A mug shot

I never know when these columns will run since the space is shared by several people. So, by the time you read this one, House of Hope will probably be in operation. But in mid-January, before the house was open, the need was obvious and its power was already helping people. It was about 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning when a workbee was about to begin.

House of Hope director Dianne Sherman was in the living room of her suite in the house and she had a visitor. I checked in to let her know the workbee noise was about to begin. She introduced me to “Susie” (not her real name). Susie had literally just been released from jail, just minutes before we met. It was cold and rainy and Susie had walked from the jail straight to House of Hope. Dianne had been running a faith-based recovery and support group in the jail so Susie knew her and knew Dianne would help.

Susie had been in jail since July of the previous year. When she was jailed, all she had was the clothes on her back; a t-shirt, a light-weight shirt, cut-offs and rubber flip-flops. When she got out, that’s what she wore on her walk to House of Hope on that cold, rainy morning.

By that time, lots of things had been donated to House of Hope: furniture, housewares, supplies, clothing. Dianne directed her to the “closet” and she found an outfit more suitable for the weather. You might wonder where her “stuff” was. Well, it’s pretty typical for someone in jail to lose everything. Rent isn’t paid so apartments are lost and the contents dumped. Former roommates use, sell, or give away things. People who know that someone is jailed will steal anything and everything.

House of Hope is about starting from the basics and what’s more basic than a simple change of clothes?

Then something even more telling happened. Susie was thrilled when Dianne said she could make a pot of coffee. So was I and others at the workbee. But what we took for granted was something quite different for Susie. She fired up the coffee maker then started looking for a coffee cup. She opened a cabinet filled with glasses, cups, and mugs and just stood there staring at them. She must have picked up 6 or 8 different cups, giving each a thorough inspection.

“Can’t decide on which one to use?” I asked. She was still just staring at all the options. She replied: “When you get out of jail, you can’t do anything.”

Wow. Such is the fragile state of people after six months or so, especially those with unstable lives before incarceration.

It’s tempting to say that the punishment part of the justice system just teaches people a lesson or beats people into submission. But people who work with these folks, like the House of Hope group, also know that that system wipes the slate clean. People who “can’t do anything” can start over learning to do things in better ways with new ideas, a new support system, a warm shirt, and maybe a favorite coffee mug.

Gary Lester directs Leadership Warren and is a counselor with Family Services of Warren County. “Like” its page on Facebook for great tips about happy and healthy living.