Supervision of Women Offenders

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[Audio Begins]

Leonard Sipes: Hi, and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Kimberly Wade, she’s a community supervision officer; Willa Butler who is a supervisory community supervision officer, and an offender who we have currently under supervision and we’re simply going to call her Jane. The focus of the program is women offenders. We have a conference coming up to deal with women offenders during our annual 30 days of re-entry reflection where we talk about people coming out of prison, what needs to be done to help them, and the issues of people coming out of prison. And to Kimberly and to Willa and to Jane, welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety.

Jane: Glad to be here.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. We’re going to go off, Jane, with you first. Can you give me a little bit of a sense of as to who you are, what you did to bring yourself into the criminal justice system?

Jane: I am a 46-year old single mother, three children, five grandchildren. Just a mishap getting in the criminal justice system. Served in pre-trial for about seven or eight months. Didn’t like what I seen so I ask for-my present judge was the regular judge-my regular judge. So that sent me to CSOSA-my regular trial judge.

Leonard Sipes: Now Jane, have you served prison time?

Jane: In pre-trial like four sanctions. Like I think three different times, four days each period.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, so you went to a period of incarceration because you didn’t do the stuff you had to do in pre-trial?

Jane: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Which means no positive-no drug use at all.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Do you have a drug history?

Jane: No.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Just since I-

Leonard Sipes: What were your crimes?

Jane: It was possession of cocaine they said, but my initial crime was just drinking with an open container. But something went wrong on the scene and I was involved or was thrust into this possession charge.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: It’s nothing that I could do about it at the time.

Leonard Sipes: That’s the only reason that you’re involved in the criminal justice system was for possession of cocaine?

Jane: No, just for-yes. Well no, drinking with an open container.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: All of it confused me in the beginning because it was my first time ever being in trouble. I didn’t understand what was going to happen to me or with me.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: So by the time-it was two months later, before I came to court, by that time I was a full-blown drug user.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And the court seen that and when I learned of the charges, I just was distraught.

Leonard Sipes: How long have you been doing drugs?

Jane: Since I was arrested.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: 2004, like November because Christmas was coming up-all the holidays.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I had that charge and I figured that that’s you know, I was-

Leonard Sipes: Are you on parole or probation now?

Jane: Probation.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, and how long have you been on probation?

Jane: For 11 months.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: I had a year probation. The judge ordered me a year in probation-a year and residential treatment.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Did you go to residential drug treatment?

Jane: Yes, I completed-

Leonard Sipes: How did that work for you?

Jane: That worked okay. Not in the beginning because I didn’t want to be gone that long away from my family.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I had three months, and by the end of that first month I was becoming more open and willing.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, which is typical for a lot of folks going into drug treatment. Okay.

Jane: After the three months-before the three months was over, I decided that I didn’t want to go back into my neighborhood because that’s where all the-everything started-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: -and I just didn’t-you know, I don’t think I was ready the way I took off on the drugs and alcohol.

Leonard Sipes: So that was your first contact with the criminal justice system?

Jane: Yes, my first contact I think.

Leonard Sipes: And what age was that?

Jane: 42.

Leonard Sipes: Wow. And what did you do-

Jane: 44.

Leonard Sipes: What did you do up to that age?

Jane: I was a single a parent homemaker.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: Childcare provider.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: A mother, a daughter, sister. A law-abiding citizen.

Leonard Sipes: So you got involved in the criminal justice system late in your life?

Jane: Uh-huh.

Leonard Sipes: That’s unusual.

Jane: Yeah it is, and unfortunate.

Leonard Sipes: Why do you think you made that transformation?

Jane: It wasn’t to my-I didn’t decide to make it, it just happened.

Leonard Sipes: It just happened?

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: But it didn’t just happen out of nowhere, it didn’t happen out of the blue. I mean, somewhere along the line you went from day-to-day citizen to drug user and you ended up in the criminal justice system. I’m just curious as to-

Jane: I just believe all the-up until the 42-44 years, I was just overwhelmed with things that I had been doing in my life as far as all the good. And for that to happen to me, I just didn’t have no understanding or couldn’t really comprehend it at the time and I figured then, ‘what hell?’ you know-I mean, being good-if this is what’s can happen to you living a productive life then I didn’t want to-I just wanted-I just didn’t want part of-you know, I just didn’t want to be good anymore.

Leonard Sipes: What happened to you? Again, you and I don’t know each other, we haven’t met before today, so if I’m delving into things that are too uncomfortable for you then that’s fine.

