Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

Women Offenders/Women’s Symposium on February 14

DC Public Safety Radio


Podcast available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/02/programs-women-offenders-womens-reentry-forum-dc-february-14/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and Gentlemen, today we’re going to have a heck of a program on women offenders. Back at our microphones, Dr. Willa Butler, Willa is a Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. Willa worked for us running groups for women caught up in the criminal justice system for decades, invented those groups. Also we have by our microphones, Kelai and that’s not  her real name but she’s a woman in recovery. She’s formally on probation and she was homeless during that time with children. She’s currently a case manager for New Day and also a behavioral health specialist working in Washington, D.C., working in mental health and substance abuse treatment. To both of you, welcome to DC Public Safety.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you.

KELAI: Thank you.

LEONARD SIPES: Willa, it’s great for you to be back. You’ve ran so many groups here for women involved in the criminal justice system. So give me a sense as to what it is you did for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, your former agency and the New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Thank you for having me back Leonard. What I did here at CSOSA, I was a supervisor and I ran the mental health women, gender specific group or team. And what we did, we had a program called WICA, Women in Control Again, which I designed and it addressed the vulnerabilities of female offenders. And I retired in 2011 and I transitioned over to New Day Transitional Home for homeless women and children. And there it’s a little different but almost the same. I work with homeless women and their children who have substance abuse and mental health occurring disorders. And the vulnerabilities are pretty much the same. We have wraparound services. In other words, we can refer the women out for GED, vocational, educational training. Like we said, substance abuse, mental health as well as permanent supporting housing. And we make sure that the women and their children, all of their needs are being met. And that’s what we do at New Day.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, tell me a little bit about what it is that you do.

KELAI: Thanks for having me as well.


KELAI: I also work at New Day as a case manager. And for me working at New Day I see things in both lenses because I was once a resident there. I graduated from that program. I’m a case manager there where I help others like myself try to get past their barriers and try to provide them with services and encourage them that if I can do it you can do it as well.


KELAI: And I work with a court service agency on behavioral health providing intervention within the community and providing services to individuals in need.

LEONARD SIPES: So the whole idea is that you’ve been through it, you’ve lived it, you’ve experienced it and you offer yourself as a role model to the women and children that you’re trying to assist.

KELAI: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, before we get to the gist of the program, I do want to remind all of our listeners that we do have a Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency will host a Women’s Reentry Forum entitled Lifetime Makeover. It’s going to be at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon. Again, Saturday, February 14th. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly where we put together all of our mentors, so the mentors, the faith-based mentors who help people under supervision, that’s going to be on Thursday, February 19th, 2015 at the St. Luke Catholic Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. But let’s get quickly back to the reason why we’re doing this program, to support the Women’s Symposium coming up on Saturday, February 14th at the Women’s, again, Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 to 3:00. Willow, the reason that we’re doing this symposium, that reason we’re talking about women caught up in the criminal justice system is why?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: The reason we’re doing the program is to, I guess, to give our audience and people an understanding of the female offender. And what we’re doing is, they’re coming home and what we need – services that we provide for them and to let them know that we embrace them when they do come home and to welcome them and to help them and to assist them in their new life journey. We try to address their vulnerabilities, like I said, in every area that causes barriers. We look at, like I said, the mental health, the substance abuse and whatever other thing that they may need, especially homelessness. Housing is very important for women. They’re coming home. They don’t have anywhere to go. They’ve kind of burned their bridges when they were home and a lot of them cannot go home. They need to be reunified with their children especially, we work on areas in that as well. Those are the things that women face when they come home and not even looking at the education and you need a job and you need a job while you’re on supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: While you were with us at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we were part; you were part of a reorganization of services to focus of high-risk individuals, younger individuals and women caught up in the criminal justice system. So we reorganized while you were here using the methodologies that you put in place. So there’s a great emphasis on women offenders that was not there before.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, and what we did, we went gender specific because we had the understanding that female offenders and men that offend, although they’re similar but there is some differences. Women, I don’t like to use the word needy, but their needs have never been met so, therefore, we have to reach out more to them. In other words, we have to spend a lot of time with them and we have more issues to address. A lot of times when women leave prison they bring their problems home with them. They don’t leave prison mentally. So that’s an aspect that we have to address. They have to worry about their children, are they going to get their children back first of all, because sometimes their children may be in foster care, they may be with a relative, they may not even know where their children are at this point. They need mental health concerns, that has to be addressed and they need also transportation and housing. And we look at transportation as something that may seem to be minute but when you’re looking at someone who has to go around to the city, a place that they haven’t been in a while because of incarceration, they don’t know how to communicate for themselves. They have — maybe a little barriers may come in life skills. So sometimes we like to take a case manager with them. We may use the word like a little parakeet to help them maneuver their way back into the system and not only the system itself but other services that’s here in the city. And that’s why it’s so important and also when women come in, come into your office you have to establish a relationship, a rapport with them because they like for you to sit down, they like for you to talk to them. They want you to know how am I doing today? You know, whereas, with me it’s different. They’ll come in, how are you, I got this, I got that, they’ll show you their paystubs, they’ll take their drug test and then they’re gone. You can’t cut or be short like that with the female.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: You have to spend a little more time with her and show her some love.

