Magazine article Corrections Today

From Incarcerated Mother to Community Role Model: Unique Parenting Program in Bexar County Credited with Inmate's Turnaround

Magazine article Corrections Today

From Incarcerated Mother to Community Role Model: Unique Parenting Program in Bexar County Credited with Inmate's Turnaround

Article excerpt

Ask most college students about hurdles they've overcome in their academic careers and they will likely mention financial struggles. Some may have encountered problems juggling family responsibilities, while others might have dealt with health setbacks. But ask that question of Michele Brown, and she'll tell of an odyssey that's far from average. It's not just because Brown has six children and four grandchildren; rather, it's because she has beaten seemingly insurmountable odds. Brown has a 30-year history of cocaine addiction and spent many years in and out of the criminal justice system for crimes associated with her habit; she came clean of her drug use in October 1998. After completing a prison sentence, Brown completed something else: her bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas A&M University.

"We're so proud of Michele and the men and women like her who are making positive changes in their lives while incarcerated in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center (BCDC)," said Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau. "She's proof that jail programs can be instrumental and effective in changing lives for the good. It's not just about locking people up and throwing away the key."

So how was Brown able to break out of the cycle of drug abuse and incarceration? She is quick to give credit to her faith in God. She also says a substance abuse class and a unique parenting class called Mothers and Their Children (MATCH) at BCDC in Texas were instrumental to her recovery and turnaround when she was incarcerated there.

"It's not about how many times you fall," Brown said. "It's about getting back up again."

Bexar County was the first in the nation to implement MATCH, a parent-child contact visitation program for incarcerated mothers, more than 30 years ago. Ten years later, Papas and Their Children (PATCH) was created for incarcerated fathers. The objective of the MATCH program is to expose incarcerated mothers to as much life-changing information as possible. Through structured educational classes, parent-child contact visits and an e-book program, officials seek to transform the lives of incarcerated mothers so they can become role models their children can emulate.

But when Brown was first introduced to the program in the 1990s, she still had other obstacles to overcome. First and foremost, she needed to recover from her addiction to drugs.

"In the beginning, I was not open to the treatment process," she said. "I was angry at the system. I joined the substance abuse program in the jail because 1 thought it would look good when 1 went before the judge." But getting to know Jail Programs Manager Aida Negron helped. "It was while 1 was in the substance abuse program that Aida was able to reach me," Brown said. "She had a soft spirit and a genuine concern for our well-being, and I realized that someone actually cared about me--and she saw what I could become." It was because of Negron's influence that Brown returned, years later, to volunteer with the MATCH program.

"She instilled in me a desire to be of service to others," Brown said. "As a volunteer, I'm able to encourage others, through my own personal story, to see beyond their current status as inmates to the future with all its possibilities."

Negron, who has worked at the Bexar County Sheriff's Office for 22 years, said, "I first met Michele Brown in 1994, when 1 was a substance abuse counselor in the jail and she was incarcerated. She was a good-humored and bright woman with a lot of spunk and potential. At that time, MATCH women had access to a substance abuse support group for women that I facilitated. Together, both programs addressed many of the issues that incarcerated mothers face--addiction, trauma, homelessness and shame."

Since that time, Negron and Brown have grown to be colleagues and personal friends. …

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