Jane: In a drug neighborhood-I was coming from the ice cream truck. Someone stopped to ask me for a cigarette. I stopped to talk to them, I had a cup of beer. We were just standing there talking. About five minutes later, the police ran up on one of the guys that I was talking with and just ran up on him and they got to fighting. So he told everybody to move but I just wanted to stand there and be nosy. And when they were fighting-the police office and the guy was fighting, I just stood there and watched. So when everything was over, I’m still standing there, so one of the police officers came and asked me did I have anything in my pocket, I told him no. He said, ‘if I find anything-you know if I find anything, you know what’s going to happen,’ and I said, ‘sure I do,’ and I made a little comment about living in the area where I lived at and I’m not stupid. And I don’t think he liked the comment that I made.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: So him and another officer took turns, they went in my pockets-they didn’t find anything. So he arrested the guy that he was fighting, put him in the car.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: I’m still standing there scared to death, but I’m still standing there. Y’all gotta excuse me because I’m a little nervous.

Leonard Sipes: Nothing to be nervous about.

Jane: And let me see-okay, I’m still-

Leonard Sipes: So they took away the guy who was fighting the police officer.

Jane: Fighting him, uh-huh.

Leonard Sipes: What happened to you?

Jane: I was just standing there just to prove that I didn’t have anything.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: So why should I leave? Because it was a lot of abusive things going on with the police in that particular area.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And I was not an activist, but I was-I had moved in the community and I was concerned and I wanted to know everything about where I was living at.

Leonard Sipes: Right, so what happened to you?

Jane: And so he called-he had me just standing there and he called a lady police officer and she came, a lot of other officers. He asked her to check me-she didn’t find anything on me. So they asked him what was he arresting me for and he said I had some drugs on me-some cocaine. And I said, ‘he didn’t get no cocaine off of me.’ And that was that so that put me in the car and just took me off to the precinct.

Leonard Sipes: And you’re saying that that is what started you in drugs?

Jane: Yes, that’s what actually started the whole thing.

Leonard Sipes: So you sort of figured you lived a good life, you hadn’t committed any crimes, but you got arrested anyway-

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: -and that sort of set you off

Jane: Yeah, exactly. I guess because not being able to handle or deal with what had just happened to me. So by the time I got out like two o’clock that morning, my daughter’s father came to pick me up. He paid the ten dollars for a citation charge. I waited to get my jury. My jury was not there, I couldn’t get my jury that night. So by me sitting in a cold hard cell for six hours, I left. When we left, we went-everybody when we left the jail, everybody was in same place. I went with him. Everybody smoking, drinking, snorting, doing what they do. ‘Take this,’ you know the old thing, ‘take this, this’ll make you feel better,’ because I was just overwhelmed with the pain that I was feeling at the time, so that’s what started me. And I liked it and I just went to the races and that’s when my story.

Leonard Sipes: All right. So many people get caught up in drugs for a variety of different reasons. Is there anything that we can do-a larger society or the agency that I work for, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is there anything that we can do to help the people caught up on drugs?

Jane: I believe since-well my experience, what I wanted done for me is just to see what I really needed and what I was asking for or crying out for was I wanted to move out of my community.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Jane: And just a little support that a family might need as far as helping with the kids. I never had my children taken away from me until I was in treatment. My daughter’s father had abused her and she was put in the system. Well my sister kept, she wasn’t foster-kid placed or anything, but I have her back now. Just to help you know, little things that they might need because I see a lot of females out there that’s on it, they don’t have any consideration for their families, their children. Just to give them the support. A lot of them are uneducated, they don’t have like over a sixth grade education.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Jane: They need to be like assessed in a way that they will not be receiving a government assistance and to-

Leonard Sipes: Right, but they need drug treatment, you think that-

Jane: Exactly, there needs to be more drug treatment.

Leonard Sipes: And if they don’t get the drug treatment, what happens?

Jane: They just fall down-they just go down deeper into the black hole.

Leonard Sipes: You received residential drug treatment, did you receive that through us, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency?

Jane: Yes, sir.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. So did you go through the Re-entry and Sanction Center by the way?

Jane: I don’t know what that is.

Leonard Sipes: No? Okay. What else did we do? And what do you think-what else should we be doing regarding women offenders?

Jane: Just-I think every individual cases is different. Like mine, I can’t speak for nobody else, but you got a lot of female women out there that do deserve what they-I mean, you do what you do, you get what you get. And a lot of them are just dead set on the life that they live, so that kind of makes it bad for people like me.

Leonard Sipes: All right. So what you’re suggesting is some don’t want to change?

Jane: Some don’t want to change-

Leonard Sipes: Some need to be ready for the change.

