MY L.A. CADA/CCTRP STORY BY: ELIZABETH “LEESA”
I thought my life was over September 26, 2010. That was the day I was sentenced to a 15 year, 4-month prison sentence. I was guilty of all the charges against me and deserved the time that I was given. I thought that prison life meant that I had to be a fighter who took crap from no one and that I would spend everyday maintaining a reputation that would keep me at the top of the pecking order of inmates. In 2012, I gave up striving to maintain any type of “rep” and made a choice to bloom where I was planted. I decided to work a program of recovery and surrender my life over to God. That one decision changed my life. I took ownership of my community and helped women recover to go home to be better moms, daughters, sisters and aunts. For 5 years, I attended recovery groups as a leader and facilitator and I was growing into a woman that I was proud of being every day. In 2018, I was transferred from CCWF, a place I made my home to CIW where I would attend fire camp training.
In July 2019, following a year of service in fire camp I arrived at CCTRP. For the last six months of my sentence, I would have a great opportunity to transition back into society in a therapeutic environment with the support of amazing staff. I knew that the 10 years of incarceration had caused me to have a few quirks in my way of living. What helped me make it through “prison life” would not serve me in the life that awaited me in the “free world”.
The moment that I stepped off the van and walked through the doors, the remnants of prison life were being stripped away. I was greeted by my first name. That simple thing may see insignificant to most but to me hearing my name by authority figures was a shock and took some time to get used to. I gave up my prison muumuu for brand new clothing and undergarments in colors that are not grey or blue. While being orientated by Mr. Reese, our counselor, the kitchen staff served a wonderfully prepared breakfast unlike any I have had in all my years of being locked up. The first few hours on grounds at L.A. CADA were so emotional because it was the first time in a very long time that I felt human again. I’m no longer a number, no longer a last name. I am a person who matters and deserves a chance at a happy and successful life beyond incarceration.
During six months in the community, staff would handhold me through the process of regaining a jump start on living. With staff support I would go to the DMV, and get my California ID. Facing my fears of being in crowds outside of prison was nerve racking but having the staff there with me made me feel safe. Each time I went out into the outside world I gained more confidence and trust in myself that I knew exactly how to live outside of the “walls”. The staff believed in me, and then I believed in myself.
No greater opportunity has been afforded me prior to my parole then the chance to apply for a 4-year university. While at CCTRP, the education advisor, Ms. Lauren assisted me in applying for Project Rebound. This organization helped me apply to Cal State University, Fullerton and also apply for financial aid. They made sense of a confusing process and now my dreams of being a college graduate are now realized.
Job readiness, self-help and recovery groups, and one-on-one clinical care steadied me on a path of success. On January 26, 2020 my years of incarceration were over. I was set free to apply all of the life-skills and coping mechanisms that packed my tool kit to everyday life. It has been fifteen months since my parole, I have been attending Cal State Fullerton and am now on the Dean’s List as a Human Services major. I am a treatment technician in a privately-owned drug and alcohol program named “Hotel California By the Sea” in Huntington Beach. I live on my own; I bought my own car, and pay my own bills. I am grateful for my sobriety and live life on life’s terms. Navigating through life is not easy; there is so much out here vying for your attention. Thanks to my time at CCTRP, I was not just thrown out to the wolves. Instead, I was given the chance to take on the big world, one small step at a time. I know that my time in L.A. CADA was the greatest gift that I could have been blessed with and I pray that I will one day be able to work there as a clinician after I graduate and give back all that I was given.