LEONARD SIPES: Well one of the things I do want to, before I talk to Kelai, is establish the idea that women under supervision have higher rates of substance abuse, have higher rates of mental health problems, they have children who they want to reunite with. So we’re not just talking about the woman herself, we’re talking the women and her children. But they also have outrageously high rates of being abused, sexually abused, physically abused, especially as children. Am I right or wrong?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, you are right. And the reason for that is, and we go back to the risk factors again, a lot of times the women as children they’ve been exposed to substance abuse. In other words, they viewed it, they’ve seen it either in the home, in their neighborhoods. They’ve been exposed to domestic violence and sexual abuse is there too. And these concerns, those three main concerns, as a child growing up they may not have been addressed and more than likely we’re finding out that they haven’t been addressed. So at a young age they start self-medicating themselves. By that meaning they use drugs out there. And then a lot of times when they do get incarcerated and they go through different type of assessments, they find out that there is a mental health problem or they have a diagnosis, Access One diagnosis of mental health, usually depression or bi-polar.

LEONARD SIPES: Kelai, one of the things I wanted to do is to establish the sense that if women got the services to address all the issues that we’re talking about, is there hope for them? Do they do well? So society is saying to itself, look, we have all of these issues, kids need school, kids who need GED classes, older people, we have lots of needs within our communities. So to give people a sense of hope as to providing the services to women who are caught up in the criminal justice system, do these things really work, the mental health, substance abuse, do they really matter?

KELAI: Absolutely. It really does because if it wasn’t provided to me I would probably be still using or probably dead. My needs were met this time around. I was on probation. Fortunately I had a good probation officer. She was caring and that matters too. She was very caring. And first, I just want to say, when I came out of prison, when I came out of jail, I had burnt all my bridges by then. So my mother didn’t want to be bothered with me. I was locked up during the whole pregnancy. So coming home now with a baby, I delivered my baby the day before I got out of jail.


KELAI: And during the time I was in jail I was really worried because I thought my baby was going to be in the system because who’s going to take my baby.


KELAI: Nobody knows I’m pregnant. I haven’t been home. You know, my family don’t know where I am and I’m ashamed, I feel guilty, I feel worthless, hopeless. And so I remember like it was yesterday, they called my mother and asked could I come back home and she said no. I don’t want her here.


KELAI: Because she’s going to come home and do the same thing again.


KELAI: So it so happens that I was able to go home. And I went home and, of course, I went home and she was nagging cause she didn’t have the understanding of the addiction. So she was very nagging and I said, you know what, I’m not going to let you drive me crazy. So I went to my probation officer and I explained to her, I said, if I stay there I’m going to use. And I remember she said, okay, have you been to a shelter before. I’ve never been into a shelter, so I went to the shelter with my baby and when I got to the shelter that’s how I ended up at New Day Transitional Home.


