Examples of Mentor Matches
The goal of the FOCUS program is for recidivist offenders to successfully establish reasonable stable lives.
This year, 2009, we are beginning to have enough evidence-based results to conclude that the presence of a FOCUS mentor in an offender’s life is actually helpful. However, only the person who acknowledges that their life is in chaos, and is determined to live differently, can change it. The story of several FOCUS mentor matches follow. All names have been changed.
Sally is a woman of 24 who forged checks, broke probation, and walked away from work release. She was released after an 8-month stint in jail. She has no partner; her children, now 18 months and 2-½ years, have been cared for by her mother. She is now living with her mother and her children. Her mother is leery of her because she has abused their relationship by lying and stealing in the home. The mother also does not trust her to care for the children. The situation is rocky. Her mentor has encouraged Sally to create a social contract with her mother to bring some balance to the relationship and also to show that she appreciates the support her mother has provided, which is a new idea for her.
Sally got pregnant again immediately on release from jail. One of the FOCUS mentor guidelines is not to offer advice in such a situation given the potential of imposing religious or other beliefs on the client and interfering with the client’s autonomy. The mentor’s job is to inform the client of resources which can assist her in making these decisions. FOCUS connected Sally with Real Choices so that she could determine objectively the best way to relate to her situation, non self-destructively.
With the strong support of her mentor she has gotten a job, identified a career she would like to pursue, and has been accepted into the Family Self-Sufficiency Program. Although the program has a long waiting list, it promises to provide housing, childcare and help with college. FSS does not usually take felons. Both the FOCUS mentor and the administrator accompanied Sally to the intake interview to assure FSS that she has ongoing and committed support. We believe this had significant impact on her eligibility.
Frank is a man with a long recidivist history and alcohol addiction problems. He had been convicted of DUI charges five times. His previous jail time had been limited to 30-day sentences, but the last time his driver’s license was forfeited and he was sentenced to 1.5 years jail time. In the court proceedings for this sentence, he committed to AA and classes on addiction. It was clear to him that he is an alcoholic. He was very interested in joining the FOCUS program. He informed his mentor that he was previously diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, but that medication did not help him because it made him groggy in the morning and so he could not work. He has a strong relationship with his father, who is very negative about his drinking and his various incarcerations. He was fearful of being on work release because his only skill is restaurant kitchen management which means being in a situation where employees normally drink a great deal and do drugs together.
FOCUS secured a good, completely different job for him from a private employer through a faith community contact. The employer required that Frank’s mentor accompany him to the job interview. The employer, reassured that Frank would have consistent and dedicated support, decided to offer this job as a form of spiritual and community service. Frank rapidly became a permanent full-time employee with good pay and benefits because he is intelligent and reliable. He secured stable housing with a co-worker with whom he began a romance and began to make friends with people at work who do not drink.
Around Thanksgiving, Frank stopped showing up for work. His mentor kept trying to make contact with him with no success and became quite concerned. The mentor reported to the FOCUS administrator, “I stopped at Frank’s home today at 2:00 PM as we had arranged last night, and there was no answer. I knocked and called out his name several times. There appeared to be no one there, but he may have been passed out. I have called the probation officer to let her know that he won’t be coming, and asked her to call me. I wondered about calling his dad. I do not have Frank’s permission to do that.” The mentor, who had hesitated to call Frank’s father, decided to call him after conferring with the FOCUS administrator.
The mentor also spoke to Frank’s “roommate” who said that he is still at her home and that all he does is drink, sleep and smoke. She has discovered more cigarette burns in his clothes. He wakes up in the night to drink and smoke. She is afraid he will burn her home down. On Friday she called his probation officer who wouldn’t talk to her. She also found out that the police will only come if she files eviction papers which she cannot afford. She has three small children and is afraid they are endangered by the careless smoking.
Finally the Probation Officer had the police enter the home. They found Frank passed out and very ill, bleeding from the mouth. He was sent to a rehab center, where his mentor visited him. His dad was visiting at the same time. A psychologist has seen him and gave him a medication that doesn’t make him sleepy in the morning and might work as a long-term drug.
Frank was released from rehab and went to stay with his dad, who is finally realizing that alcoholism is an illness.
After this incident Frank finally joined AA and chose a sponsor. He started a new job and has moved back with his girlfriend. His father has made an effort to understand the problems of alcoholism, and even though they are very different, they appear to be connecting.
This new phase of Frank’s life appears to have stabilized and his has been helped by the prescription for his bi-polar condition. His mentor said, “I believe that, in the main, Frank has been responsible for his own improvement. I also believe that I have been able to help him by being a person he can confide in. At times, I have been able to make suggestions that have been helpful to him. I think that partly as a result of his work with me, he has made a good transition from jail to freedom. He considers me a friend and, likewise, I consider him a friend. I have also served as a go-between with his father. I am a constant in his life. Frank and his girlfriend, who is willing to be with him now that he is sober, hope to buy or rent a small house. They might get some help from Frank’s father.”
When his mentor first formally met with Marty, he was a guy in a jumpsuit in the Boulder County Jail who had drawn a six month sentence for his third DUI. He had lost his license, he was unemployed, and in debt. He had a little college, but it had not come to anything, and had held a number of jobs. Marty did okay at the jobs he had, but they did not provide him with much direction. He was thirty.
He had a fiancé with a baby. He intended to return to her to make some kind of life, but he had few resources and not much direction. He said he was interested in developing his ability to be a parent, and he wanted to work on his career.
A month or so later, he got out and went to live with his girlfriend and the baby at his future mother-in-law’s. Much of his first six months were spent trying to figure out how to get going again given his impoverished situation. FOCUS helped him sort through the welter of social agencies so that he could do things like a career assessment program at Boulder County Workforce. It also encouraged him to start attending the alcohol rehabilitation meetings required by his parole and to work with the Mental Health Department to get a psychiatric assessment in case he needed a prescription for what had been a past diagnosis of bi-polar imbalance. FOCUS found an agency that would provide indigent people with glasses, which he needed because his eyes were hurting, and so on.
Of course, there were lots of glitches and delays. Marty had a tendency to not always follow through on things, and his mentor spent a lot of time in their meetings encouraging him to do this or that, listening to what the obstacles were, taking them back to FOCUS for further information or help. It was slow, but after a few months Marty had pieced together a life that could at least pay some rent to his girlfriend’s mother, put food on the table, pay a psychotherapist, get some much needed reading glasses, and really start to look for work.
Marty and his mentor had many discussions on what he might do for a career. One possibility was to go back to school. A very useful program for struggling families in Boulder is called Family Self-Sufficiency. It gives them low-rent housing, child care, and other kinds of support while a low-income parent goes to school to improve the family’s prospects. FOCUS successfully helped Marty fill out the paper work and went with him and his girlfriend to meet with the representatives of FSS. FSS accepted them, but he was low on their list, and it would be a whole year before he could actually enter the program.
Meanwhile, he was looking for a job. He fell into that classic gap where if you start to make some money, you might lose your various sources of social service funding, but unless the job is making good money, you may end up even poorer. He fell into some level of despondence, unable to deal with his debt, struggling to get to his rehab meetings without a car, getting no calls for interviews, still unable to move his family into their own home. He seemed to suffer from a certain amount of depression and inertia.
His mentor continued to support and encourage him, and eventually, after eight months of effort, he finally got a workable phone sales position, and then not too long after that, an even better job.
At this point, things really started to change for him. By the summer of 2008 he had moved into his own place and gotten married to his girlfriend. His mentor attended their wedding. A month or so later, he had completed his required weekly alcohol meetings and was able to get his driver’s license back. His company had moved to Aurora, two hours away on the bus, so getting the driver’s license allowed him a less exhausting life and more time with his family. He was starting to make better money, a real middle-class wage, and moved his family to a condo in Aurora to be close to work. Around this time FSS finally came available, but he was already well-along into his new life.
Recently his mentor met with him for the FOCUS soft-ending (you’re doing well, call me if I can be of help, I’ll call you in a couple of months.) According to his mentor, Marty was doing well, having created a stable life and not drinking to excess. He now had a decent middle class job, he was married, living with his family in their own place. He had saved money and was talking about buying the condo or a house, and being able to pay off his debt. He was entirely off social services.
Marty’s mentor said, “While the lion’s share of the credit goes to Marty’s own sense of effort and responsibility, FOCUS was able provide him with the kind of support that helped him make the transition, especially in that first 6-8 months after he left jail, penniless and trying to put the pieces back together. It particularly helped him to use social services, which can be hard to sort out and frustrating to negotiate, but in the end, he used them in an ideal way – to help himself get on his feet and on with his life. My presence gave him a reference point for keeping his life going forward, an ear for his problems, and someone to discuss his decisions and potential with. I’m proud of what we were able to do for him, and for what he was able to accomplish, turning his life completely around.”