MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 9, 2013

Graduates of Oklahoma program treasure new chance


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Tears streamed from Carrie Slaughter’s eyes as she stood before a crowd of family members, friends and supporters and contemplated the years of incarceration she faced before she entered a prison diversion program for mothers and pregnant women that she said had given her and others a new chance.

“This is one of the hardest journeys I have ever walked,” Slaughter said. “Due to this second chance at life my boys now have a clean and sober mother. I have learned to trust and to be trusted again...I can now be a productive member of society without drug use.”

Slaughter, 25, was among four women facing a total of more than 15 years of incarceration for a variety of offenses who graduated Tuesday from a prison diversion program for women designed to help them become productive citizens in their communities. Operated by ReMerge of Oklahoma County, the program holds participants accountable while providing services to support their recovery and promote responsible parenting.

Bridgette Brown, 26, said her life “was completely miserable and unmanageable” before she entered the four-phase ReMerge program.

“The only thing I could manage to do was end up in jail,” she said. “I lost everything I owned more than once, I had burnt bridges with everyone that loved me and I even lost custody of my son.”

Treatment she received through the program, which develops individualized plans for each participant to address their unique needs, had helped her understand the disease of addiction, Brown said.

“It opened my eyes to the problem for what it really is,” Brown said. “Sobriety has changed my life completely...I’ve found there is a better and much happier way to live.”

Supporters of the program praised its impact on women who complete its rigorous requirements. Terri Woodland, director of ReMerge, said the state incarcerates about 1,200 women a year, including about 300 from Oklahoma County. Diverting the four program graduates from prison will save taxpayers about $250,000 in incarceration costs, Woodland said.

“Oklahoma needs to do more to support programs like this,” said District Attorney David Prater, who presented each of the graduating women with legal notices indicating the charges against them were being dismissed.

“The faces we saw today were the faces of hope, determination and courage, not the faces of incarcerated women,” Prater said.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb urged ReMerge graduates to remain in the state to continue their education and become productive citizens. Most graduates said they had pursued their educations in the program with some attending college classes.

“What you’ve done is absolutely extraordinary,” Lamb said. “Oklahoma needs you.”

Lamb credited former House Speaker Kris Steele, who attended the ceremony, with generating political support for alternative-to-prison programs like ReMerge, a public-private partnership that works closely with the district attorney, public defenders, the Department of Corrections and other agencies and nonprofit services that help women facing prison time for nonviolent felony offenses.