You just won’t believe how hard it is for a woman leaving jail and reentering society.
It’s as if the iron bars linger like tenacious shadows, waiting to swoop in if mistakes are made or not enough progress is achieved in short order.
But let me get much more specific, so you understand what I mean.
If you recall last month, I told you about the 30-something woman recently released from Chittenden Correctional Facility whom Sarah and I have been meeting with weekly.
I’ll call her Zoe. (She calls us and other supporters her A Team!)
Anyway, as we sip our unique latte combinations, Zoe updates us on her personal news and seeks advice.
Vermont Works for Women has helped her secure a higher-paying landscaping job for 40 hours per week. It’s a seasonal job until the snow flies, but she’s in an environment that will allow her to network for other potential jobs. Excellent news!
Zoe lives in rural Vermont though. Her commute is 50 miles each way, five days a week, and she begins work at 7 a.m. So you can practically hear the ching-ching of the gas pump as I relay this story.
Each week is touch-and-go getting to work. Can Zoe put together the needed gas money (about $25/week)? But then, that will mean less money for food.
Adding to her challenges… She is totally dependent on other folks for the hour-long ride to and from work because she never learned to drive, nor got her learner’s permit.
Zoe’s signed up for zimride, an online ridesharing service, but hasn’t received any responses yet.
Her partner is letting her down in myriad ways by agreeing to take her to work by night, then refusing to get out of bed in the morning. She scrambles at the 23rd hour to work out transportation.
But incredibly, Zoe has not missed a single day of work in four weeks. She is being paid well and received her first paycheck last week. Excellent news!
Zoe sat for her learner’s permit last Friday and passed the test. More excellent news!
However, the license is tied up until she pays off past fines. She received what she thought was the full tally from the Vermont Judicial Bureau, paid the necessary $900, only to be told that there were additional fines linked to her name ($500 more), so she continues to save up to cover those.
To Zoe, it feels like one step forward, two steps back. Her moods sometimes mirror roller coaster rides, ebbing and flowing from joy to panic and everything in between. This day she enters the café sweaty from eight hours of manual labor, downtrodden yet always hopeful.
Excellent news – the boyfriend has moved out at her request; she’s rented an $800/month apartment; gotten a roommate to share the cost; is looking at used cars; and continues therapy to keep her drug addiction in remission.
Oh, and did I mention that Zoe is taking two classes at night at Community College of Vermont and keeping up with the work.
My faith in one woman leaving prison and reentering society has never been stronger. If only I could harness that much strength, I sometimes think.
My prayer for Zoe… that her iron-bar shadows recede forever.