learn many skills through personal mentors and workshops. They need the push and dedication from others that care about them, which many have never received before. Job’s are hard to find, but with the right mentality and dedication anything is possible to achieve! Never quiet and keep trying, that is what the women here want and are doing!
Melissa Alba, GMU Intern, Friends of Guest House
A drug court is a type of problem solving court. It is focused on solving the issue of why the crime was committed rather than just punishing the criminal. Drug courts are typically for non-violent offenders, and for offenders who commit crimes because they are addicted to drugs, instead of offenders who commit crimes and do drugs. The first drug court began in the 1980’s in Miami; since then the courts has begun to spread all over the United States. Drug Courts focus on the person who is committing the crime rather than the crime committed. They allow people, who sincerely want to make a change in their life, the opportunity to get help. “The essential ingredients are enhanced judicial oversight, lengthier case management (including post-sentencing supervision), and a general philosophy of restorative rather than retributive justice.” (Butts) There are currently only twenty-nine drug courts in Virginia. Sixteen of them are adult courts, eight are juvenile drug courts, two are DUI courts, and three are family drug treatment courts. In fact if you live in Northern Virginia, or central Virginia, there are only three courts that are even in driving distance (Rockville Maryland, DC, and Prince William Virginia). While some may refer to these courts as “soft and cuddly”, the programs help offenders fight addiction and become successful members of society. States all over the country are investing in programs such as drug courts to reduce recidivism rates. The programs differ greatly by state, and sometimes even county. I’ve only had the pleasure of observing the Prince William County Juvenile Drug Court so my information will be based off of their court proceedings. “The mission of the Prince William County Juvenile Drug Court is to reduce repeated delinquent behavior in non-violent substance-abusing juveniles through a partnership of family, community, private and government agencies, resulting in juveniles who are alcohol and drug abstinent, law abiding, and productive members of our community.” To participate in the program, the offender must have been charged with a crime and be on probation; the charges must be non-violent. In Prince William County, their probation officer is the one who recommends the offender for the program. “In exchange for reduction of or dismissal of charges, participants receive intensive outpatient treatment, random urinalysis, home-based family and individual therapy and intensive probation supervision.” Therefore, if the offender successfully completes the program and graduates from it, the charges will be dismissed. This is a serious compensation because it means they will be eligible for financial aid, and when filling out an employment application they will be able to answer no to the question of whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. The charges will not be expunged, meaning if they have to have a background check done for an employer, the charges will still be on their record; but the program will show the employer that they went through a great deal to improve themselves. According to the Prince William county juvenile probation officer I spoke with, the program is no joke. It’s tough for offenders because it requires so much out of them, and it can be a lot to take in for first time offenders who aren’t use to reporting in to anybody. The Prince William County Drug Court opened in 2004, like other drug courts, it’s a fairly new program. While research is constantly being done on these new therapeutic courts, research has shown to support that they do reduce recidivism rates. Reducing recidivism is not only important to the offenders. It’s important as a society, that we fix the problems that lead to people from entering a life of crime; it’s important to us as a community to help one other, to protect our neighbors, and to prevent our children by putting an end to the factors that cause people to commit crimes. If, as a society we can help people from becoming reoffenders, we’re helping our communities become stronger.
Butts, Jeffery. (2001). “Introduction: Problem Solving Courts” Law & Policy 23(2):121-124.
Amanda, GMU Intern at Friends of Guest House
Support systems are essential for individuals reentering the community from incarceration. Support can come in multiple forms such as friends, family, or reentry professionals. Knowing that someone is there when you need them can make a world of difference between feeling lonely, or knowing that you have the tools to succeed. I spoke with a resident of Guest House about the importance of support systems. She said that having a support system gives her security and “a sense of direction”. Additionally, she said “it helps me through my day”. Having a support system highlights the seriousness of reentry and recovery.
At Guest House, the residents make up their own support system. When a new resident moves into the House, the women provide support by chaperoning and welcoming her in. Regarding the resident support system, my interviewee said “I think it’s a beautiful thing”.
Brittany, GMU Intern at Guest House
According to the Advancement Project, Around 350,000 Virginians are not allowed to vote due to felon disenfranchisement laws in Virginia. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, disfranchisement is defined as one who is deprived of the right to vote. People who have committed a felony in Virginia lose some of their civil rights upon conviction. Women and men who would like their right to vote to be restored have to apply to the governor who can restore that right. To be eligible for restorations of rights, one has to:
- Must be a resident of Virginia, and/or have been convicted of a felony in a Virginia court, a U.S. District court or a military court.
