An estimated six to seven hundred offenders are released from The Department of Corrections custody each month. If they can't get a job, their chance of committing crimes and going back to prison goes way up. To compound the problem, Oklahoma's incarceration rate for women leads the nation so it's almost a double whammy for female offenders who get locked up. Here is Katherine's story.
I first met Katherine several years ago at the Turley Correctional Center. I was a volunteer. She was an inmate. When she was released I thought she'd make it. She did not, I saw her back in prison at Turley for the second time. This is Katherine's story.
Katherine's story is our story. Maybe not the incarceration, maybe not the drugs or alcohol, maybe not the family violence. But maybe it's loneliness, depression, regret, rejection or failures.
"She was hungry. She was hungry to prove herself," says Brenda Aylor with Electro Enterprises.
After so many missed opportunities, Katherine latched on to Aylor. It's where Katherine began to piece together her life. Electro's management believes in second chances and they hired her.
"She was just so lively," says Aylor.
Katherine had a team of support including instructors, job coaches, and mentors. She was desperate to change and didn't want to become another number.
"Katherine proved herself in prison. She started changing her life in prison," says her mentor Gloria Wilson.
Katherine's life certainly wasn't perfect. She grew up without her father, was sexually abused, had 5 children, one she lost to DHS custody. A drug conviction landed her in prison at 33. She returned three more times. She was released in 2011 and that's when she was hired at Electro. Katherine never missed a day of work.
"I mean it was like a white out there was ice everywhere in Oklahoma City," says Wilson.
It was a work ethic hard to match.
"And Katherine was one hour late and a lot of people didn't even show up, she was one hour late for work," adds Wilson.
"They are hard workers."
You've just met Katherine.
"It would behoove employers to employ an ex-con or a felon mainly because they have something to prove," says Katherine.
Katherine is not just saying that, she's lived it as a fast food manager who made it a point to hire an equal number of men and women who were felons.
"And they were my hardest workers because they knew if they messed up, first they wouldn't have a job and second of all the only place to go is back where they came from and who wants that," adds Katherine.
Faith in God has also been an essential part of Katherine's journey along with those who saw the strength, she couldn't see herself.
"I was like screw the world as far as I was concerned I wanted to be dead."
A prison guard came to her rescue.
"And she came around again and snatched those covers off me and said you think I'm playing, and she said I need to see a difference in you 'cause this ain't you. She said just get up and walk around, you ain't got to do nothing else, just walk around. So I got up and I cried as I walked but it got me out of that slump."
Rehabilitation starts inside prison.
"Because when you get outside the gates, it's too late, you already have that I don't give an "F" attitude, you got to train 'em and be consistent with the training inside the gates and then when they hit the gate the difference will be made.
Katherine has also helped changed the lives of those around her.
"It keeps me sober, that's what I get, It keeps me sober, keeps me happy, I'm out of my own head, I'm not thinking about myself all the time, it's awesome.
"It's an amazing feeling," says Aylor.
"I'm a part of life, I'm not just a statistic anymore," says Katherine.
"You never know where that next great employee is going to come from," says Aylor.
"I feel like I'm definitely a productive member of society," says Katherine.
"Believe me if I could replicate Katherine several times over I would do so," says Aylor.
Katherine says it's her faith, recovery program and taking college courses and vo-tech in prison that can also make a difference for others in helping stop the recidivism rate.
"That's what made the difference for me I know it."
"So why not give somebody a chance," says Aylor.
While I remain hopeful, there are no guarantees Katherine will make it this time. What we've both learned is helping offenders re-intergrate back into society is a team approach.
There are a number of programs in Oklahoma that help offenders exit the revolving door of prison.
In Tulsa County, there is "Women in Recovery" that helps divert female offenders from incarceration. It's funded by The George Kaiser Family Foundation and is just one model of success.
Be sure to check out "Mending
It's a four-part series in "Tulsa People" Magazine.. addressing women in prison-- and the children left behind.
You'll meet a mother serving "year six" of an eight-year sentence-- for her role in a bank robbery.
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