Halfway Houses are halfway there: Part Two: Money

0001 (1)

This is my second blog about the halfway houses in Anchorage Alaska. Because I only have first hand knowledge of the Glenwood Center (GWC), ran by TJM Western, I will be focusing on the policies and procedures I know about.

What qualifies me?

I spent 14 months at the GWC and had countless conversations and many observations during that time. I will start out by saying the only reason an offender is there on furlough is to work. That is not an issue, believe me, 9.9 out of 10 of us want to get out of prison, where we are making anywhere from .35 to .65 an hour (some were paid $1 or more, but majority rules.) Going to a halfway house helped many save getting out of jail the necessary money for release, which is needed for obvious reasons.

But it isn’t that easy.

First things first. Being in compliance with furlough, which means following GWC policy.

Policy at GWC: You must have a job, working a minimum of 32 hours a week. If you do not have a job meeting the minimum requirements you are liable for an IR (incident report) and possibly a preliminary hearing.

What does that mean? An IR can cause residents to receive extra in-house duties, program demotions, and/or termination from the center. Easy fix, get a job washing dishes or working the drive through at a burger place.

That brings us to the funds request. You might say to yourself, “I won’t need money, they provide everything, right, so I will just bank my money!” Even if you didn’t ever need to take the bus, you still need to get submit one of these. You can get a write-up for not submitting a Resident Funds Request, because without doing so you are not paying for your court fines/restitution. Or, if required, child support. Also, you pay for your phone calls, .50 local, $1.50 for outside of the Anchorage area (the newer cell numbers would be this higher fee), laundry ($1.75 to wash and another $1.75 to dry) and your personal hygiene items as well.

Let’s say you gross $398.78, netting $307.00 from a pay check. $99.70 goes directly to GWC, while another $99.70 goes into a savings reserve you cannot touch until release. In order to pull out any funds to use, you must list your restitution on your funds request, whereas they figure the 20%. Another $79.75 gone. Well, you figure you still have $127 left, right. No, because that $99.70 is in savings, remember. You have $27. This happens each time you get paid, For this example I used my job at Denny’s. I got paid bi-weekly there. Needless to say I walked a lot. And I “threw in” with room mates to get my laundry done.

The short of it? They want their 25% before taxes. And yes, that includes any tips you may receive. Then 25% goes into forced savings, and 20% goes to any restitution an offender may have. Add that up, and 70% is gone before you can even think about pulling money out to do laundry or take the bus. Sure, you get that savings when you leave, but you don’t accrue any interest. You get what you put in.

You might be thinking, okay, interesting, but whats the point Amber?

Lets do the math. If am paying $99.70 twice a month (actually more because that was just from my check at minimum wage, my tips were turned in and divided up just like a check, but for the sake of this exercise we will keep it simple) that is $199 a month. There are about 70 residents at GWC, barring the new ones not working yet and a few short term confined misdemeanents. Even at minimum wage, GWC is getting approximately getting $13K a month (and that is a low estimate). Factor in what Alaska pays to house inmates there –  Alaska spends on average $44,000 a year per inmate  – and it makes me wonder, where is the money going and to what programs is it going to? Staff at GWC are paid $11.75 an hour.

The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Justice Reinvestment Report – December 2015 summarizes the findings of the Criminal Justice Commission, as a part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The Commission studied the criminal justice system in three areas – pretrial detention, post-conviction imprisonment, and community corrections. Many have heard about this report, but not until I started looking at how much money GWC was being paid to house residents did I stumble upon the actual report.

Recommendation 18: Improve treatment offerings in CRCs and focus use of CRC resources on high-need offenders. CRCs, otherwise known as halfway houses, have the potential to effectively support offenders who are transitioning back to the community from prison. However, the Commission found that CRCs are likely mixing low and high risk offenders, which research has shown can lead to increased recidivism for low risk offenders. Additionally, the Commission found that CRCs would be more effective at reducing recidivism if the facilities offered treatment for offenders in addition to supervision.

Specific Action Recommended: To reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for offenders placed in CRCs, the Commission recommends:
a. Requiring CRCs to provide treatment (cognitive-behavioral, substance abuse, after care and/or support services) designed to address offenders’ individual criminogenic needs.
b. Adopting quality assurance procedures to ensure CRCs are meeting contractual obligations with regard to safety and offender management.
c. Implementing admission criteria for CRCs that:
i. Prioritize placement in CRCs for people who would benefit most from more intensive supervision and treatment, using the results of a validated risk and needs assessment; and ii. Minimize the mixing of low and high risk offenders.

After reading that I am unsure of what programs the CRC was required to provide. I had to earn Level 2 status in order to go to 12 step meetings for my recovery. I signed myself up for MRT classes (interested in learning what this is? Click here) and was told that work was to come first. I asked repeatedly to be able to go to STAR (a non-profit organization providing options, support and information to Alaskans affected by sexual violence) and was almost given a write-up for bringing it up with a GWC casemanager after I questioned why I could not participate in STAR groups. Now, regarding my individual criminogenic needs, I would assume they would want me to address the underlying issues in my “crime”.

I don’t have any clever wrap up to this issue. I would like to have some strong closing argument, but in all truthfulness, this has just raised more questions regarding what can, what could and what should be done to assist the overall positive outcomes for those incarcerated and specifically, those in GWC.

Comments are welcome!

 

 

Halfway houses are halfway there

I wanted to sit down and do a few blogs about halfway houses in Anchorage, and where is a better place than to start at the beginning. I went searching for a few key people that were part of the start of CRC’s here in Anchor town.

This is the first of three blog posts I plan on writing about the Halfway Houses in Anchorage, Alaska. 

There are three halfways houses in Anchorage. Community residential centers, CRC’s, to be exact. Midtown and Cordova are now ran by GeoGroup, and Glenwood is owned and operated by TMJ Western. Parkview, owned by GeoGroup as well, closed down last year (2016).

I wanted to sit down and do a few blogs about halfway houses in Anchorage, and where is a better place than to start at the beginning. I went searching for a few key people that were part of the start of CRC’s here in Anchor town.

What I found about the background of CRC’s so far is pretty amazing.

From my limited research thus far, it appears the key player in the creation of halfway houses in Anchorage was William (Bill) Weimar. In the mid 80’s, Weimar saw there was an apparent need for streamlining case management with work release, and embarked on a quest to acquire third party contacts with Alaska Department of Corrections. In 1985 Bill Weimar helped found Allvest Inc. Over time he bought out his partners and grew the company into a multimillion dollar corporation. In 1991, Weimar started another corporation, St. John Investments Inc., which provided contract administrative services to Allvest Inc. At one time Weimar had owned and operated Allvest Laboratories, which did contract urinalysis work, but he sold that company in 1996 to NANA Regional Corporation.

Allvest Inc. led a controversial effort to get the state Legislature to approve a plan that would turn the abandoned Fort Greely Army post into the state’s first private prison. The Legislature approved the proposal and the planning process was under way. The good ol’ boys sat down together and drew out a plan where all would be happy. Money was to be made and strings were to be pulled.

In 1997, Weimar stepped back from overseeing day-to-day operations to focus more on development and corporate expansion. He had hired Frank Prewitt as the company’s new president and chief executive officer. Prewitt had served as commissioner of the state Department of Corrections in 1993 and 1994. The end came in 1998, as detailed in this article from Juneau Empire. Now, I was too young to remember Allvest and the fiasco that sequentially unraveled by the financial liberation it may or may not have took with legislation, but from what I can read thus far, Bill Weimar was a man with a vision, and a heart.

I think I would like the guy if I ever got a chance to meet him. Only via an old friend of his and online articles for research was I able to piece together the legend of this man. This article from ADN, well written by Michael Carey in 2011, shed the most light for me. It sent me on a squirrel chase, looking for the elusive Bill Weimar in order to maybe, just maybe, talk with him. I wanted his thoughts of how he envisioned halfways houses to be, and let him know how far they have fallen from his standard.

No luck.

That is the quick and painless overview of what I was able to find regarding the early days of Anchorage CRC’s.

Now, I will focus on something I personally know about.

The Glenwood Center.

Most people that have never been to a halfway house do not fully understand what the day to day rules and regulations are. I know I had misconception myself until I got to have a very up close and personal understanding of one.

For instance, at Glenwood Center, there is an Orientation Handbook as well as a Resident Handbook. You are identified as a PRISONER not a resident. That is made clear repeatedly. Rules are very similar to Department of Corrections, with similar sanctions as well. One big discrepancy is the staff understanding of the rules they are set to enforce. With a greater window of freedom also comes a greater chance for screwing up. And, lets face it, many of the residents at a CRC did not get there due to making the best choices. Click here for my copies of the Glenwood Resident Handbook and Orientation Handbook.

A halfway house costs the state $99 a day for each inmate, compared to $142 a day for a jail cell.

Looking at the privately ran Glenwood Center, I started the basic search using google.  I was directed to tjmwestern.com which listed an 800 number to report PREA (Prisoner Rape Elimination Act) and states:

The leadership and staff of TJM Western, Inc. (TJMW) have always placed a high priority on creating a safe and healthy environment in which to assist our residents with a successful transition from prison to community.  Our approach to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is to utilize the legislation to provide additional guidance for us to further foster safe programs built on a culture of respect for the rights of all individuals. 

According to TJ Mahoney & Associates on LinkedIn Founded in 1974, TJ Mahoney & Associates is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping prison inmates become responsible, productive members of their communities. Our objective is to improve the likelihood of successful community reentry, thereby reducing recidivism and the long-term financial and social costs of incarceration. We have a successful history of operating programs for both male and female inmates in Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii.

When I contacted a staff member no longer working at Glenwood Center I was able to ask them questions about the dynamics of working for TJM Western. This is an excerpt of our conversation. I am keeping the ex staff monitors name private.

8:02PM

Amber

what up doing my next blog on GWC  looking for insider info anything you wanna pipe in

Ex staff member

As far as….?

Amber

What staff was told about for writeups, how did you find the job, what were people paid, what were the office dynamics, I would nt use any names

Ex staff member

As far as writes goes, you guys know the same as we do except that we’re suppose to do it when we choose not to. Found the job on Craigslist. $11.75 is the pay. Office Dynamics… Lol we’re lucky enough to call it that

Amber

What about with the probation officers, how did they feel about writeups, were any residents ever set apart or off limits…?

Ex staff member

Probation officers encourage write-ups for the problematic residents. As far as I saw, NAME OMITTED was the special one because he always snitched on everyone

Amber

what deemed residents problematic, and did anyone ever talk about how GWC is a privatized halfway house, were any perks offered for catching people doing bad?

Ex staff member

Problematic residents are the ones who pretty much cause problems, never follows the rules, never get any house work done. Everyone knew it was a private company so nobody really asked about it. There wasn’t any perks on catching people at all

Amber

What did you feel was the biggest challenge working there? How did the staff feel about management (COS, casemanagers) and vice versa?

Ex staff member

Biggest challenge was really dealing with both staff and residents. Some residents you know make small mistakes and they wanna throw them in the fire for it. Others do things because they don’t care. We gotta determine what’s the actual situation is. You already know how we felt about management and how unorganized they sometimes are

Ask any previous resident of Glenwood Center and you will quickly understand this is lip service. There is very little assistance with a successful transition from prison to community occurring. There is no one to contact regarding the way the rules are construed from the staff hired on Craigslist at $11.75 an hour, and if you do ask too many questions or make waves, you are quickly reminded that being there is a privilege, not a right.

The only reason an offender is there is to work. You must have a job, working a minimum of 32 hours a week. If you do not have a job meeting the minimum requirements you are liable for an IR (incident report) and possibly a preliminary hearing.

What does that mean?

Depending, a violation can cause one to receive extra in-house duties, program demotions, and/or termination from the center.

