New Richmond jail program aims to repair families and communities

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A dozen women sit around a table in the Richmond City Justice Center, wear matching yellow jumpsuits. In a place where individuality is not evident at face value, it is in this room where their unique stories come out.

“Today I’m reaching out for help,” Patricia Powell says with tears in her eyes.

Powell has spent her entire adult life in and out of the system.  Now 50, she finally recognizes she is an addict. A life of drugs led to dozens of charges and five separate state prison sentences. This year she is spending in the Richmond jail is it, she says. Now that she is clean and has a new outlook, she is truly ready to be free.

“I left my family high and dry when they needed me the most,” she says in between sobs. “I’ve been hurting for a long time.”

Mending those who are broken is the focus of this Motherhood Support Group and Class.

Cassie Mattern grew up in Massachusetts and used with her parents.

“I have never learned to live without drugs. Never. I’m learning how to live without drugs now,” says Mattern.

The 31-year-old is now a mother of two herself. She has a daughter in Richmond and a son living in a Boston hospital with severe disabilities and a poor prognosis.

“I want to be there for him when he goes,  that’s what’s killing me,” her voice trails off as she fights back tears.

These women have to come to terms with the separation and the crimes they committed to cause it.

“I’m gonna stop shooting the messenger and get the message,” says Powell inside the classroom during an exercise where the women have to pick a word describing them the most.

This program is based on the Richmond jail’s Fatherhood Initiative, which tackles challenges faced by entire families when unlawful behavior tears them apart.

When Powell sank to her lowest low, her own mom called the police.

“I couldn’t even look in the mirror,” she cries. “I was that ugly, all behind drugs. But I can look in the mirror today. It might not be where I want to be, but I ain’t where I used to be.”

Through self-reflection, there are breakthroughs. It takes time, but relationships can be repaired with others and themselves.

Powell knows it comes from within.

“I gotta learn to love me,” she says. “I can see clearly. I truly believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Tomorrow six participants on this program will have a special tea party with their children to celebrate the completion of the 28-hour course and all they learned.

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