United Way of Greater St. Louis Empowers Redemption and Recovery for Women

In life, some people make mistakes that have consequences that may require a hand up in order for them to get their life back on track. Fortunately, United Way of Greater St. Louis (UWGSL) supports organizations and initiatives that help people receive a chance to start over and pursue a fulfilling life despite their past mistakes.

UWGSL partner, Keyway Center for Diversion and Reentry, helps formerly incarcerated women get a second chance at success. They focus on supporting women as they transition to reintegrating themselves back into their families and communities.

Women who are involved with the justice system face difficult circumstances before and after their incarceration. Studies show that 53% of women are more likely to be jobless than to be employed in the month before their arrest, 76% of justice-involved women have a past or current mental health problem, and 97% of incarcerated women have experienced some sort of trauma.

The Keyway Center is dedicated to helping women who have faced these struggles by providing housing stability, emotional wellness, financial security, and community reengagement.

“It is important for people to familiarize themselves with our name – Keyway. A keyway is a customizable structure that provides guidance and support until there’s stability,” said April Foster, Executive Director for the Keyway Center for Diversion and Reentry. “The women we work with have the ability to be successful, they have the motivation, drive and resilience to do it, but they need the support and that’s what we’re about.”

For Lisa, instability and negative influences surrounding her as an adolescent led to a troubled life that eventually led to her incarceration, but fortunately, the Keyway Center was the connection she needed to shake off her past and step into a future filled with hope, destiny and success.

Success despite the odds

As Lisa recounts, positive role models were scarce for her growing up. Her mother struggled with drugs so bad that she had to live with her grandmother, her older brother sold drugs, and her older sister was prone to shoplifting and drug use.

Soon, she assumed some of the characteristics of her mother and siblings. By the time she was 16, her mother and sister were both incarcerated, so in order to provide for herself and her nieces and nephews, she began selling drugs. From there, her life began to spiral as she went from selling drugs to becoming a heavy user of them.

Her actions eventually led to her arrest and incarceration. The surrealness of being in jail was daunting, but there was a silver lining to her struggles. A family friend would often visit the jail and offer women the opportunity to apply for programs and resources that could help them once they’re released, one of which was the Keyway Center.

As a part of her probation, Lisa had to enter the Keyway Center’s housing stability program where participants live in their Transitional House and commit to counseling, steady employment and a substance-free lifestyle. This environment was difficult for Lisa to adjust to at first, but deep down she knew this was what she needed.

“I needed that support and that crutch because I didn’t know which way to turn,” said Lisa. “In my mind I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do when I get out? Where am I going to go?’ But [the Keyway Center’s] structure helped to ease my mind where I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

The Keyway Center provided her with bus passes, food cards, clothing, and other basic needs. They relieved her of any potential stress, the only thing they wanted her to focus on was getting and staying clean, and their methods were effective.

Lisa has been sober since January 14th, 2011.

Though in the years following her sobriety, she lost her mother, uncle and daughter. Despite the heartbreak that came with losing three family members in a short period of time, she is proud that the last memories they have of her were of a sober, sound and level-headed person who overcame her struggles.

“I had a strong foundation, being in the meetings and being a part of the recovery process helped me build my strength,” said Lisa. “I thank God that all three of them got to see me clean before they transitioned.”

Lisa continued to hold steady employment while going back to school to receive a GED and eventually enrolled into college where she is studying to be a registered nurse. She has also become a staff member at the Keyway Center.

“The discipline that I gained from the Transitional House, I still carry that with me today, 13 years later,” said Lisa. “I wanted to achieve some of my goals that I had to put on the back burner. I wanted to accumulate a good job, a home, good credit and all the things that I had longed for, and now I could do that.”

Today, Lisa is a shining light of inspiration for the women at the Keyway Center who are battling the same struggles she once did. Seeing her recovery serves as a ray of hope for those looking to pursue a meaningful and successful life.

“Don’t give up, keeping trying. Anything in life that’s worth striving for doesn’t come easy, you have to work hard for it,” said Lisa. “I also tell them to keep God first, because he will make a way out of no way.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries