Throughout Lycoming County, there are many people working hard to reenter the community after a period of incarceration or probation supervision. Lycoming College students stepped out of the classroom recently to interview participants of the Lycoming County Reentry Services Center in an attempt to draw awareness to the challenges of reentry and humanize the specific struggles individuals face, including substance abuse, mental health issues and employment.
This is the final piece in a week-long series highlighting the struggles of reentering the community after a period of incarceration.
Karla Garcia and Skyler Henry tell Brandy’s story
“You can’t just look at someone and say oh they’re a bad person, when you don’t even know them.”
Brandy W., a high spirited woman and mother, displayed honesty and bravery as she stepped into the room to be questioned by us concerning her adaptation to society. Of course being a person that is returning to society, Brandy had her challenges she had to overcome and face as well. Brandy’s challenges include employment, accepting a major loss of a loved one, family, transportation and acceptance from society.
“People think I’m nuts until they get to really know me. I mean true, I’m being serious, people think I’m a freaking whack job until they get to know who I am” says Brandy. Just because she’s been incarcerated for some time, people make assumptions not knowing that she wants a better future for herself. Being a woman is hard enough and when you make mistakes the judgment and the stereotypes are automatic. It’s a constant cycle in society, no matter what gender, people tend to not believe in making mistakes until they make a mistake and then realize that they are wrong. Everyone deserves help, everyone deserves to be helped.
During Brandy’s interview, she spoke about how the Reentry Services Center has had a positive impact on her. Employment was a challenge for Brandy, because her only income was from cleaning houses. Cleaning houses is “fast money” that is not necessarily guaranteed the next week. “I got to have something that’s on the books,” stated Brandy, which helps create stability and is consistent. Due to her having a felony, she’s not given a chance in the employment field and people fail to accept her. Although employment was one of her greatest struggles, Brandy did not give up. Brandy was instructed by her parole officer to go to the Reentry Services Center and receive help concerning employment there. Furthermore, she then started to do research concerning employment that is suitable to her and she is on her way to a better outcome than before. Even though Brandy didn’t speak on how employment was going for her in the meantime, you could sense the excitement and how the opportunity she was given was very dear and significant to her.
Brandy discussed her children a lot throughout the interview. Her children were shown to be her main source of happiness and motivation. Even though she was incarcerated, you could tell that the smile on her children’s faces and seeing them again pushed her to not give up. Brandy’s children were her motivation, which helped her to take her focus off of the bad situations and the incarceration and put her focus on getting them back and giving them a stable life. Brandy has two older step-children and then two twin boys of her own.
Although Brandy was incarcerated and was in and out of the system, Brandy’s step-children take care of her twin boys as much as they can, which helps Brandy’s mind stay at ease. “You know putting my footprints on this earth, is my biggest achievement” said Brandy as she expresses how she loves being a mother more than anything in the world. Moreover, being taken away from her family was a challenge because Brandy missed them so much and wanted to be supportive of them. Brandy lost the father of her children when she was upstate, which was very detrimental to her. Brandy said, “My kids opened my eyes to a lot after I lost my husband. I really didn’t care too much until that kind of snapped me out of it and I do not want to be involved in that life anymore.” The loss of her husband has dedicated her to do better in life. A loss so big and tragic made Brandy realize that there is more to life, to be a role model for her kids and show her husband how much she is striving to be healthier and stronger.
Transportation was a challenge for Brandy because she had a good working truck before it broke down on her, which paused her life for a bit. Even though Brandy’s life was hard due to her broken down truck, she found a way. She earned and saved her money and had the opportunity to get another van. Brandy found a way out, she found a way to be stronger than before and she took the little things in life and used them to motivate her.
In fact, Brandy’s family problems with drugs and alcohol as she was growing up has had a major effect on Brandy and why she participated in the same activities. When you grow up around close family members who abuse substances, you are more likely to participate in those activities due to their using and thinking that it’s acceptable. Now that Brandy is more aware that she doesn’t want drugs and alcohol in her life, she watches how her family presents themselves. She says “I do not want to be a part of that anymore, so I believe them still in that part of their life helps me stay strong in mine,” meaning that watching them do those negative things and destroy their life helps her stay strong and not do those negative things. She has inspired herself to not be in that stage of life anymore and to keep moving forward.
The city of Williamsport has helped Brandy tremendously. “This town is a rehab town so you know we offer rehabs, counseling, reentry, we got Careerlink, we got the unemployment office, the assistance office, the federal building down there if you’re disabled.” Brandy explains how Williamsport helps formerly incarcerated people become better people in the future. Some of the services that Williamsport offers have even guided Brandy to take control of her life and make it better than it was before.
Brandy’s goals for the future include putting both of her kids through college, getting a home, and going back to school. Brandy wants a home that is well-structured so that she can support her kids when they return to her. We asked Brandy about going back to school and she would like to go to school for pre-law. Brandy was hesitant at first to say that she wanted to go to school for pre-law due to her past. We have a strong belief that Brandy can do anything that she desires due to her maintaining a clean lifestyle.
Brandy wants the general public to know that drugs and alcohol is not worth it. Brandy believes that people need to love their families and that anything they want to do can happen if they put their mind to it. For example, when Brandy lost contact with her family, she had to portray a more thoughtful and devoted mindset to prove to her family her worthiness. Being incarcerated for a long period of time can cause barriers to be built due to families not knowing the outcome of the individual when returning home. Brandy, being motivated and showing that interest, has guided her to be righteous and be the embodiment of a better individual and mother for her kids.
Brandy’s final thoughts on the Reentry Services Center was that, “It helps you learn how to live life again, reenter back into society, how to take a different outlook on life, what it’s like to be clean, live life without drugs. People do not know what they are missing.” Brandy has turned her life around and has learned how to cope so she doesn’t fall back into bad habits. She has taken the time to see the beauty in life and that drugs tear you down.
Due to the reentry programs, her well thought out plans and her beautiful children have made Brandy a success story. It has made Brandy’s story one that not only needs to be heard, but a story that makes the public realize that they are wrong every time the thought to judge comes in their mind. We are so grateful we met Brandy and we are so grateful we had the opportunity to tell her heart-warming story that could make the general public have a different perspective when judging those who are returning home.