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After Prison, Home for the Holidays in MI Not Always Happy

December 8, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - Not everyone feels "holiday cheer." For women who have recently been released from prison, the holidays often compound the already overwhelming challenges of adjusting to life outside.

Mary Ellen White has been director of Heartline, Inc. for 31 years, a residential program that counsels women from across the state who face this tough transition. She says the pressure between parole obligations being enforced by the Heartline program and family expectations often leads to depression.

"The women come back and the families are like, 'Okay, here's the kids, here's all the problems I've put up with.' So, sometimes they have Heartline pulling on one arm and their family pulling on another. And I've had some say, 'I should've just stayed in prison.'"

The holidays present other unique challenges for women struggling for a second chance. For instance, says White, drug and alcohol use and mental health issues are exacerbated at this time of year.

"There's a lot of trepidation, and also a lot of rules that have to be followed. Many have not even been able to go to their families at holiday time, because they have said, 'My family is going to be smoking marijuana, or they're gonna be drinking.' And they can't be in that environment, so many of them have stayed home with us, here at Heartline."

The State of Michigan has closed five prisons and seven work camps in the last few years in an effort to pare down costs, moves that have accelerated reentry for some former inmates. White says programs like hers are critical to successful reentry. She says 70 percent of the women who are part of the Heartline program do not return to the criminal justice system.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI