Woman on the Rise – Nancy

HOPE

When everything’s coming up roses, it’s easy to fall into a mindset of “us and them” with regard to those who have a criminal record.

But as a recent Together We Bake graduate who committed a white-collar crime in a desperate ploy to escape battery at the hand of the common-law father of her children learned, the line between the two sides of the law is often more tenuous than we realize.

“I would probably have been afraid of those people, or felt like they were definitely not like me in any way. I would have thought that they made mistakes and were not smart or had addictions,” says the grad, who requested anonymity and we’ll call Nancy. “But what I found is a lot of women who are incarcerated are victims of a lot of circumstances. Seventy-five percent of them are there because of bad relationships with men. I fell into that pattern myself.”

In short order, Nancy went from being a highly regarded member of her community to near isolation. She lost her job after she was arrested. She lost her house because she needed the money to fund her defense. And she lost the ability to care for her children when she was sent out of state to serve her two-year prison term. But she gained a perspective in spades, and has emerged with stronger resolve and even more empathy.

“Domestic violence led to a lot of my bad decision-making. I was desperately trying to find a way away from this person, and it’s hard to understand – but every day is good when you’re not in that situation,” she says. “No one understands battered women’s syndrome, even my own family didn’t understand it. For a long time I blamed myself, and it took a lot of therapy to understand what’s behind it.”

In prison, “I met people from all walks of life, some of them were very inspirational—nurses and judges and lawyers, a very well-known author,” she says of her time in prison. “It was very difficult—the sadness and shame, having lost everything and not knowing how I was going to survive afterward. I was in a camp because I had a nonviolent first-time type of thing, so that I was very grateful for. It helped me appreciate the small things in life.”

Nancy was released to a halfway house in DC, where a flash of serendipity brought her to Together We Bake. She was on her way to her next phase of housing, home confinement, when she got a call that she needed to return to sign yet another round of paperwork. Upon returning, she found a fresh pile of TWB fliers, dropped off right after she left.

“I was nervous and anxious when I went back, and when saw papers from TWB I felt like, This is a sign. I’m a big believer in things happen for a reason. I would have missed it otherwise. I always enjoyed baking and I liked the program’s mission and goals. That Friday I came in for interview, and they told me I was accepted. It made me so happy. It was the first goal I’d achieved post prison. Someone accepted me and was willing to help me.”

At Together We Bake, Nancy found the camaraderie she’d been missing for the past several years. “I like the fellowship. Most of us just want to be considered human beings again and to know people care. We don’t want to go back into that lifestyle, but you get so beaten down when you’re in the prison system that you feel like you’re never going to make it in the real world again. It’s nice to have people who believed in us, supported us and are kind.”

The program “was very well organized and I was inspired by how strong the feeling of community we had. We all bonded together and it felt like we were part of a family. We all supported each other, we worked together as a team. It was a safe environment,” she says.

“Eventually I want to go back to doing what I was doing [but] most of all I wanted to get into the workforce and be active, to take some action and continue to support myself and my children. I’m feeling much better now. I’m starting to feel like my old self.”                                                                

— Cathy Applefeld Olson

Due to the nature of this story, we used a pseudonym and she chose to not have her photo used.