Half Way Home
By Casey Coughlin
6:30 a.m. – Janette is dropped at the front steps of the courthouse where she received her sentence. The same stairs she climbed the day she lost her freedom she now sits upon unsure of what to do next. She’s been released and is no longer the responsibility of the DOC. With no money in her pocket or family support, her choices are limited at best. In her hand she grasps onto her only option, a letter from Community Partners in Action, informing her of her acceptance into the Resettlement Program. The slow moving prison system has prevented her from receiving her first meeting with her case manager; however, she’s heard from the other women inmates that all the gals in Resettlement go to the Women’s Y. It takes her all day by foot but she finds her way across Hartford and into the shelter.
6:30 a.m. – Wake up call for Michelle. She now has thirty minutes to get herself ready and her bed made before breakfast. She hears house staff as they continue down the hall banging on hollow wooden doors, stirring the rest of the halfway house’s inmates. She sits up in her bunk bed and looks out the window; although there are no bars there is little difference between her stay here at the Hartford House and her previous at York Correctional Institute.
Both of these women have criminal histories. Both of them are in alternative housing. Neither of them have options.
Janette successfully navigated her way to safety, armed only with her letter of acceptance. She convinces the shelter staff that she is a member of the Resettlement Program. She soon finds herself at the Mart House, a voluntary transitional house that works with ex-offenders dealing with mental illness and/or substance abuse. The average stay is about sixteen months but there is no move-out deadline. Janette will be welcome to stay as long as it takes for her to gain psychological and financial stability.
Community Partners in Action was established in 1875. Originally named Friends of the Prisoners Society, it was the first organization in Connecticut to address re-entry issues. Mark Twain held a spot on the first Board of Advisors.
The Mart’s House is old and large, with lots of space, allowing the women to feel comfortable and secure. The walls in the common areas are coated in cheerful colors and covered with framed art. Maximum capacity is eight women. Here they have their own rooms, cabinets in the kitchen and racks in the refrigerator. They voluntarily enroll themselves in the program and the support services that accompany it.
There are a few rules: no cars (only public transportation), no visitors, plenty of required meetings, and, of course, a curfew. The house manager is the only full-time staff member at the house, so self regulation is crucial to the success of the house.
The most significant difference between the Resettlement Program and others like it around the state is that the case workers enter the prison and build a relationship with their clients six months prior to release.
“When you sit across from a person [who is incarcerated] who is really naked, transparent, you can really see them. You see them without the makeup and the earrings and the clothes, sometimes that stuff defines who a person is. You get a real good look at this person,’’ says the house manager.
12:00 p.m. – Janette prepares herself lunch and joins a few ladies at the dining room table. She has just returned from a group session and will be leaving in two hours for the weekly resettlement meeting held at CPA’s headquarters.
12:00 p.m. – Michelle files into the small dining room. She eats alongside her fellow housemates all of whom were required to come back and check in after being out on morning passes. Michelle herself was out job hunting and will remain in the house until her afternoon passing time starts. Right now her two priorities are to find a job and gain financial stability before her release date comes.
The Hartford House is the oldest halfway house in Connecticut. It has helped a multitude of women make the move from incarceration to freedom successfully. Although different from the transitional houses, because it requires an inmate to complete a set amount of time, the basic philosophy is the same: support and supervise an incarcerated citizen’s move from prison to the community. The Hartford Houses exterior matches the Mart’s House: average. It conforms to the neighborhood and draws no attention to itself. Not even an outside sign exists to set itself apart. Its front yard is meticulously landscaped; flower plants produce bursts of color against the aging yellow siding.
When asked about what a client gains from living in the halfway house Michelle says, “You learn what you have to do to get back out into the world. I’ve learned a lot of patience being incarcerated and being now in this situation.” Her fellow housemate Elba speaks candidly about her experience at Hartford House.
“Sometimes it’s hard, because it’s like ‘oh my god, I’m grown,’ but it’s all about the rules. That’s the whole part of us getting out of jail and coming back here. We try and do good out here.”
She continues, “It’s hard though, you can’t even go shopping on your own time, you can’t buy what you want to buy. You can’t go where you want to go. There are rules and regulations and I’m grown and have somebody telling me what to do.”
6:30 p.m. – Janette has just finished dinner. Her other housemates are home now from their assorted activities and meetings. They wash their dishes and complete their evening chores. It’s almost time for their house manager to leave. In the evening the ladies are left to their own entertainment. Some retire to their rooms to channel surf, some hang around the library waiting for a chance to use the computer, others linger chatting in the kitchen. The mood is relaxed as another day comes to a close. They must all be in their rooms by eleven, and in twelve hours they will begin it all again.
6:30 p.m. – Michelle has finished dinner and her evening chores. She is one of the more solitary housemates, and prefers to spend her evenings watching a movie or reading a book. There are only a few things on her mind, finding a job and counting the days until her release.
Lights out at eleven.
Michelle points out: “It’s a very humbling experience. You live and you learn. When you are in jail, you do a lot of reflecting upon yourself–to see what you need to do better and how to cut down your negative circle.”