Breaking the Cycle of Addiction
One wet night in September of 2010, desperate for more drugs, Christina Jackson got her three groggy, unhappy little boys out of bed at 2 a.m. and put them into the car. “Messed up” on marijuana, alcohol and pills, she was soon pulled over by the police and arrested. Christina will never forget the effect this had on her children. “The look on their faces, the screaming, the crying,” she said, pausing and looking down. “I did not know what to do. I was totally out of control. There I was on the side of the highway, it was pouring down rain. I got down on my knees and begged that cop, ‘Please, I need help. Please help me get help!’”
Thanks to Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery program, instead of going to prison, Christina got the help she needed.
Women in Recovery is a prison diversion program for women arrested on non-violent, drug-related charges. It is an alternative to prison that holds no public risk and works with all aspects of a woman’s life from her addiction problems, to her nutrition, to her parenting and past trauma issues.
“Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate in the country,” said Mimi Tarrasch, director of Women in Recovery. “Unfortunately the prison system does not have the resources to provide the treatment and rehabilitation these women need.”
Additionally, many incarcerated women have left children behind; children who are often then bounced between family members and foster care situations. Needless to say, this takes a serious emotional toll on the children, and a financial toll on taxpayers.
“If children have a parent in prison, especially a mom, they are more likely to do poorly in school, have substance abuse, and become incarcerated themselves,” said Laura Garrison, who is in charge of parenting education and reunification for the program.
“We concentrate on the second generation,” Terrasch added. “These things are intergenerational. If I am in prison, my children are more apt to end up in prison.”
Through Women in Recovery, women and their children are offered a way out of the cycle of addiction, crime and incarceration. The goal is to help women become productive, tax-paying citizens, and to teach them how to be the good parents they really want to be. But it isn’t easy.
“They have to be motivated to change,” Garrison said. “They have to have hit rock bottom. It is a very hard program. You must change everything about yourself: the way you talk, dress, think, parent.”
“There is an extensive process to see if someone meets our criteria,” Terrasch said. “We want to make sure that they need it, want it and are ready for it.”
With the assistance of the Tulsa County Court Services, the program provides 24/7 supervision for the women, including GPS ankle monitoring devices, house arrest and frequent random drug testing. The women’s days are full and include group therapy sessions, job training, community volunteering, health and wellness classes, Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, parenting classes, trauma recovery and even culinary education.
Like most women incarcerated for drug charges, Christina’s past was replete with trauma and abuse. Before she was out of her teens her parents had divorced, she spent time in juvenile hall for being a runaway and her mother died. By the time she was 18, she was hooked on meth and living with a boyfriend who frequently beat her. And then she became pregnant. “I thought it was all going to be better because we were a family,” Christina said.
After her son was born the problems only escalated. “I was hospitalized ten times in Bartlesville. The cops came so many times [on reports of domestic violence],” she said. But each time she refused to press charges against her boyfriend. “I literally felt like I couldn’t live without him,” she said. “I was just beaten down so low, and so messed up all the time, I couldn’t get out.” Soon there was a second son and then a third. By the time she started selling drugs, she had alienated her father who had been trying to help her.
Then, at what seemed like her lowest point — her arrest — Christina and her children were given a second chance at life. “I had no idea I could be who I am today,” Christina said. “I didn’t know how I was going to go a day without smoking weed or taking a pill. I didn’t know about boundaries at all. I was never taught to be a lady. The only way I knew to be a woman was to dress provocatively and jump into bed with anyone who wanted me to. When I came here, I learned to be a lady.”
But the road to change has not been easy—especially with her children. Christina’s father took custody of her three boys when she entered the program in November of 2010. “On Thanksgiving day they all came to see me at the Sober Living House. I was so excited! But when I saw them…there was so much hurt. And I knew I had caused it. My oldest backed away from me, then grabbed me and hugged me.”
Her middle son began to have serious emotional problems as a result of the chaos and trauma. After Christina’s arrest, though he was only four, he talked about killing himself and actually tried to poke a stick down his throat. “He said, ‘I’m going to pierce my heart because I miss my mama.’ I could not wrap my head around how desperate he felt,” Christina said. “All I wanted to do was run to him.”
Though her child’s pain devastated her, it also motivated her to work even harder. “From that point on I knew that whatever these women on staff told me to do, I’d do it.”
Family & Children’s Services made sure that Christina’s children received the therapy they needed to heal from the traumas they had experienced. They were also slowly reunited with their mother through the Women in Recovery’s reunification program.
“It’s amazing how much better children do when their mothers are healthy and more stable,” Terrasch said.
Parenting has been a challenge for Christina, but the parenting classes and groups she attended through Women in Recovery have made all the difference. “It’s hard to set boundaries and say no because I feel guilty for all the pain I caused them,” she said. “But I learned you can’t feel guilty and raise kids. If you let the guilt take over and give in to them, you aren’t being a good parent.”
Today, instead of languishing in prison, Christina is reunited with her children and working at a job she loves. With skills she obtained through Women in Recovery, she has already gotten a raise and promotion. She is proud to be able to provide for her family.
“I recently got a new vehicle, a Buick Rendezvous. It is the nicest car I’ve ever had.” Christina said, beaming.
“I used to feel so lonely. Today I’m not lonely. I am self-sufficient,” she said. “Guys were the only answer before. My kids are my focus now—and myself…being healthy!”
Women in Recovery is funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and private donors. To learn more about the program, refer a family member or make a donation call 918.991.6200.
The Women in Recovery program appreciates donations. They have an on-going need of the following:
- Planners/notebooks/binder paper/pens
- Greeting cards/thank you notes
- Bus tokens/bus passes
- Toiletries and personal needs
- Feminine hygiene products/deodorant/shampoo
- Toilet tissue
- Laundry soap
- Household items
- Twin sheets
- Dishwashing soap
- Gently used clothes/shoes/
- Interactive games/art supplies