It’s been 13 months since I was released from prison. I served 7 years locked away from my family for a non-violent, drug-related first offense. I was a 47 year old mom with a college degree who begged the judge for long-term in-patient drug rehab, at my own expense, and they literally laughed at me as they sent me away with a 30 year sentence.
For me, prison is a warehouse for the drug addicted and the mentally ill. They call it the Department of Corrections but there was nothing to “correct” in me– I needed drug and alcohol treatment and there is no treatment in there.
The state RSAT program (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment), in my experience, was only offered to prisoners who are within a year of being released on parole. What this means is that a person going into the prison system must serve their first, hardest years untreated and psychologically alone. In my case I waited (wasted) 6 years before qualifying for the program. By then I was an enraged, indignant inmate, a product of the criminal justice system, and took their so called “treatment program” as a joke.
Most crimes are committed because people are addicted to drugs and are trying to buy more drugs, or they’re desperately attempting to attain money and their addiction leads them to commit a crime to get more drugs. It’s a black hole no one can escape without drug treatment.
If a person’s offense is drug-related, as 88% are, RSAT should be required at the START of one’s incarceration, not given as a sort of prize at the end.
Toward the end of my sentence, I received your card through a friend who met you at the DOC Family Day in Macon. As I held it in my hand I literally felt a warmth of energy surge through me. I knew you were the one I HAD to meet as soon as I was released.
We met at Starbucks, (where I didn’t know what a latte was, much less a macchiato) and just talking with you a few minutes I immediately knew the NIA was where I belonged.
You took me under your protective wing, guiding me through the terrifying, intimidating journey of REENTRY. Giving me all the encouragement and delicate space I needed to begin the healing process of “prison recovery”, I am slowly adapting to the “free world”, which is definitely NOT FREE, by any stretch!
I’ve been home a year now, and in that short time the NIA has bloomed. We’ve gone to the International Prisoner’s Family Conference in Dallas. We’ve tabled at two Forsyth County Drug Summits, where I had the opportunity to address the judge who sentenced me to prison. I’ve represented the NIA to the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, People Impacted by Incarceration Project, End the New Jim Crow action group, and flown to Oakland, California to represent the NIA at the 1st Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Families Movement annual convention!
In one short year you’ve taken me with the NIA to the GA State Capitol 4 times for Justice Day, We Are All Criminals, and the National Day of Empathy, all of which the NIA was a co-sponsor.
Whenever I am with you, no matter how brief a time, your phone rings with family members calling in an anxious panic asking for your help and guidance with “what happens now?” and you never tire of giving each caller Mama Kate’s compassionate, assuring attention. You are a hero to the voiceless.
I am proud to work for the National Incarceration Association, honored to know you, Kate Boccia, and blessed to call you my friend.