Interesting supporting info:

https://www.followthemoney.org/research/institute-reports/alaskas-citizens-lock-out-private-prisons

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/crime-courts/2016/08/07/alaska-halfway-house-population-falls-as-corrections-officials-try-to-tamp-down-walkaways/

https://www.muni.org/Departments/Assembly/legislation/2011%20Ordinances/AO2011-001.PDF

 

http://www.prearesourcecenter.org

I didn’t get Tricked

Last night I watched a documentary about sex trafficking on Netflix. I braced myself for the bias views that many documentaries show of sex work, and knew I was in for a frustrating watch just by the Trick blurb:

trickedThis in-depth documentary examines all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade, which destroys lives as it generates $3 billion a year.

Reading that, I at least thought that all sides, as they stated, would be represented. Instead I sat in on an hour and 13 minutes of assaults, rapes, kidnappings and torture. That is sex-trafficking. What was frustrating was the lumping of all sex work as sex-trafficking. I expected an in-depth documentary stating it will “examine all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade” would cover all sides of the $3 billion sex-trafficking trade, yet it did nothing more than show me what sadly happens across the world. This is why I am strong in my belief that stating all prostitution is sex-trafficking undermines real sex-trafficking. Personally, men making money off women as pimps has never been okay, but for Tricked to say all sex workers are sex slaves is erroneous.

Sex work is not sex-trafficking. Sex-trafficking is sex-trafficking!

Per Obama, shown at a press conference at the end of the documentary, sex-trafficking is human trafficking, and therefore modern slavery.

Lets be real. All sex work is not modern day slavery.

Beware:  This is where I will personalize this documentary.

To moralize sex work and state it is modern day slavery and sex trafficking is complete laziness on behalf of our lawmakers. Something must change.

“Criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers…[I]t is believed that trafficking in women, coercion and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.”

Marjan Wijers
Chair of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings
in her article in the book Global Sex Workers
1998

I have experienced modern day slavery. Anyone who has spent any “quality” time incarcerated has experience with it. The closest I have ever got to human slavery and having a real pimp was when I was in jail (human slavery), and in the halfway house (my pimp). In jail I worked for $1 an hour. I had one of the highest paying jobs, on average the pay is 35-65 cents an hour. At the halfway house I gave all my money to them, my checks, my tips, and I had to jump through hoops to request up to $100 a week (never allowed more than $100 on you, otherwise they would take it, you would get a write-up, and would not see the money again. That was the policy). I was forced to work when sick. I had consequences for not working a minimum of 32 hours a week. Do you see the pimp correlations?

Human trafficking is defined in the U.N. Trafficking Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of adbuction, or fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The definition on trafficking consists of three core elements:

1) The action of trafficking which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons

2) The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability

3) The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation. In the words of the Trafficking Protocol, article 3 “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

My crime, Sex Trafficking, is because I was a sex-worker, and I have the ability to advertise, market, create websites, screen clients, book appointments, and schedule appointments. I worked with women of age, and they had their own keys to the incall location. I booked for a few women I never even met in person, after the necessary age identification and independent contractor agreements were signed. After watching Tricked I wonder why the State of Alaska found it so necessary to focus on me and what my sentencing judge called a “slick call girl operation” rather than real sex traffickers.

Alaska changed their prostitution laws in 2012. Alaska’s definition of “sex trafficking” is broad and vague. Federal sex trafficking laws focus on fraud, coercion, and the exploitation of minors. Alaska’s law, on the other hand, defines trafficking more broadly, to include those who work indoors, or who work together. Read a clear overview in its entirety here.

As I stated before, I have a Sex Trafficking charge, a class B felony. I was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 5.5 years. I am still incarcerated as I write this. I just made it to electronic monitoring, so now rather than the tax payers paying $140 and up a day to incarcerate me, I get to subsidize my incarceration, paying $400 a month to Department of Corrections rather than only the tax payers footing the entire bill.

This is Alaska’s sex-trafficking law in action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empowerment through Consequence

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I only became aware that I needed to stand up and voice my beliefs after realizing the personal consequences of unfair legislation.

I have been reading up on everything that I was unable to read about for the last three years. Binders, websites, resources. Luckily there is a lot out there.

A big BIG thank you to M. Dante.

