By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
ReMerge of Oklahoma County is a comprehensive female diversion program designed to transform pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration into productive citizens while improving the lives of their children and strengthening the family bond.
Once facing prison time themselves, ten Oklahoma women have turned their lives around and graduated from this successful program. Held at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City on July 23, the event was ReMerge’s seventh graduation ceremony.
Since its inception, ReMerge has received full support from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office and has had the opportunity of working with David Prater to dismiss the felony charges that ReMerge participants once faced.
During this year’s ceremony Prater gave the keynote address and delivered the dismissals to the graduates.
Terri Woodland, ReMerge Executive Director said, “These 10 mothers have worked so hard to graduate from Remerge! So this is a celebration for them, their children, their support systems and their families. We are so proud of all they have accomplished!”
This recent group of graduates once faced a combined minimum of 124 years of incarceration including 4 life sentences. According to the organization, this could have cost the state of Oklahoma $2.3 million dollars at a minimum.
Entering the program are mothers who struggle with trauma and addiction and who face nonviolent charges, which are often a result of growing up in families with unmet mental health and substance abuse needs.
Understanding the special needs of women who abuse substances and/or engage in illegal activities, the program is designed to remove some of the barriers these women face to improve the chances of long term recovery and success.
To date, there have been 47 women graduated from the program.
In addition to the DA’s office, ReMerge is a public/private partnership that works closely with the Public Defender’s offices, Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and a group of other nonprofits in the community to assist women who are facing nonviolent felony convictions.
“ReMerge has taught me how to deal with issues in a proactive way and has given me a new skillset,” said Lauren, a ReMerge graduate. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to express your feelings; they don’t make you weak. One of the most important things I’m taking away from the program is that it’s never too late to change no matter what you’ve done in your past. You can have a better future and you deserve it. I can say I’m truly happy today and I don’t need drugs to rule my life anymore.”
Participants may enter the program at any time, which has been divided into four phases. Each phase lasts a minimum of 90 days depending upon the needs and progress of the individual client.
A treatment plan is developed for each participant to individualize treatment and address each family, education and employment need.
Anna, another ReMerge graduate stated, “ReMerge has showed me how to communicate and reach out for help when in need, to take other people and feelings into consideration, how to listen to others and how to express myself in a calm manner to get my point across. I love the woman I am, because I fought to become her.”
Program funders include The Rees Family Foundation, Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, Anschutz Foundation, David and Mary Anderson Family Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Tricia Everest and other private donors.
Several other nonprofits provide space and in-kind services for ReMerge, including United Way of Central Oklahoma, NorthCare, and Salvation Army.
“In the time I have been in this program I have earned so much about my trauma, sobriety, how to be a sober mother, how to be responsible and hold a job, and how to do things that any ‘normal’ person would know how to do,” said Sheri, a ReMerge graduate.
“My life has changed in ways I never could have imagined,” Sheri continued. “I have pushed myself and overcome things I never could have dreamed of. I have been clean for 3 years now and plan on making it a lifetime.”
For more information about ReMerge, visit www.remergeok.org.