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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

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September 2019

STRIVE Reentry Center for women holds opening ceremony

In September, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice held an opening ceremony for the new STRIVE Reentry Center at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville. Senior staff from both TDCJ and the Windham School District addressed an audience of nearly 60 staff members, volunteers and other supporters, who later toured the new facilities and met the program’s inaugural class.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier addresses attendees at the STRIVE Reentry Center opening ceremony at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville.

STRIVE stands for Strength Through Restoration, Independence, Vision and Empowerment. The recently implemented reentry program is for female offenders who are about to leave prison and is the result of a creative collaborative effort among the Correctional Institutions Division, the Parole Division, Reentry and Integration Division, Rehabilitation Programs Division, the Windham School District and agency volunteers.

While attending the opening ceremony, TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier predicted the agency will continue to introduce new reentry support programs for offenders who are transitioning back into society: “We’re just beginning. The sky is the limit as far as where we go, but we’re trying things we’ve never tried before. And I think we’ll have that ground proven soon, and we can expand and continue to do more innovative programs like this in the future.”

STRIVE delivers reentry support services through gender-responsive, trauma-informed programming, career skill development, employment and community support referrals, and post-release supervision for participants who have not discharged their sentence. Training subjects include job interview and public speaking, personal self-care planning, and hairstyling and makeup for professionals. Each program graduate will receive a set of proper business attire when they leave the program.

One STRIVE participant explained her concerns regarding her impending release and what she expected of the program: “I’ve been here for 21 years. I don’t have any idea of what technology is out there. I have no idea, honestly, how to function. I’ve never had to live by myself. I’ve never experienced life because I came in at 19 years old. I’m 40 now. So, I think that this will help me function. I think that this will help me live.”

STRIVE participants are taught basic PC skills, how to search for potential post-release employment and submit applications.

Mountain View/Hilltop Complex Senior Warden Whitney Franks described the program and its expected impact on offender recidivism, saying, “It is just an intense 3-month program to provide them those skills that they need when they get out. I will tell you, the more you prepare someone for when they get out of prison, the better they are going to be.” Franks also explained how STRIVE differs from typical job skill training: “This reentry center is more of a total package. We’re going to teach you how to budget. We’re going to teach you how to deal with the traumas that were in your life, and how to overcome them. It’s got a cognitive part and changes their ways of thinking. It’s got everything that just learning a skill doesn’t have.”

Penny Rayfield, Texas Association of Business board member and chair of their Criminal Justice Reform Committee, described how the STRIVE program helps support our state’s economy: “Businesses need to keep a strong employment force. Because the employment rate in Texas is so high right now, our unemployment is about 3.4 percent, we’re having a difficult time finding qualified workers for our businesses. We understand there will be a large number of people coming out of prison who will be better prepared to seek employment. It’s important for businesses to understand that this is an opportunity. This is a workforce that’s available for them.”

Female offenders in TDCJ’s new STRIVE program receive gender-responsive career readiness training and other reentry support at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville.

Rayfield explained why businesses should hire offenders who are trying build a new life in the freeworld: “I think it’s very important to give someone a second chance. In doing so, we understand employment is one of the critical factors for successful reentry, and helping that person become successful will help break the cycle of crime. It will improve public safety. It will reduce the tax burden we all pay to keep someone incarcerated. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Some STRIVE participants were nearly overcome with excitement when told they would be part of a new program to support their successful transition back into society. One described how she reacted to the news and what she expects of the program, saying, “When I got here and the warden told us in his office, it was so amazing I almost started crying. I’m trying not to get emotional, but I think this is going to help so many people. I think it’s going to change a lot of people’s thinking, so they can see us as individuals and not just offenders.”

STRIVE will initially house 34 women and plans are in place to nearly double the number of participants before the end of 2019.