KELAI: I was in a shelter for 60 days and then I ended up at New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. When I got to New Day Transitional Home for Children, I’ve never, even my own mother, ever had anyone to tell me they loved me.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah. And I think that, what you’re describing, is typical, Willa, is it not? What you’re describing, what Kelai is describing to us right now is so typical. Women get caught up in the criminal justice system because of all the things that they’re saddled with, they don’t see hope.


LEONARD SIPES: They don’t see a bridge.


LEONARD SIPES: They see themselves as, this is it, I’m going to die, my child’s going to die. I’m going to put a needle in my arm, I’m going to medicate, the child’s not going to be mine, they don’t see any hope beyond their current circumstances. Am I right or wrong?

KELAI: You’re right. And when you’re getting high your feelings are medicated, like you don’t care.


KELAI: Like, but when you stop getting high you have to face that reality.

LEONARD SIPES: Which is the scariest thing on the face of the earth.

KELAI: Absolutely. So all in all, if my needs weren’t met, if I didn’t have a place to go with my baby, that would have been another baby in the system. Not to mention my other child that’s now in college and she’s with me, we reunited at New Day Transitional Home, that I did not even know during that time I was out there drugging and locked up that she was trying to commit suicide several times.

LEONARD SIPES: Your daughter.

KELAI: Because, yes, because I wasn’t there for her. And she didn’t understand why I wasn’t there for her.

LEONARD SIPES: Now there are literally hundreds of thousands of women caught up in the criminal justice system all throughout the United States and if they were listening to this program, if we had these hundreds of thousands, if they were all mandated to listen to this program they would sit there and go, Kelai, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve been there and I didn’t see any hope or I don’t see any hope now. How do you provide women under these circumstances with a sense of hope that they can overcome all the different things? I mean, they’ve got to overcome mental health, substance abuse, a terrible job history, the process or reuniting with their children, finding a place to live, I mean, those are almost insurmountable barriers.

KELAI: Yes, because they need the services, they need a lot of places like New Day Transition and they need more Dr. Butler. And even women like myself today because actually when I got to New Day I did not even have a high school diploma. I didn’t have that. When I got to New Day I know that someone loved me and they care, I was encouraged to go back to school. I went back to school and got my high school diploma. I went back to school and got my CAC and some other certificates that I received while I was there and established my own credit all over again so I was able to get an apartment for myself and it was just awesome, you know. I never knew that people could – when I first got there and they was giving me a hug and I love you, it was so uncomfortable to me because I never got treated that way, you know, so it does matter and women do need love, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guests today are Dr. Willa Butler, Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children and Kelai, not her real name, she’s a woman in recovery, formerly on probation and homeless with a child. She’s now a case manager for New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. We have a variety of events coming up. If you take a look at our website, www.csosa.gov, www.csosa.gov, Court Services and Offender’s Supervision Agency, the Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th, 2015. We will have a forum called Lifetime Makeover. It’ll take place at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. where there are going to be hundreds of women talking about the very issues that we’re talking about today. Also the Citywide Reentry Assembly coming up on Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, where we have mentors who mentor to people on supervision from 6:30 in the evening to 8:30 in the evening. Both are extraordinarily powerful events. Again, you can get information about these and all the other activities for what we call Reentry Reflections 2015 at our website, www.csosa.gov. All right, Kelai, this is so important because there are all sorts of people out there who are saying to themselves once again, we have got kids to take care of, we have the elderly to take care of, we have the unemployed to take care of. Women who just have made their own bed need to lay in it. If you’ve done the crime you do the time. Why should I invest money, time and effort in women who are caught up in the criminal justice system? Nobody forced them to take drugs. Nobody forced them to sell drugs. Nobody forced them to take a beer bottle and beat somebody over the head. I have other things to worry about. I’m not quite sure that I care that much about women caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s harsh but that’s real. Talk to me about that.

KELAI: Well, I kind of disagree with that because for me, I’m one of those people that was out there and would do anything to get the drugs.


KELAI: So if I did not get the help that I need then I would be out there still doing it.


KELAI: You know, stealing –


KELAI: Probably robbing –


KELAI: You know, selling drugs.