Jane: -they just-it’s not for people who need this, this is for people who want it.

Leonard Sipes: All right. Kimberly Wade, you’ve been a community supervision officer for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for how long?

Kimberly Wade: For four years.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, how do you like it?

Kimberly Wade: It has its ups and downs.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough job.

Kimberly Wade: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: I’ve done this. I’ve worked directly offender populations and it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve done Jail or Job Corps Kids. I’ve done gang counseling on the streets of the City of Baltimore and I ran helped run a group in a prison system. Hard, hard, tough job-simply because we throw our hearts and soul into this sort of effort, and quite frankly we’re not rewarded all the time.

Kimberly Wade: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: And that becomes tough-it’s hard to see a human being throw their lives away when they have the opportunities to change their lives.

Kimberly Wade: Yeah, and that’s a lot of them.

Leonard Sipes: Right. But one of the themes of this program and the other programs that I’ve been doing talking about re-entry month or 30 days of re-entry reflection. Every January that we hold-we, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, have a series of events and one of them is the conference on women offenders, it’s still my supposition, that if the programs were there, a lot of women who are virtually all taking care of kids by the way as you well know, would become taxpayers-would no longer be tax burdens, would no longer be out there doing the things that they’re doing to hurt themselves and society and their kids. But t the programs are important.

Kimberly Wade: Yes they are, but overall I think they have to be willing to change and have a desire to change. If they don’t then all the programs will not help.

Leonard Sipes: Sure.

Kimberly Wade: But like Jane here, she wanted to change and she grasped the programs head on. She had some apprehensions in the beginning but when she got there and understood her reason for being there and established some goals, she was able to go with it head on and succeed in residential treatment followed by transitional housing and into another housing program where she’ll now gain her own housing after she completes the program that she’s in now.

Leonard Sipes: What do you mean by her own housing?

Kimberly Wade: She’s in a transitional program now with her daughter-she does have custody of her daughter again.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Kimberly Wade: Which is-she didn’t have before, so she’s gained custody of her daughter.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Kimberly Wade: They’re in an mother-daughter program where once they complete the mother-daughter program in the transitional housing, then they will find them housing of their own where her and her daughter will reside together.

Leonard Sipes: That’s great. So an apartment is what we’re talking about?

Jane: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, good. Now how many Janes are out there that really want to get involved in programs-who really want to change their lives? I mean, so many people throughout my career of interviewing offenders and people who work with offenders, what I hear is that they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and that’s generally speaking they’re strung out from drugs for so long that they desperately need a change of lifestyle. But we all agree that unless they want that change of lifestyle, there may be some question as to what good the programs are going to do. But there’s a significant number of women offenders out there who desperately want to change, that’s my reaction. Am I right or wrong?

Kimberly Wade: I think there is and I think on the other hand the women that do not want to change, sometimes if you place them in a program and they see that there is a better way, it can kind of coerce them into making that change and wanting to be when they see a better way. Some of then haven’t even seen themselves off of drugs in such a long time that they don’t know what it’s like, so when they see that there is a different way-there is a way to live off of drugs, there is a way to proceed in life as a productive citizen, then that will encourage them to change also. A lot of people go into treatment and things with apprehensions and they’re able to change. Some people go in knowing that they want to change and that’s what they’re going to do. Others, it’s just not the time for them.

Leonard Sipes: I understand that. So many offenders, women offenders in particular, come with histories of substance abuse. According to the research, the rates of substance abuse is greater than that of male offenders. When offenders who have mental health issues-it’s generally speaking more women have mental health issues than the male offenders. Women offenders have kids, women offenders have in many cases, real dysfunctional relationships with their male significant other. It’s different for women offenders than male offenders in many cases.

Kimberly Wade: Yes it is.

Leonard Sipes: And tell me a little bit more about that.

Kimberly Wade: Yeah, and in some cases we have to make special accommodations for women offenders. I’ve had women offenders who’ve been placed with their kids in a residential program where the mother is having treatment and the child is able to go to school and live a normal productive life, you know, and the mother is able to take their child to treatment with them. So we try to make special accommodations for women. We have parenting classes that we offer them, they can go to counseling-we refer them for counseling for different mental health issues that they have. So we try to address all of the issues that they have because they do have so many more than men.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And can they be successfully addressed-and that’s part of the issue throughout all these programs that we’re doing surrounding re-entry month or the 30 days of reentry reflection is whether or not these programs indeed are going to be successful. And I think we’ve answered that. If the women offender really wants that help then-really reaches out, then we have the programs that will help her.

