Connections of Life
New Path to Follow
Cortney Bradley had served her time and was about to be released from the Madison Parish Correctional Center, but home was the last place she wanted to go. “I knew that I would fall back into the same problems that got me into trouble in the first place,” she said. “Drugs, crime, the wrong people. I didn’t want to go back to that lifestyle.”
Fortunately, she didn’t have to.
A new beginning
Instead, she applied to Connections for Life, an organization that helps women, especially those trying to build a new life after prison, with treatment facilities and battered women’s shelters. Connections for Life helps women transition to a healthy independence based on a 12-step program that provides housing, clothing, food, job placement assistance, finance classes and more.
“When I was interviewed for the program, I was told that the program was very strict … that there were a lot of rules. But that’s exactly what I needed,” Bradley said. “I was 24, yet I had no idea how to be responsible. Within a year, I got a job and a driver’s license. I bought a car. I got much-needed dental care. I started college. They helped me take little
little steps one at a time that ended up changing my life.” Bradley is living proof that the program works. For three years, she has served as Program Manager at Connections for Life, uniquely positioning her to help new clients.
Determined to succeed
Executive Director Karen Stagg says the program is limited to 13 women. “We’re small on purpose,” she said. “We want to be able to provide oneon-one care and counseling so our clients can succeed. It’s very hard what these women are doing. They are really committed to making their lives better.” Stagg had a career in healthcare before she took the helm at Connections for Life. “The woman who founded the organization was retiring and she offered me this opportunity. I took it even though I had no training or background in this kind of work. But I had decided I wanted to live my life more intentionally, and this was a chance to do that.”
Each woman accepted into the program is provided a rent-free fully furnished apartment of her own, as well as food, clothing, and transportation until she can afford her own. “Giving them the key to their apartment on the first day of the program is a very big deal,” Stagg said. “Some of them have never had their own place before. It’s empowering.”
In return, participants are expected to hold a job and attend regular “recovery” meetings during their yearlong transition. They are also assigned a “sponsor” who encourages them and helps them form healthy relationships.
Fear and uncertainty
Judy Maechling is another success story. In her 50s now, Judy was sent to prison six times, usually on drug charges. More than once, she was offered an opportunity to apply to Connections for Life, but she was never ready, she said. “And then one day, I realized that I was tired of everything about my life … living on the street … struggling all the time. So I applied and they took me,” she said.
Judy says she was afraid to fail and lacked confidence. “I didn’t know if I could go through with it,” she said. “I got released and got on a bus
for Baton Rouge. The whole way, I wasn’t sure if I would get off at my stop or just stay on that bus and keep going … somehow, I made the right decision and I’ve had nothing but unconditional love and support. It’s been phenomenal. I’ve grown as a person and accomplished so much. I have a grown daughter and two grandchildren, and I know in my heart that I will see them soon and be able to have a relationship with them.” Judy now works in the Connections Thrift Store. It’s a simple life she leads these days, but in her words, “more than I ever dreamed possible.”
One way to support Connections for Life is to shop at the Thrift Store, which carries furniture, books, clothing, household goods and more. Volunteers are needed in the store to help sort donations, tag merchandise, hang clothing, stock shelves, arrange merchandise displays, and greet customers. The store is located at 2286 Highland Road.
Another way to support the organization is to volunteer in the office by providing administrative assistance. If you have working knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel, good communication skills, and can multi-task, your help would be appreciated.
“I am honored to be affiliated with these women and with this program,” Stagg said. “They work so hard to improve their lives. Watching them achieve independence and emotional healing is a beautiful thing to see.”
For more information about Connections for Life or about volunteer opportunities, call (225) 379-3640.
“The woman who founded the organization was retiring and she offered me this opportunity. I took it even though I had no training or background in this kind of work. But I had decided I wanted to live my life more intentionally, and this was a chance to do that.” – Karen Stagg
Cortney bradley, far left, and Judy Maechling are graduates and now employees of the Connections for Life program. Cortney credits the program with saving her life by giving her opportunities she never would have found if she had returned home. Judy says she received unconditional love and support that motivated her to be a better person and gave her confidence to make better choices.
Starting a New Life Has its Challenges
Every year, millions of men and women leave the country’s state and federal prisons and local jails hoping for a successful return to society. Most are returning to their families, many with children. because of this, their challenges moving back into the mainstream affect their families in many ways.
Housing is an immediate concern, and most prisoners end up living with a family member and depending on them for financial support. in most cases, family support is a positive experience. For women who return to children, however, the experience is difficult. Children whose parents are incarcerated go through more than disruption of their daily lives. they go through real trauma–separation from a loved one, feelings of shame and anger, and fear for their future. When a mother is released from prison, re-establishing the parent-child relationship is hard.
Imagine if a former inmate came to you for a job. Your first thought would be to wonder if you could trust this person. even if a boss or supervisor is willing to take a chance, co-workers may not be comfortable with the arrangement. released prisoners who are able to find employment often have to settle for low-skill and low-paying jobs such as food service, housekeeping, or maintenance and repair. And while finding a job is a step in the right direction, keeping it is a daily struggle.
Most women who leave prison are determined to never go back, but real life has its temptations, especially for those who were convicted of drug crimes. even those who manage to avoid repeating their offenses often are arrested for parole violations such as changing residence, possessing a weapon, leaving the state without permission, or failing to show up for a court appearance.
Karen stagg, executive Director of Connections for Life, has devoted her life to helping women achieve independence after being released from prisons, rehab facilities and women’s shelters. “i’ve seen how hard they work to change their lives,” she said. “Anything our community can do for them is appreciated.”
Connections for Life provides many ways to be involved in helping women at risk reach their goals, including donations and volunteer projects. Call (225) 379-3640 for information.