- Be free from any sentence served or supervised probation and parole for a minimum of two years for a non-violent offense or five years for a violent felony or drug distribution, drug manufacturing offense, any crimes against a minor, or an election law offense.
- Have paid all court costs, fines, penalties and restitution and have no felony or misdemeanor charges pending.
- Not have had a DWI in the five years immediately preceding the application.
- Not have any misdemeanor convictions and/or pending criminal charges 2 years preceding the application for non-violent felonies or five years for a violent felony or drug distribution, drug manufacturing offense, any crimes against a minor, or an election law offense.
After the application is sent, it takes 60 days for a decision to be made. Given the restoration of rights is granted, one has the right to vote, to run for and hold public office, to serve on juries and can serve as a notary public. However, it does not give a person the right to own any sort of firearm or have a concealed weapon. Virginia is among the select few states that have an application process for restoration of rights. Others have an automatic restoration of rights after sentencing is complete and restitution is paid.
The Governor, Bob McDonnell addressed the Commonwealth and stated it was important that Virginia follows suit with the other states that automatically allow restoration of rights for non-violent offenders after time served and restitution has been paid. Also, McDonnell stated that he has restored rights for more than 4,000 people in Virginia which is the most any governor has done in the state of Virginia. In January, Restoration of rights legislation was open in the 2013 General Assembly session. However, it was killed in the subcommittee, but Governor McDonnell stays hopeful on the subject.
Below are the applications for non-violent offenders and violent felony offenders:
Marcy, GMU Intern Friends of Guest House
The bond between a mother and a child is something important and special. Many women incarcerated are mothers and it is estimated that about 200,000 children have an imprisoned mother (Seymour 470). This resonated in my mind the more I thought about the impact that it must have on both mother and child. At Friends of Guest House, many of the women are mothers and I have witnessed the love that these mothers have for their children. From planning a trip into D.C with them to the treasuring of the letters they have received from their kids, it is clear that they care deeply. As I continued to learn more about these women I believe that there is a true need to embrace and love those who need help! Friends of Guest House is a great organization where many women including these mothers are getting the help they need to succeed in life. The women at Guest House want change in their lives and many of these mothers want to reunite with their kids. Let us continue to support organizations like Friends of Guest House, for they will make a vital impact in the lives of these women, their community, family and most importantly their kids.
Seymour, Cynthia. “Children With Parents In Prison: Child Welfare Policy, Program, And Practice Issues.” Child Welfare 77.5 (1998): 469-493. Criminal Justice Abstracts. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.
Melissa, GMU Intern at Friends of Guest House
The Definition of Success
Merriam-Webster defines success as a “favorable or desired outcome; also: the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” While listening to Executive Director Kari Galloway speak at a recent Friends of Guest House training, I broadened my own definition of success, and gained a deeper understanding of success. Ms. Galloway spoke about how, to one individual, success equates to having multiple degrees and a good job, but to another individual, success could mean staying sober for one full day. This put things into perspective for me. I realized that minuscule, everyday frustrations may not be as large as one might make them out to be, and that there are many people struggling to overcome truly large obstacles, such as drug addiction, or staying out of the criminal justice system. The lesson I learned was simple: Be thankful for the opportunities that you have had, and work to help others who were not as fortunate to be given those same opportunities. When we do this, everyone involved can attain favorable outcomes and indeed achieve success.
Brittany, GMU Intern Friends of Guest House
I’ve been mentoring at Guest House for about a year and I’m also the Mentor Coordinator. Over the past year, I’ve met some really interesting, compassionate women—both as mentors and mentees. It’s really opened up my eyes and heart to the hardships that residents of Guest House have faced in their lives. And it’s also left me in awe in seeing how they’ve seized the opportunity to make a new start in the community, balancing so many things at once—jobs, housing, health issues and opening up to mentors and other volunteers and staff at Guest House. When I meet a new mentee, I’m never quite sure how the conversation will go, but I’ve found that if you’re honest and candid, it opens the door for a relationship to begin. That’s been very special to me—helping a friend in need. I’ve helped with resumes, looking for housing, giving fashion advice and just talking about families and our lives. And I’m always a little sad, when my mentee leaves Guest House and goes out on her own, but I’m also very happy when things falls into place. The women at Guest House are very special and they deserve the best that life can give them. I feel honored that I can play a part, even just a small one, to help them get back on their feet!