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Faith-Based Program Helps Women Make Transition from Prison

The majority of women who spend time in Ohio prisons end up returning. The recidivism rate for female criminals in Ohio is 80 percent. A facility near downtown Columbus is trying to improve that number. It's dedicated to helping female offenders get their lives back on track. WOSU's Marilyn Smith reports. On this day 24 year-old Sara Wilson mops the floor of a long corridor in a six story building near downtown. "Well actually, it was weird because I wanted to complain about it but then the more I was thinking about it I could be mopping the floor in a different environment as prison. So I'm so thankful to be mopping a floor and looking outside while doing it." Wilson's life went off track soon after high school. Bored with life in her rural hometown, she soon found drugs provided an interesting diversion. As her addiction grew she had to find a way to pay for it. "I forged a bunch of checks, seven-thousand dollars worth. So I had grand theft and then forgery and receiving stolen property." She spent eight months in prison and another three months in a prison-based rehab boot camp. When that ended last December she decided to continue treatment at the Divine Mercy Ministry. "And I never really did the faith-based part of it through rehabs before so I thought if I went the spiritual way this time, I might get it right." Mark Fleming directs the Ministry. The program provides housing, addiction counseling and other services aimed at getting Wilson and others back on the right path Fleming says besides spirituality, there is another factor that determines whether she will get it right this time. "If they really aren't ready we can't help em. I say like it's things we do but it's it's their choice to say they're ready and to change their life." Lori Signoracci's troubles began when she was a child. Early on her father abandoned Signoracci, her younger sister and their mother who was incapacitated by illness. "I had to take care of a mother who couldn't bathe herself, couldn't dress herself, couldn't cook, couldn't even get off the toilet so I became a mother at age nine of her and my younger sister which was seven. And then I grew up and I got married to an alcoholic. I became a caretaker once again. " After the birth of her second son Signoracci says she became severely depressed. Her doctor recommended prescription drugs. "I just ended up taking too many and um goin to different doctors and usin a different identity." She was charged with theft and identity theft. Now at the Divine Mercy Ministry, Signoracci wants to turn her life around. She is enrolled at Columbus State and eventually wants to become a drug and alcohol counselor. In addition to the counseling she's receiving at the Ministry, Signoracci is learning job skills. She manages a boutique, gift shop and cafe located on-site. "What I do is I just make sure we have people there to run it and it's cleaned it's stocked and the stock gets rotated. And I do the registers in the evening." Ministry Director Mark Fleming says the shops and cafe are just the beginning. The building also houses a gym, an auditorium and a swimming pool. Eventually, he sees the facility hosting public events and even weddings. "I think that's goin' to be the big thing in this building we cater the events and its goin' provide not only employment for the ladies but funding for us to help acquire the building with what we're trying to do here." Fleming says on average women spend six months to two years in the program before they feel ready to return to society. He adds the women may struggle but they are better off in the long run. "The majority are doing better than they would if they didn't come here. You know, they're still fighten' their battles and some of them won't listen to what we have to all the things that we're tryin' to help em with but um it makes it better and they're you know they're not returning to prison." Asked where she sees herself in 10 years Sara Wilson has a ready answer. "Sober and I guess through school and having the little fairy tale dream like every little girl, married with a little picket fence." Marilyn Smith WOSU News