Lauren Rodriguez is 28 years old and lives at Reach Fellowship International’s Naomi House for women returning home from incarceration with their children. She reflects on her journey:
”For the past three years, I have been in and out of custody at the West County Detention Facility. It was there where I first learned about Reach Fellowship International, an agency that gives weekly programming for women at the facility. I was really inspired by their program, and I told them I would love to be a part of their program on the outside. But, every time I got released, I always fell back into my old habits of drugs and crime.
“Two months ago, during my last stint at the facility, I felt more determined to change. I made the commitment to be released under Reach’s Naomi House Residential Program. When I finally got released and walked out of those glass doors, for the first time ever I truly felt a sense of happiness and hope. It just wasn’t there before. The difference between this time and all the other times was that someone was waiting for me on the other side of those heavy glass doors.
“Her name is Belinda, and she works for Reach. She had the biggest smile. I just embraced her and instantly I knew this time was going to be different. Instead of worrying what I was going to do and how I was going to start all over again—with just the clothes on my back and myself—this time I had someone who was there waiting to help me get to where I need to be.
“To be honest, the fact that I still have my life and get to wake up each morning and take a breath is a miracle of its own. I don’t want to waste this beautiful thing that, sadly, many of us take for granted. It’s not easy transitioning back into society after being incarcerated. Actually, it’s one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life. But, Reach’s staff keeps us women sticking together. Their motto is: ‘The sky is the limit.’ Even though I have made mistakes, I will continue to press forward.
“I plan to turn my mistakes into hope, for other women who may have lost all of theirs. And I want to give them the strength they need, when they have none. Thanks to Reach, I’m in a place where I can use my life experience to help others. Their staff have been my life-savers.
“In two months, I have grown by leaps and bounds. I have reunified with my family. Next semester, I’ll be going back to school to continue to achieve my goals.”