Top: Group Therapy Room, Formerly the chapel within a priest’s residence. Bottom: The newly remodeled community living room was remodeled just prior to Covid-19lockdown, and the women did not lose out on classes and were able to transfer over to Zoom for programming.
Site Visit: November 30, 2022
By: Cristina Contreras-Grant, Administrator
Angela House, a Houston-based nonprofit, and Sisters have had a close relationship since it was founded in 2001 by Sr. Maureen O’Connell, OP. Angela House was founded after she noticed the population of previously incarcerated women was severely underserved. In a past life, Sr. Maureen was a police officer in Chicago, which made her aware of the hardship some women faced after leaving prison. Unfortunately, the number of incarcerated women has only grown since it was founded. In the last 30 years, the rate of women incarcerated has gone up by 900%. At Angela House, formerly incarcerated women can get a second chance at life, which is not an exaggeration. Being in a safe setting, surrounded by caring staff, and having specific programming to help them recover from substance abuse and trauma has been the recipe for helping many rejoin society as productive members.
Angela House has been in its current building for almost ten years. The building is rather old, and although it is a great home for women, it requires upkeep and repairs. The latest upgrade they needed was the installment of a new sewage pump. Having backed-up toilets in a home for 16 women plus employees was becoming a significant stressor for the house, but this issue has been resolved thanks to a grant.
Women that remain in the Angela House program for at least four months have an 87% success rate in transitioning into society after incarceration. The program’s first four months focus on immersing the women in the programming. During this time, they do not have a job and share a roomwith another person. The executive director, Kristin Guiney, shared the women are grateful for things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. I saw this firsthand after meeting one woman. When Iasked how she liked it at Angela House, she first told me that she liked that she could adjust the water temperature while showering. That comment floored me since most of us don’t give that a second thought.
After the first four months, the women find employment and are required to save 75% of their earnings. Most women can save thousands because they don’t need to pay for room and board while staying at Angela House. Once they have a job, they can also graduate to a single room with more privacy. All this happens while the women receive group therapy and one-on-one counseling. Angela House staff knows the best way to help prevent relapse is to address the core issue, which is often sexual trauma. Most of the women at Angela House were already a part of a marginalized community. After incarceration, they are even more so. Working through pain and trauma is their best chance at overcoming obstacles once they leave Angela House to lead independent lives.
Recently, Angela House was able to hire an aftercare counselor to provide support to the women after the program. If a woman relapses and reaches out to them, case workers can provide her with therapy and direct them to other organizations that can assist her in getting back on her feet. While the women’s stay at Angela House varies between a few months to two years, Kristin and her staff remind the women that although they aren’t in their forever home, the community they build at Angela House can be their forever family.
Looking at future options for Angela House, the board is considering an affordable housing development as graduates need help finding affordable housing upon graduating from the program. Inaddition, an affordable home where a woman can live with her children would offer vital support to them though there would be no staff. Another option being considered is developing a social enterprise to generate a source of income for Angela House, which is in a brainstorming phase.