Dana’s Story, In His Own Words
Dana shared this story at an OAR event in May 2017,
and with his permission, we would like to share it with you…
Good Afternoon. My name is Dana. I was asked to speak to you today and tell a story. It’s a story replete with shame, blame and guilt. A story still searching for a happy ending or at the very least, a positive turn and the beginning of hope once again. That story is my story. But I am not going to do that, at least not as the focus.
You see, there is a much bigger story that needs to be told. A story of selflessness, determination, care and kindness. A story about a group of people who can only be described as heroes. I know a little something about heroes, as I am a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. The title of this story is OAR.
As I tell you a little about me, where I’ve been and what brought me to this place here and now, please remember it is not me or my story that you should focus on, but as a description of how little Ms. Elizabeth, Ms. Katy, Ms. Heather and all the rest of the team at OAR had to work with. After I am finished today, I hope you too will find the definition of hero to be spelled OAR.
I am 59 years old. I was born in Baltimore. My father was a diplomat with the State Department so I traveled a lot growing up. We always came back to this area between travels, so I consider this area to be my home.
I am a disabled veteran or the U.S. Air Force. In my early 20s, I was married and had a beautiful child. I have been battling PTSD and depression for a very long time now, and I have a lot of health issues. At the age of 32, I had my first interaction with the criminal justice system. My crimes were all white collar. Nevertheless, they were crimes of need, or at least I thought so at the time. I would write a check for whatever my needs were.
My most recent incarceration was a six year sentence. I spent three and a half years right here in the Arlington County Detention Facility, and the rest at Coffewood Correctional Center in Culpeper, Virginia. I was released 92 days ago.
I first encountered OAR at Coffeewood. As I look back now, it was one of my best days. Two OAR staff members came to meet with me and spent about two hours with me. I had a lot of fear and anxiety around my release. I had no plan, I knew there was nothing and nobody waiting for me when I got out. I didn’t know where I would sleep, where I would eat, how I would get needed medication. Basically I didn’t know how I would survive. When I met with the OAR team, it was really refreshing and I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. They mostly just listened to me during that first meeting. They wanted to know where I was at, what I wanted to do when I got out. They made statements like, “We can help with that” and “How can we help you?” I began trust and believe in them.
After that initial meeting, we communicated almost daily via email for the next six weeks until I was released. Comfort and hope for me was found in each one of those emails.
With my many medical issues, mental and physical, there was a lot of coordination required for my reentry. The OAR team worked with DHS and Probation to figure out a reentry plan. OAR became my only advocate on the outside, pulling everything together for me. There was nothing I could do while I was inside, and the process is very difficult to navigate, but OAR was there by my side the whole way. Never a complaint or brush off. Always encouraging and determined.
After six long years I felt like I had a family on the outside helping me. I am estranged from most of my family, though my 89-year-oldmMother is still my biggest fan like only a mother can be.
The day of my release was a long one. I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was so anxious and yes, scared. After going through all the release paperwork, I was told that the OAR team was waiting for me in the parking lot. Sure enough, two OAR team members were there waiting for me.
They insisted I sit in the front seat. It had been a very long time since I had sat anywhere other than the back, in handcuffs. There was a lot of chatter on the car ride. I was so anxious, afraid of the unknown, that I got sick and had to ask the OAR staff to pull over three separate times. I felt sick for the next couple of hours until we got to the Probation Office. The office was small and confined and that is what I was used to, so I felt better.
After visiting Probation, OAR took me to the grocery store to pick out some food. Don’t get me started on the gourmet prison food I enjoyed for the last six years. They took me to get a cell phone. Like the food, I thought this was a luxury item. As it turns out both food and cell phones are very necessary. You need to communicate with Probation, to coordinate medication, to search for housing, medical appointments, etc.
The OAR team also took me to lunch. What a treat! They also took me to CVS for more necessities. I was faced with so many decisions that day. What kind of groceries do you need? What do you want for lunch? What type of toothbrush do you use? I finally had to ask them to choose for me, it was all so overwhelming and I had learned I could trust them. That was OAR. Finally, that day they dropped me off at a motel room. I stayed at the motel for the next three weeks. Within 30 days, I moved into a new home. I am sharing a house in a very nice neighborhood. I walk amongst these houses and am just amazed to be there. It was OAR that helped me figure out how to navigate finding this house. They did not do it for me, but made it possible and showed me how to do it.
We all heard that story about give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. That is what OAR has done with me. Since the day of my release, every step of the way, OAR was there.
I received an email recently from a man I was incarcerated with, who expressed surprise at how well I was doing. He said bets were taken on how soon I would be back. I told him because of OAR I was not coming back.
I am disappointed that my interaction with OAR will be dwindling soon. There was no one else there for me. OAR has become a comfort blanket and it’s hard to give that up. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. OAR helped my find the forest.
I am still not sure how this story will end. My story is a work in progress.
I’d like to share a quote with you. “Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, what might have been,” by John Greenleaf Whittier. Because of OAR, I don’t have to think about what might have been. I have been given a chance.