Dominic smiles as he talks about the cat he just adopted. He said that during his last prison sentence, seven years in a high-risk yard with rotating cell-mates, he never imagined that the next being he shared his space with would be a rescued cat. Dominic has been out of prison now for several years; it is the first time in decades that he has no legal issues and is not on probation or parole. Adding to his list of accomplishments, last year he moved into his own apartment, after experiencing homelessness and incarcerations since 1986.
Dominic realized during his most recent prison sentence that he had had enough, that he had given too many years and sacrificed too much of his life, in an endless pursuit of drug use and apathy. During his years of active drug and alcohol use he got to a point where nothing else mattered, saying it was like being in a tunnel. He thought of the many times he had been in jail and prison, where his main thought was how quickly he could return to his past lifestyle, and about all of the people that he met over the decade with a similar mindset. He thought of how easy it can be to sometimes find hope and make plans while incarcerated, only to give up once released. He realized he would have to do the hard work once the gate opens, that his actions and choices must be different this time.
He became involved with recovery groups while still inside, resolved never to return, and was happy to be eligible for early release on SB1291. Once he was released, reality was a bit of a shock: he had no place to live, had no income, was experiencing health issues compounded by age, and what felt like a lot of rules set by parole. With the support of SAGE, and his groups and case manager, he was able to create structure and refocus, and get clarity on what he is striving for, and on steps on how to get there.
Dominic believes that once one realizes that they have had enough, and that they are ready for change, even if it’s not clear on how that looks, that help is there. Dominic feels that knowing that there are others that care about his success helped him stay motivated, and gave him hope. Five years after his release, he has established his retirement income, reinstated his license and bought a used car, and has his own apartment, which he is now able to share with his new roommate and companion, his rescue cat.
SAGE gave me my life back
Renee used to hate court rooms. Up until a few years ago, the legal system lead to fear and anxiety for her. These days, she spends many hours at court, working alongside colleagues who used to be part of those negative experiences of her past. Renee’s journey to where she is today was a long one, filled with trauma and violence, resulting in a subsequent substance use disorder. She would go to mental health clinics and other organizations, pleading for coping skills and healthy ways to deal with her trauma, only to be given medications that did not work for her.
During her time at Perryville, she knew she was ready for significant changes, and hoped this was the final time she would be and feel imprisoned. She began studying, and utilizing all available programs. She began getting letters from her children, solidifying her hope and resolve. Renee felt she could see a light at the end of the tunnel, and knew she could get her life, and her family, back.
Once released on a senate bill early release, Renee was unsure of how to navigate all of the emotions that came with being on the outside, with navigating all that she hoped and wanted. Renee feels that SAGE Counseling changed that for her. She said she was able to learn tools and knowledge that for the first time, actually helped her. She not only learned coping skills that she actually was able to use, but that it was part of her journey to find joy in her life, and to discover self-love.
Renee now works as a peer-support specialist and navigator, helping others on the path to recovery and stability. Renee connects with other women who are abuse and trafficking survivors, and is able to share the message that there is hope, there is a future. It is important to her that others know that good people make bad mistakes. She continues to work on herself, and has remained in counseling. She returns to courts where she recognizes her past life in others. And after work, she gets to return to her own home. She just paid off her first car. She is happy and secure in knowing that she is able to be a role model to her children, to be able to help others, and to give them a hand up.
Mike describes a moment midway into his prison sentence when he realized there has to be a better way: a better way to spend his time, a different place to focus his energy, a way to shift into a positive space. One of the things that stood out to him was the negativity and hopelessness for a better future shared by many of the men at the prison. He saw this echoed in the lack of opportunities and in staff’s attitude.
Mike found his way to prison as a result of drug use, which occurred later in his life, after obtaining a master’s degree and having a successful career in writing. This led to the dissolution of his marriage and his life falling apart. This resulted in him continuing the cycle of using, despair and hopelessness that kept following him until his moment of clarity in prison.
The realization that a better way exists led Mike to take action, to identify ways to find hope, even in a place where it was difficult to do so. He began practicing yoga, started to attend 12-step meetings, and decided to study addiction counseling. He took advantage of a correspondence program with Rio Salado college, which reinforced his desire to live a life that was about helping others. Once Mike was released, due to SB1291, he participated in SAGE Counseling’s Transition Program, which continued to provide him with structure and support. He felt it was a platform that allowed him to be heard, and his path led him to enroll at GCU to pursue a master’s degree in addiction counseling, which he finished last year.
Mike’s realization that he must take action in order to once again become the person he wanted to be, was the motivation that he needed to change his perspective. He worked on putting the negativity of his environment aside and focusing instead on self-development, mindfulness, and on recovery. He realized that those without hope often remained in a cycle of self-defeating thought patterns.