KELAI: So people like me we do need help. That’s important. So we won’t get back in the system again, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: Right. Right. And then you become a taxpayer instead of a tax burden and your children are taken care of.

KELAI: Right.

LEONARD SIPES: But Willa talk to me about that. You know, one of the things, if you take a look at research, most people caught up in the criminal justice system really don’t get the assistance they need. Only tiny percentages get substance abuse and mental health treatment. Only a tiny percentage of women out there involved in the criminal justice system are getting gender specific types of programming. Nobody’s, very few people are talking to them about their histories of sexual abuse or violence. If women got the assistance they needed, out of every hundred women involved in the criminal justice system, how many people do you think that we could reach to the point where they become productive citizens.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: I think we could reach almost all of them, maybe 80% or more, because it starts with love. You have to have the understanding of women in the criminal justice system and what they’ve gone through and what they need. When, like I say, you give them love, you let them know, first of all, that they are worthy. Their self-esteem is so low. You have to build them up. Build up their self-esteem, build up their self-worth and let them know that we’re here to help you, we’re here to assist you and we’re here to move you forward and to give them love and understanding of that. And it starts within, we have to teach the person how to work from the inside out. I tell all of my women at least spend at least ten minutes a day with yourself getting to know yourself, getting to understand, understand why I did this, why this happened to me. We don’t always know why this happened to us and we’ll never know why it happened to us, it just did. But God gave us something, God gave us the innate strength and we can build on our residual strength and that we can go forward as long as we have someone there to help us and to assist us to get where we need to be. And I just want to say earlier you said maybe I have something special and I believe I do have something, I care. I care and I love on these women because I see who they really are. I see the queen in them that God has made them to be. And all we have to do is let them see themselves, you know, is let me see me the way you do, you know, the way God sees me, the way you see me, the way my parole officer actually sees me. If I can see me for the me who I am I can go forward. And that’s what we do, we bring that out of them and we teach them how to love themselves, you know, love yourself first and then you can move forward and have that understanding. And sometimes women reach for love on the outside through their mates, their children or whatever, but we have to also have the understanding that that love comes from us as well within the inside. Once you start loving yourself and taking care of yourself you can move forward, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve sat in on your groups before and I’ve done a variety of radio shows with you. These are very powerful exchanges between women.


KELAI: Absolutely, yes.

LEONARD SIPES: To sit there and to sit in the group with 20 women and have them talk to each other about what it is that they’ve been through, it’s scary. I’m sorry, I mean, this is so profound and so real and so unbelievably overwhelming to hear what they’ve been through and what their backgrounds are. Yet those 20-25 women are sitting there helping each other, building each other up, pulling each other up, encouraging each other, that you sit there and go, my God, why haven’t we done this a long time ago.

KELAI: And just imagine if they get the support that they need. They can help each other and pull each other up, you know, and this will be great just to think of how many people that you have helped or became clean and sober that’s reaching back and helping other people.

LEONARD SIPES: But the woman is sitting there going I’m a drug addict, I’ve been a drug addict for 25 years. Nobody cares about me. I have two kids. I was abused as a child. I have no education. And to sit there with 20 other women and say, yeah, okay, well so was I and here’s where I am today. I mean, and to sit there and watch her face as they’re saying that, it’s overwhelming.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Yes, it is overwhelming. And that lets them know that they can move forward no matter what age they are. You know, some women think I’m 40-50 cause sometimes women have spent a lot of time in prison. Then they’re going to come out and they’re older now and they seem like I’m just useless, I’m hopeless. And we’ll say no you’re not useless.

KELAI: Yeah.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: You still have some good years in you. You still can turn this thing around, you know. And just teach them to know how can we do it differently this time and work that way. You know, just do a blueprint of confidence and encouraging each other and building each other up all the time and make sure that you center yourself around positive people. You know, people that’s going to be in your parade, help build you up and that’s another barrier that the women face when they come home. A lot of times they may go back to that same environment and the people are doing the same thing, you know, we’re going to have to move them from that environment and that’s where the transitional homes come in and it plays a big part in that. We move them out of that old environment and put them in a more productive and constructive environment that’s going to help them move forward and become more pro social within our system today, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: This is a real controversial issue but I’ve heard it in your groups a dozen times of men in the life of the women under supervision, not very supportive. In fact, in many cases the reason why they’re caught up in the criminal justice system. How many women have I talked to who have said that I got a large bit, which is a jail term, prison term, because he told me I had to transport those drugs up interstate 95 or he’s going to hurt me or hurt my child. I mean, is that part of the reality we’re talking about, the men in the lives of the women that we have under supervision?

