We are people who were caught up in the system and made it out, and now we get to be the voice for other people.
by Alaina Combs, #LwC2019
March 6, 2019
I am the Program Director for the Women’s Healing Place which is the largest recovery center in Kentucky. We accept ladies straight off the streets at no charge and we also accept them straight from prison and jail. We have 250 beds, and I have 203 women from all over the state and country in the long-term recovery program that I manage. Our clients come in the hope of reducing their chance of reoffending and becoming productive members of society and I am living proof that they can succeed. In 2013 was sent from prison to the Women’s Healing Place as a parolee and now I’m a staff member of the Program Team. I love what I do. I have a houseful of women who share their struggles with me and who appreciate me. And I know what their future can hold for them.
When I first walked through the doors of the Healing Place I knew my life was never going to be the same. I was so tired. I had been in and out of the system for so many years. Along with the cycle of addiction comes the cycle of incarceration, because you’re committing crimes to support your habit. Every time I would go to jail I would make a resolution that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. But the reality was, I didn’t have the resources and I didn’t know how to not do it anymore. But because our program is long term and peer-led, I was given the opportunity to grow and turn my life around. We meet our clients where they are at and put a lot into their hands. If they don’t make it the first time, they come back. We’re not in the business of making people sober; we’re in the business of planting seeds.
I also work with the ACLU of Kentucky’s Smart on Crime Coalition. In my advocacy, I focus a lot on the need for reentry services. Last year when Governor Bevin held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda and called upon the legislature to pass criminal justice reform bills, I was asked to share the podium and I got to tell my story and promote the idea that people with substance use disorders need resources, not prison beds. Unlike many other states, Kentucky’s prison population has been growing, not declining, and the state’s female incarceration rate is more than twice the national average and now stands as the second-highest in America. More than 32,000 children in Kentucky have a parent in prison. Much of the prison growth has been fueled by addiction. I’m kind of the poster child for an alternative approach saying, “Hey, this can work. This is not my problem or my mother or children’s problem, this is our problem, because the more people we incarcerate, the more children we have with no parents, and those children go to school with my children and it sickens our society as a whole. It’s a public health issue and we can’t arrest our way out of it.”
I can’t talk about Leading with Conviction without crying because I’m just so grateful to be a part of this cohort. After only one forum we’ve already had a group chat and we stay in touch with one another. We have a hashtag joke–#unicorn—because we are people who were caught up in the system and made it out and now we get to be the voice for others like us. I’m just so grateful to sit at the table with all these amazing people from all over the country that share my values and my passion.