I liken it very much to a baby taking her first steps, and peering up a huge stair case…the journey ahead. So, I will research, read, reach out, ponder and look within in order to learn how to continue on this very worthwhile journey before me.

It is easy enough because the way I have personally lived my life has been by a few rules:

Do the least harm to all I meet

I was raised that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, then keep your mouth shut. Over the years I have been able to generalize this. One of my fave quotes is “Even a fish could learn to stay out of trouble if it would keep its mouth shut.”  So very true.

I am usually the one sitting quietly on the side. I try not to say anything unless it brings some value to the conversation.

Disclaimer: If you are close friends or family this does not apply. I will continue to be a silly sing-a-song-that-I-hear-a-beat-to-and not know the words kinda chic.

Any positive moment is movement towards what is positive

Through my early readings I see many sex work advocates upset over legislation that doesn’t address exactly what they want. I keep in mind it is a process, and as long as we are going forward and not backwards, it is a step in the right direction.

This saved my ass when I was repeatedly denied requests I put in (mail with smudges, visits, passes, electronic monitoring, write up appeals…the list could go on). Although the outcome was not what I wanted (usually) I felt I was going forward just by requesting, questioning and trying to be heard, because I did get some answers that weren’t always “no’s”.

Standing together and not bickering amongst ourselves is a step towards change. Wasting time and energy against each other is what those who wish to dispel our cause wants. Ask some of the women I did time with, I was always talking about how we needed to support and be there for each other, not bicker, tell on or ostracize. That is what makes us weak, and by us, I mean women because it has been my personal experience that men call this b.s much sooner and work towards getting things done, not focusing on petty issues.

Tell my truth

Over time my truth has changed. I feel as if I have lived several lives, and you know what? I am okay with that. More than okay. I find my strength in that. It means I have a broader view of the world, of people and most importantly I am open to know myself. After all, I  see life as a journey towards who I authentically am as a person, woman, mother, friend and human. I define my journey, not any one else. I find empowerment through consequence.

Freedom of mind = Peace within

Freedom from fear. Such a simple statement yet it isn’t always been attainable. Like many others, I have struggled with fear. I have spent countless hours mulling over my fears,  spinning in my mind, writing and dissecting it in my brain.

I have been out on electronic ankle monitor (EM) for 18 days now. Today is my lock down day, which is a part of EM (one day a week has to be a lock down day) and I am going over some of my journals that I had both at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and at the Glenwood Center.

Here is an excerpt from 9/22/2016:

It will snow soon.

I can remember the first snow of certain years. 2007, when I got home and walking outside with Tracy. My body sore and beat up. 2014, walking to work in Education, (I was at Hiland Correctional) unsure of wereQuotefancy-299835-3840x2160 my life would go. 2015, walking the yard, looking at the mountains. Sentenced and wondering about EM. It’s 2016. Not yet for EM. I have 20 months left in less than a week. 20 months ago it was May 2014. I wasn’t arrested yet. It has gone by quickly. Time. I did it amidst so many uncertain
ties, chaos, sadness. I’ve been here 5 months and it seems like the blink of an eye some days.

I will write about all of this. Episodes. This IR (incident report) is a two-part episode. Elisa leaving, an episode. Trish. Mary’s health. My birthday. Laundry struggles. No quarters to be found. Karaoke queen. IHOP BLT”s (yes Ginger that’s where the $1000 I loaned you went so you could discreetly bring it to your car).  Garbage dates. Director John calling me at work to ask about money.

For the most part I read my journals now and see scattered notes, cryptic. I had been afraid of staff reading them and I would get into trouble somehow. But I am piecing them together, just as I am piecing this whole journey together for something whole.

 

Live Your Life

Just because I am out on electronic monitoring doesn’t mean that my life is butterflies and sparklers. First of all, butterflies scare the crap out of me. Fun fact: Check my walls and you will see a few butterflies though, dead and under glass or just plain not real.

IMAGINE.jpg

I have come far since July 2014. My life has changed, for the better. I have said countless times back at the halfway house that they didn’t break me. The joke was, at medication call, staff would ask if I had any meds I needed to take and I would reply “Not yet!”.

