The first time Carol Bell heard of Amicus was in 2008–it was on the first day of her incarceration at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Shakopee. One of the sheets handed out at “prison orientation” included a brief description of Amicus’ One to One program; all it took was for her to read that short background, and Carol immediately knew that the One to One program was something she wanted to be involved with. Carol took all the necessary steps to apply for the program and in June of 2008, she was matched with her One to One friend.
It is 2011 now. Carol has been out of prison for over two years. She and her Amicus friend are as close as ever. Life is getting back on track.
What follows is a brief look at Carol’s past as well as, of course, an exciting update about where she is now and where she is planning to go! Carol’s story, as much as any of our clients’, proves that the potential for genuine change exists in all of us–no matter what mistakes we’ve made in the past.
Carol Bell had achieved the middle-class American dream. She was certified as a public health nurse and owned her own Home Health Care agency. She and her husband also co-owned a chiropractic practice. She had four daughters who attended prestigious schools and were on their way to successful careers.
Things began to change after a major car accident in the late 1990s. Over the course of a long rehabilitation, Carol turned to alcohol and drug use and entered a period of six years on a roller coaster littered with multiple DWIs, stints in treatment, brief times of recovery, relapses, jail sentences and sorrow.
“I was financially wiped out and it was literally because of my poor choices,” she said.
After her last felony DWI, Carol was sentenced to time in Shakopee Correctional Facility and in January of 2008, she began her incarceration.
“You feel so disconnected when you go to prison. You don’t hear from people–even those closest to you–even my own church. There’s that desperation to connect. I got an interview with Amicus and I just bawled the whole time. To be able to talk and not be judged!”
Afer her interview, Carol was matched with an amazing One to One volunteer; Laurel.
“On first meeting Laurel, I was worried that she might think less of me. I worried that she’d be judging me. There was none of that. We could talk like we were equals and eventually I was able to trust her.”
When Carol’s sentence was transferred five hours away to a more intensive “boot camp” program in Northern Minnesota (called Challenge Incarceration Program or CIP and considered a privilege for inmates at Shakopee), visits were more difficult but Laurel faithfully sent a card every day.
“The other women knew that if no one got mail, at least I would. It gave me hope that when I got out, there was somebody there for me.”
And Laurel was there for Carol when she graduated boot camp and was placed on Intensive Supervised Release in the community. Even with the help and support of Laurel and other friends and family members, Carol is the first to admit that re-entry is not easy.
“It’s a lot of work. But you learn to put the task in front of you and to do what you need to do to get it done. And then move on to the next task!”
It has been over two years since Carol has been back in the community and she is still putting tasks in front of her and getting them done. Though she’d say her tasks are still many, we are amazed at how much she has accomplished in the past couple of years: Carol has worked to get her Nurse’s License reinstated, she is mending important relationships with family, she counts herself as a homeowner, a college student, a gainfully employed citizen and, amongst many other things, someone who is “just so happy to be alive!”
Carol says that the most rewarding thing about her re-entry journey has been truly getting to know herself.
“Being able to know who I am–that I am actually capable of pushing through and being OK, recognizing that I have a tremendous amount of strength, no matter what is against me. That’s huge.”
These days, it often seems like Carol does more for Amicus than the agency has ever done for her; upon her release from CIP, Carol immediately began volunteering at our front desk–answering phones and greeting clients. Though she is too busy with work and school these days to keep up a regular volunteering schedule at Amicus, she is always helping out when Amicus needs her–sharing her story at events, doing interviews like this, and singing the agency’s praises wherever and whenever she can.
When asked what Amicus has meant to her during her reentry journey, Carol says, “You guys are always there for me. Initially you helped me navigate the details like housing, transportation, food; but the biggest thing is I always feel ‘just like anybody else’ when I’m at Amicus. There is no judgement and people take you for who you are, not what you’ve done.”
She adds, with emotion, “Because of Amicus, I have the best friend in the universe; Laurel.”
Amicus is so happy to have been able to introduce these two best friends. As staff, we are lucky to count both Carol and Laurel as Amicus advocates and supporters. We are proud of Carol and all that she has accomplished and all of the good that we know she will continue to do in this world.
Thank you, Carol, for your generosity, your humility, and for your wisdom. We have to say that you are not just like anybody else, but so much more than that. You are truly an inspiration to us all.
- Reconnect: Serving the Growing Need (insidechange.wordpress.com)
- Finding a Friend Who Cares – Pam, Ellen and Amicus One to One (insidechange.wordpress.com)
- Friendship, Caring, Respect and Transformation: Amicus President Louise Wolfgramm (insidechange.wordpress.com)
- We All Know Someone…Supporting Those We Love Who Are Incarcerated (insidechange.wordpress.com)