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Well yeah, that’s part of it too Leonard, but actually it’s not as big a part as we may think it is.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: A lot of times the women do it because they have to do it. A lot of times when a woman is young, they had their children at a young age, they drop out of school, they don’t have any education, they’re really homeless, they’re even living with their parents or their significant other who they had their child by and they need, in order to take care of their child they start stealing, you know.


DR. WILLA BUTLER: And they begin to boost, I mean, that’s the only way they know how to take care of themselves or fend for themselves is to steal. I guess go outside the norms of society, not saying that it’s right, but when you look at the female offender crimes it’s really, I’m at a loss for words, but what we call paper crimes, you know, in a sense, stealing, crimes on persons I mean, right.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re not ordinarily the violent crimes that most of the men are involved in.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right, they’re not violent crimes.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve heard somebody say to me that if we provided the services that were necessary, truly necessary, we could empty women’s prisons by a third, maybe even up to a half.




LEONARD SIPES: Now could you image all the millions, hundreds of millions of dollars that would save.

KELAI: I agree.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean, but the services need to be there. How do we convince people to support programs for women caught up in the criminal justice system? How do we do that?

KELAI: Well Dr. Butler made a good point just now. This, I just did not stop using drugs one time. You know, it took me three times before I stopped and the reason that I realize now – because I kept going back to the same place. I had no place to go so all I know was the same people that I get high with.


KELAI: And thinking okay, well I been clean for 30 days or 60 days, I can go around them now and I’m not going to use, but that was a setup.


KELAI: So it does make a difference when you remove yourself from people, places and things and go into a different area and form different friends in different areas where you can focus more on you.

LEONARD SIPES: Or guys say kick the corner.

KELAI: Right. Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Right. Right.

LEONARD SIPES: Get away from all the associates that are leading you into all that sort of bad behavior.

KELAI: Yes, that is very, very critical. That is very important.

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line in all of this, because we only have a couple minutes to close, to talk about the different programs that we have coming up once again, is that there is hope. I mean, people need to understand that there is hope. If women got the services, the gender specific services that they need, we could dramatically reduce their involvement in the criminal justice system.

KELAI: Absolutely.

DR. WILLA BUTLER: Mmm-hmm, yes.

KELAI: Absolutely. No doubt.

LEONARD SIPES: And how we can convince people of that is something that I think all of us need to work on, right?

KELAI: Well I’m one.


KELAI: I’m one of them.


KELAI: Now I’m giving back. I’m reaching back and helping others. I’m one of them. I’m the prime example.

LEONARD SIPES: Do want to remind everybody that we’re doing this program in support of a Women’s Symposium on Saturday, February 14th at the, what we call Lifetime Makover. It’ll take place at Temple of Praise, 7007 Southern Avenue, Southeast from 9:00 in the morning on to 3:00 in the afternoon. It is really an extraordinary event. Again, Saturday, February 14th. On Thursday, February 19th, we will have our Citywide Reentry Assembly where we talk or deal with our mentors and the people under supervision. That’s also extraordinarily interesting. Thursday, February 19th at St. Luke Catholic Church, 4923 East Capital Street, Southeast from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today have been Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Program Director for New Day Transitional Home for Women and Children. And we’ve had Kelai and I really do appreciate Kelai you being here and testifying and telling us what it is that we really need to hear.

KELAI: My pleasure.

LEONARD SIPES: She is a woman in recovery, formerly under probation and homeless with children. And my heart goes out to you and I hope the relationship that you have with your daughter has greatly improved. She’s currently a Case Manager with New Day and a Behavioral Health Specialist working in Washington, D.C. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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