Joanie has served her debt to society for a crime she committed at a younger age.
Now where does she go? How does she re-acclimate herself to life beyond prison walls and away from the lifestyle that sent her away?
There is hope for her and others like her. Sanctified Hope.
“I was going to Carswell federal prison for eight years with a program called ‘Making Peace With Your Past,’ and as the women would go through the 12 weeks (in the program) they’d say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get out,’” said Janet Duvall, founder and chairwoman of the board of directors for Sanctified Hope, a housing facility just outside of Weatherford for women needing help to re-enter society.
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“It’s hard when you’re a felon and you get out and want to live the right kind of life. You’ve paid your price, now you want to move on with a good life, but you need people to help give you the chance to do that.”
That’s where Sanctified Hope comes in. Duvall started the nonprofit organization in November 2015. They acquired a pair of duplexes on three acres of land with the capacity for 16 women, and welcomed the first resident on Jan 2, 2017.
Since then, 15 women have gone through the housing program that allows them to stay for up to a year. Currently, they are housing nine residents.
Women are not assigned to Sanctified Hope. They choose to come.
“There’s really no place out here like this,” Duvall said. “At least I don’t know of any place that’s within 150 to 200 miles. These ladies are here because they understand to live the kind of life they want, they need some help to make that happen.”
Sharon Hibler, executive director of Sanctified Hope, said one difference between her program and others is their participants aren’t asked to get a job right away. They are allowed three months to collect themselves, get prepared mentally and physically, before having to figure out how to make a living.
During this time, all of their bills are taken care of except for medical, and Hibler said they can use indigent care programs for that. Also, Duvall said some area professionals, such as dentists, have volunteered their services to help.
“We want to focus on their foundation before they go to work,” Hibler said. “If you don’t establish a foundation, that can just be a criminal with a job. Two-thirds of the women released from prison go back in three to five years, and we are here to help reduce that number greatly.”
Amanda, a resident, said, “Sanctified Hope has been my family that I needed away from my actual family that cannot be with me through this time of my life, building a structured foundation with God.”
The program does not accept sex offenders, and most participants come from drug-related backgrounds, Hibler said. She also said if anyone convicted for a violent crime wants to enter the program, “I have to hear the story and then we’ll make a determination.”
Duvall said the goal is for the ladies to leave the program with $2,000 to help them establish themselves outside of Sanctified Hope. In certain situations they can remain an additional six months if something outside of their control has hampered their path to the goal and they are progressing.
Duvall said the community has been good not to judge the women in the program. In fact, they can be seen helping out at various community projects, such as the Stars and Strides special needs equestrian farm (baking goods for their annual golf tournament), and helping at the Center of Hope.
“We want them to give back to the community, to establish themselves as part of the community,” she said.
They work on life skills, planning for the future, and money management. They also work with the Texas Work Force and places such as Weatherford College to help them get jobs and further their education.
“Some of these ladies have never learned how to cook or clean house,” Hibler said.
Deanna, the first graduate from the program, got a welding license, was reunited with her mother, and now lives and works in Mineral Wells. The next graduation is scheduled for Oct. 21, at which time Brandy, 39, and Elizabeth, 45, will exit the program.
Brandy, who was recommended for the program by Parker Sheriff Larry Fowler, according to Duvall, has a job in Weatherford and plans to continue volunteering for the Center of Hope.
Elizabeth will actually go to work for Sanctified Hope, Duvall said, as a live-in house manager. She is also attending Weatherford College, thanks to scholarship funds donated by various organizations. She also volunteers with Center of Hope and Zonta.
“She did it all on her own, too,” Duvall said of the scholarship funds. “She approached people, and they saw the positive in her and wanted to help.”
They’ve even had a mother and daughter seek help at the same time, Duvall said.
Already, because of their early success, expansion plans are in the works. They are looking at adding a men’s program, a poultry program to raise chickens, a serenity garden, and are raising funds for a new 2,280 square-foot building that will include offices, classrooms, an exercise room, and a multi-purpose room.
“I am at a point in my life where I am working on developing my own identity. I have a great mentor and women guiding me toward a Christ-like life,” said Shasta, a resident. “I’m forever grateful for this new life I am building.
“It’s an amazing feeling to discover your self-worth. Sanctified Hope helps with that.”