Kimberly Wade: I think Jane is the prime example of that.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Kimberly Wade: She has come a long way, she’s been clean for several months now, she has custody of her child again.

Leonard Sipes: And she’s clean because we drug test her.

Kimberly Wade: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: We just don’t take Jane’s word for it.

Kimberly Wade: No, not at all.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Go ahead, Jane.

Jane: But I was being drug tested before and that didn’t matter me none. I was coming down here-

Leonard Sipes: Why does it matter now?

Jane: Because this is what I want-I feel that I’m getting, not getting, I have my life back.

Leonard Sipes: I’m still trying to get at that magic moment in terms of you getting your life back. What do you think prompted it?

Jane: Ms. Willa. [Laughs]

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler.

Jane: Yeah, and Ms.-

Leonard Sipes: You’re not the first person under supervision who has told me that Willa has been a meaningful person in their lives.

Jane: No. When I seen how concerned they was about me and I had very serious health problems, then I knew in my heart that I couldn’t not only let my children and myself down, but let these people down that was putting their necks out for me. That was calling me into their offices and telling me that I better do this or this is going to happen.

Leonard Sipes: Right. Why didn’t drug testing work for you before?

Jane: Because I wasn’t ready. I was just beginning to start out on it and I liked it so much and I was determined that these people that was coming in my life wasn’t going to tell me what to do and how to do it. And I just kept on testing positive until I got tired and said, ‘I’m just tired of being sick and tired.’ But getting this extra assistance during treatment and then after your treatment is over, you know, you got special people being put in your life and not only to help you-some of them are put in your life to help you, but they don’t. Then getting my stronger connections with my higher power helped me. He revealed a lot of things to me.

Leonard Sipes: I’ve heard that from so many successful offenders.

Jane: Yeah.

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler, we’re going to go over to you now. How many years, Willa, have you been doing this?

Willa Butler: I started supervising women in 1999 when I was placed under the drug treatment unit under Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And the program was a gender specific program designed for female offenders and it was focused on their vulnerabilities. It was a holistic approach, meaning spiritual centered, and it’s been going on ever since. I became a supervisor in February 2006 and now it’s being run by another CSO.

Leonard Sipes: Now so many women offenders have sung your praises, what’s connection? What is it that you do that connects with so many women offenders?

Willa Butler: Well like I said, the spiritual, and God is love. And that’s basically what I do, I give them love, I give them compassion, I let them know that we care about them and I listen to them. And not only do I listen to them, but I enforce also what they need to do to make their lives productive. And it’s just not a companion or a mentor but-

Leonard Sipes: You hold them accountable for their actions.

Willa Butler: I do, I really do. I hold them accountable and I let them see their mistakes. In other words, I give them the two sides of the coin-either you want to live a productive life, or you want to go back to prison. And the bottom line is they do want to live a productive life, sometimes they just don’t know how.

Leonard Sipes: In terms of-again, these are the same questions that I asked Kimberly, the programs that are out there and the programs that should be out there, is there a difference? Women offenders are different from male offenders, they have special needs, especially in terms of substance abuse, and mental health. An awful lot of offenders, women offenders, have come from histories of sexual violence either as children or in their teenage years. And awful lot of those acts of sexual violence has been directed at them towards people who know them, in some cases family members. There are needs of female offenders, is my point, and are we, the larger society, and is the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency taking care of those unique needs?

Willa Butler: The needs are being taken care of, it’s just that it’s more in a quantitative manner, we need more programs. We have programs, but we need more. Like we might one of two treatment facilities that takes women with their children, we need like maybe ten.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Willa Butler: And we need housing that’s going to be more suitable for women and their children. Society is just not geared for the female offender or the female in general, and that’s something that we’re working towards. We talked about the women’s forum that we’re going to have on the 27th of this month and some of those issues will be addressed and that’s the purpose of the forum. This is our third year going into this forum and we’ve seen things come out of it, it has been productive.

Leonard Sipes: Like what? What’s come out of it?

Willa Butler: For example, just getting us out there, letting people know that women need these type of resources and more people are more involved into helping us now. And they want to get involved as far as volunteering their services or their vendors or whatever that they can do to make the women’s lives more productive while they’re coming out of the institution and on supervision.

Leonard Sipes: Willa Butler, you had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. At our microphones today has been Willa Butler, supervisory community supervision officer; Kimberly Wade, a community supervision officer; and the lady who we simply will call Jane. Thank you all three for being involved in the program. If you want additional information about what it is that we do here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, look at our website at Again, that’s Thanks and have a great day.

[Audio Ends]

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