Transitional program offers many people a second chance

Thursday, March 30, 2006

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Bryan Haynes⁄The Star
Laurel resident S. Johnson looks out of the window of her apartment. Johnson is a former drug user who spent time in jail, where she went through the Leslie’s House Program that helped turn her life around.

It was late spring of 2005 when S. Johnson said that she finally realized she needed to break her dangerous habits.

The drug abuse, shoplifting and lying had landed her on the wrong side of the law again and Johnson said that she knew she needed to change.

Her transformation, she said, started on May 13 when she was admitted into Leslie’s House, a transitional house for women, located in Seat Pleasant, that provides education, job training and substance abuse treatment.

Leslie’s House, launched in December 2004, is part of a relatively new umbrella of county services geared toward helping female inmates, said Marie Dread, a community corrections section chief for the county’s Department of Corrections. Dread said that in order for women to be considered for Leslie’s House they must first successfully complete the Sister-to-Sister program, a mentoring program, operated out of the correctional facility in Upper Marlboro. Women participate in the Sister-to-Sister program while serving their jail sentence, Dread said. Dread said that it was difficult to put a figure on the number of women who’ve used the services but said that a lot of women have received help through the mentoring program.

During the five months that Johnson spent in Leslie’s House the 42-year-old said that she finally began to want to change her life.

‘‘I had got lost for a while, but now I’m back,” said Johnson, who currently works as an administrative assistant and has her own apartment in Laurel. Being involved with Leslie’s House ‘‘let me know that I didn’t have to do some of those things that I was doing and that there was another way,” said Johnson, who did not want her full name printed because most of her coworkers are unaware of her past.

Prior to Leslie’s House and the Sister-to-Sister program, women offenders did not have any rehabilitation programs specifically aimed toward helping them, said Captain Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs, the Department of Corrections acting division chief for program services. McCotter-Jacobs said that women were sometimes included in coeducational programs, like general equivalency degree training.

‘‘That’s a trend across the country where you have programs that are kind of generic and if women fit, then they can,” join, she said.

Dread said that women specific programs are key to maintaining low recidivism rates. The programs are designed to teach the women how to maintain a checking account and save money, cook and clean and access information via the Internet, among other things, Dread said. The programs also help women recognize and treat the problems that cause them to use drugs and commit crimes, Dread added.

‘‘Even though men and women abuse drugs they abuse them for different reasons,” Dread said. Dread said that she discovered that, in most cases, women weren’t just abusing drugs in order to get high. ‘‘Many of them may be covering up suppressed memories,” masquerading as a drug habit, Dread said.

Johnson said the Sisters program and Leslie’s House helped build her self-esteem. Ultimately, she said, she began to feel happy and upbeat without the drugs.

‘‘I thought I could go out there and do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it, and I learned that wasn’t the way,” said Johnson, who said that she’d been arrested on drug and shoplifting charges at least eight times since age 38. If not for the county’s programs ‘‘I probably would’ve been back out in the streets or dead,” she said.