When asked what advice he would want to share with others, Mike said that he would tell those still incarcerated to set goals, to be focused, and not to give up. He wants people to know that there is life after a felony, that opportunities exist, and that one’s attitude can change one’s future. Being a convicted felon or recovering drug addict is just a label, and shouldn’t have to define the rest of a person’s life. Mike wishes that inmates were given more opportunities, since in addition to his own experience, data shows that education reduces recidivism. Now that Mike has graduated and works as a group counselor, we are pleased to have SAGE continue to be part of his journey, as he continues to help others on their own path of recovery.
“…I don’t have to fight everything anymore…I was able to let go, and to realize I am in control of my feelings and my decisions….
These days, Isaac is stressed about balancing his schedule, which includes working full-time while being an ASU student. After years of substance dependency, homelessness, legal issues, and ultimately, prison, it is a problem he’s happy to have. Isaac, who had worked in law enforcement when he was younger, found himself serving a prison sentence after losing his support system, which resulted from substance use and relationship problems. Isaac reports that his drug use was a form of self-medication, for undiagnosed and untreated behavioral health issues. Finding himself homeless made finding employment a challenge, and he found himself in a cycle that was difficult to break. While in prison, the reality of his situation hit him with clarity: finding himself on the other side of the law was an experience he describes as humiliating, and he felt he lacked any support.
Once released, after becoming eligible for an early release through SB1291, he felt it was challenging to let go of the anger he felt, and at the frustration he was experiencing with parole, the legal system, and homeless services. He decided that this anger and approach were no longer working for him, and he made the decision to be open with his treatment team, to be open to learning a different way of thinking and being. Isaac reports that his time in SAGE taught him that he can control his emotions, that it is his choice whether he allows others to have the power over him, and that he holds the key within himself. Through groups, case management, and individual counseling, Isaac learned to control his anger, to be accountable to himself, and to explore his underlying issues. Isaac states that this all made him strong and helped him identify his needs and ways to address them. Through SAGE’s help, he enrolled in a supportive housing program, continued his counseling, and began taking medication.
When asked what advice he would want to share with others, Isaac stated he would tell those still incarcerated that “… we all have choices, and that choices have consequences, and don’t allow yourself to be a victim”. Isaac would want to tell new SAGE clients that “you have all the tools available. No one can make you use them, but you’ve got a great support team, and it’s up to you to take full advantage and put those tools to use”. Having seen both sides of prisons, as a former correctional officer and as a former inmate, Isaac feels frustrated at what he sees as corruption, especially within private prisons. This is what leads him to be involved in recovery and advocacy efforts in our community, to make a difference in a system that creates cycles that can be hard to break out of. He wishes that there was more focus on treatment and not incarceration, since he credits the treatment he received at SAGE as being the pivoting point that made true change possible for him.
Diane first learned of the early-release senate bill while serving her second prison sentence. After years of being involved in biker gangs, substance use, and unhealthy relationships, her second incarceration was a five-year sentence for an activity her husband had been involved in. While in Perryville, she learned that many of the women there had similar stories, with a shared history of trauma.
As Diane was confronted by the length of her sentence, and she gained time in her sobriety, she realized how many of the decisions she made in life stemmed from her relationships and co-dependency issues. She wanted to gain a better understanding of this, and decided to enroll in programs offered by the prison. Diane reported that while she found she related to the other women’s stories, she didn’t connect to the programming since most of it was based in 12-step and faith-based theory. Diane felt that including a religious deity was almost an extension of not taking responsibility for her own actions, and when she first heard of SAGE’s Transition Program, she worried that it may be more of the same.
Upon her release, Diane did not have the support of her family. She felt ready, but still anxious about what would be next for her. Diane felt SAGE was a revelation, a place where she was treated like an equal, a place where she was understood. She found SAGE to be a place where she was able to learn about her past patterns in a way that resonated with her. She acknowledges that each person has their own personal path to recovery, and up until that point, she felt it was a one-size-fits all approach. She remembers clearly the moment after enrolling in SAGE when she realized that there are other ways to be in recovery, and was excited to learn how individual treatment can be, where varying points-of-view were honored.
It was this realization that inspired her to help others, and motivated her to identify her professional calling. Diane became certified in peer-support, and started working towards a college degree. Eight years later, Diane works as a coordinator for non-profit and a liaison for SMI clinics. She loves the challenge and rewarding nature of her work, and the opportunities it provides her to help other women get out of bad situations.
When asked what advice she would want to share with others, Diane stated she would tell those still incarcerated that “Prison and your past choices don’t define who you are. In fact, your past can build you a better future”. Diane felt that prison just focused on punishment and not rehabilitation, and that mindset does not allow for change. Diane’s advice for new clients is to be open, so that new paths can present themselves.