For those that have never been incarcerated, let me tell you it is a test in patience. It can make you confront your fears or drown in them, and worst yet, you have time to look back and think about what could have been different…what will be different…then finally, what is different.

I find the disparities between women and men in sentencing here in Alaska vastly discouraging, Countless women sit behind bars due to minor violations while men are usually handed far less severe consequences. Us women, on a whole, have a lot to lose. Typically we are mothers and employees, and being incarcerated means our children are the ones who pay, whether by foster care or loss of a parents love. It is not easy for the ones beyond the walls. Jobs aren’t held just because we are in, and finding another one can mean fast food or some other low paying employment. A necessity to remain in good standing with the probation officer as well as a legit way to pay bills.

At the halfway house where I was we were told to take the first job offered. I wasn’t allowed an office job. I had an amazing job offer at a small marketing firm but it was a no-no to have access to a phone or a computer at the halfway house.  My employment background is office and marketing/HR. I had no choice but to go the typical route: restaurant work. If I am guilty of sex trafficking, so be it, but I can honestly say that I have been subjected to labor trafficking just upon the basis of what it was like to find a job and keep a job while there. I have been called a retard and a bitch from my store manager and sent home and not given any option to quit without consequences. A job is money in the pocket to the halfway house, and I was only a number and a check.

I still find it hard to believe that I was sentenced to five and a half years for running a business. Yes, an illegal business, but I truly thought the independent contractor agreements covered me. Excuses and blame, according to the lawmakers. Either way, I carry on. Unbroken. Stronger. Left to gather my thoughts and put it all out there. So, now I can. Now I will. And I hope others follow suit.

Have a great day!

 

 

This is how we rise

I was released from a halfway house Friday morning. I had been there for 14 months, okay, four days shy from 14 months, but to me it felt like a lifetime.

I was released from a halfway house Friday morning. I had been there for 14 months, okay, four days shy from 14 months, but to me it felt like a lifetime.

Sleeping in was a joke even on my day off. Sadly, the staff were only paid $11 an hour and found the job on Craigslist . My morning alarms were someone yapping away on the intercom like it was karaoke hour. I would get write ups depending on how staff read the rules. I had emotional and close to physical battles over laundry. I dropped a lighter in front of the assistant director, helped women with responses to their write ups for hugging each other and have spent countless hours staring out the window when I lived on the second floor. There was never a dull moment yet each moment I was away from my children I felt pieces of my heart break off.

Each time I left the building I had to have a piece of paper approved by my case manager, turned in at least three business days in advance. These were called CIT’s, and no one knows what that stands. These needed to be complete with clear details on route, bus or walking, walking times (to the minute because they could google map it, as a resident of the halfway I was not allowed to just jump on a computer anytime to do that), location address and phone number, and purpose. Purpose was important. Job search was about it, unless you were a resident at or above Level 2, then you would do the same thing with a pass. Only those were to be turned in at least 8 days in advance, no later than 5pm on Monday, to be valid only for the next weeks Tuesday and beyond.

Thankfully I am good at paperwork. And patience. And ambiguity. And paperwork. And answers that just lead to more questions. Have a question? Put in a cop-out, now known as a communication form. Just more paperwork.

The main point of being in a halfway house is to work. YOU MUST WORK A MINIMUM OF 32 HOURS A WEEK. They take 25% off the top, and you are only allotted up to $100 a week…as long as your funds request was in by 5pm Friday. Money would be given the following Friday. Residents are told to take the first job that comes our way, and believe me, we want to, because job search can lead to a host of problems; write ups if you are early to your location, or late. Information needed (see above CIT) was a real bitch to find in our outdated phone books. If you didn’t find a job within 30 days there were preliminary hearings with the case manager and probation officer to look forward to. These would lead to loss of privileges, extra community service hours and/or going back to jail.

I made it. I made it out. So did many others, while I was there, so it may not seem like such a big deal to someone who doesn’t know the whole story. This is but a short blurb.

I am grateful and blessed and look forward to many more blogs and telling my story. After all, this is how we rise.