From The Texas Tribune:
Tears often filled the eyes of the women in this Texas prison town as they prepared for their upcoming release from the system after years or even decades of incarceration.
The women sometimes wiped them away as they recalled trauma and grief they’d long ignored in a harsh prison environment. But their eyes also welled up when they expressed gratitude for a new program they hope will keep them from ever coming back to this or any other lockup.
At the Mountain View Unit west of Waco last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice unveiled STRIVE, a new reentry program for women soon to be released from prison. Its main goals are to help imprisoned women address and heal from trauma tied to their criminal activity and leave prison with jobs already waiting for them. It’s a small program, with only 31 women in the inaugural class, and lasts a relatively short 12 weeks. But in the four weeks since it began, women said they felt changed.
“We’ve done healing trauma, opening up stuff we’ve already left there for a long time, stuff we don’t usually like to talk about,” says Candice Diaz, 29, her eyes misting as she logged on to a work-resource website in a prison computer lab. “It opened up a lot of doors. The other units, it’s just prison.”
Diaz said she has been in and out of custody since she was 17. She’s currently serving a three-year stint after violating probation conditions handed down when, at 22, she and five men were convicted in an aggravated assault and robbery.
Looking back on her past, Diaz largely blames drug addiction and a childhood spent enduring abuse and abandonment. She wants better for her children, ages 14, 11 and 3, who she says have already noticed her growth in the program when her mother brings them to visit.
“[Before,] I would come out, and it wasn’t enough to provide for my kids,” she says, referencing her turns back to criminal behavior. “Now I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to worry about getting a job or where I’m going to sleep.”
Diaz is set for release on parole in December and already took a prison class on business computer systems before STRIVE. She hopes to get work as an office administrator or receptionist, she said. And although she had eight weeks left in the program, she was online last week looking at job postings.
“I felt like I was at home,” she said, laughing, about first logging online in the program — the first in TDCJ to provide internet access, according to officials. “I got my own Gmail account!”