Kerri Beattie knows firsthand the challenges that parolees face when they're released from prison. She once was a parolee. Now, she helps new parolees recreate their lives through the Work and Gain Employment and Education Skills program at the Pinyon Project in Montezuma County. A sister program soon will be offered through Manna Soup Kitchen in La Plata County. Sponsored by Express Employment Professionals and Whole Health Family Medicine Clinic.
Montezuma County resident, Kerri Beattie knows firsthand the uncertainty and fear parolees feel when they're released from prison. Now she's using her experience as a felon to help parolees reintegrate into their community. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Express Employment Professionals and Whole Health Family medicine. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. Kerri Beattie isn't shy about her past. She struggled with drug addiction for six years before hitting rock bottom. When she was arrested and convicted in 2017 for possession of methamphetamines, fentanyl, and attempted grand larceny. After spending 18 months in the state penitentiary, she was released on parole back to Montezuma County, and she knows it can be one of the scariest days in a felons life.
When you first get out of prison, if you don't have a family member to go to, where are you going to go? You come out homeless. You come out with no clothes. You come out with no car. Most of the time you come out without a driver's license. You come out with no food. You come out with nothing and nowhere to go and it feels very hopeless and scary. And that's one thing that Wagees is able to provide. Whenever I was specifically in the program, I was fortunate enough to have a super supportive family and they swooped right in and gave me a chance to be me again. And so I was able to come home and have a home and I was able to have a few pairs of clothes that my mother had purchased. So I was fortunate.
Beattie also discovered the Wagees Program. Wagees is the acronym for Work And Gain Employment And Education Skills. A Colorado Department of Corrections Program administered through the Latino Coalition of Colorado. The pinion project in Cortez manages the program in Montezuma and Delores Counties. The pinion project also served parolees in La Plata county, but Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango recently took on the job when it received a $210,000 grant from the department of corrections. Beattie says the Wagees program helped her rebuild her life by helping her set goals and overcome barriers that face many parolees.
We made up some goals and sifted through those goals and I was like, "Well, this is something that I can't do anymore now that I have felonies. So what are we going to do?" "How is this going to look?" "What does life look like?" "Are we taking care of everything?" "Did I go to the doctor? Am I paying my phone bill?" "How am I going to pay my phone bill?" "What is the relationship with my kids look like?" Lining all those kinds of things out. And then whenever it came down to it, my kids were ready to come back home with me and I didn't have a house for us. Wagees swooped right in and said, "Oh, time to get kids back? We'll do whatever we can." They paid two months of my rent plus my deposit. And... Just supported me through that. Supported me in that process. Supported me in my recovery meetings.
Shortly after graduating from the program. Beattie who has two bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Psychology was urged to apply for a new opening as a Wagees case manager. The role is one she relishes because she knows how beneficial the program was for her.
The Goal is to assist felons who are out on parole, to break down any barriers that they're going to have to succeeding in their parole and then succeeding in their future investments in their lives.
Beattie is one of two Wagees case managers at the pinion project and they serve an average of 60 parolees at any one time. The program not only helps felons reconnect with their families, friends, and community. It significantly reduces their recidivism rate. Fewer than 10% of parolees in the Wagees program wind back in prison. For Beattie, the thought of returning to a life behind bars is a powerful motivation to stay sober. And she hopes it's the same for her clients.
It was a brutal reality of the life choices I had made and where I was. And in my own head I was like, "How on earth did you get here?" And then it was, "How are you never going to come back?"
To learn more about the Wagees program, visit pinionproject.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.