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.

Mr. P is a well-educated man who formerly worked on Capitol Hill. Through a series of life events, such as divorce and being laid off, he found himself arrested for breaking into the basement of the apartment building where he used to live. Mr. P had been homeless for about six months. There was a forecast for heavy snow and he was trying to stay warm. He had never been homeless before and didn’t know how to access services. By the time he came to OAR, he needed assistance with housing, employment, and clothing. OAR referred him to RPC, a transitional shelter, where he lived for six months. Mr. P attended OAR’s employment program to draft a resume and send out job applications. OAR also gave him clothing.

Through his efforts in OAR’s employment program, Mr. P landed a good job in sales and even used OAR’s office space to complete the two-week job orientation. He is currently living in a six month residential program while he saves for an apartment. He went back to court, where the judge dropped the trespassing charge in light of his stable employment and housing. When Mr. P first came to OAR, he was shut down, like a shell of his former self. OAR has given him hope and a second chance at life.

I attended OAR Reentry program’s Supper Club on December 19th. The evening was warm and jovial as our community “broke bread” together. We have Supper Club’s once a month and it always proves to be an amazing evening with interesting and dynamic people. We usually have a theme, one month it might be Halloween Karaoke another watching and discussing a film, another having a game night. This month we watched clips of motivational speakers and spoken word artists and then did a vision exercise about our goals for the next 30 days together. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a client I will call Michael. I thought I knew some of Michael’s history. I knew he was living in a shelter near by and had been recently released from the detention center after serving time for trespassing and shoplifting. I knew he had spent the year prior to his incarceration in an alcoholic haze living under a bridge. His public defender who had taken a strong interest in his case told his story as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. “Lost Boys” was a name given to the group of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005), about 2.5 million killed and millions were displaced. The name “Lost Boys of Sudan” was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa.

At the Supper Club that night were asked to list a few things we want to add and a few things we want to subtract in our lives. Michael worked diligently on his list giving a sentence or two for each item on the list and when the facilitator asked us to share his was one of the first hands to go up. I was amazed by how humble and filled with hope his answers were. He is living in an emergency shelter where he has to leave by 8 a.m. each morning with everything he owns in life to carry through out the day on his back. Yet, he was excited about the idea of being able to work which he desperately wanted to do and knew he could only accomplish as long as alcohol was not something he used to forget the horrifying traumas he had experienced. I also learned that night that he had the most beautiful singing voice in his native tongue. I was touched that after the video clips some would share their thoughts and others would pass but Michael would struggle in English to say that he didn’t understand the clip due to language issues but thanked us for sharing it. I learned so many things about Michael that night, so many talents, so many strengths and such resiliency. One of the speakers talked about a quote “there are those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know,” Before I sat and spent time with Michael on Monday night, I thought I knew.

By Katy Steinbruck, OAR’s Director of Reentry Services

My name is Michael. I am 22 years old and live in Arlington. Growing up, my relationship with my family was not very good. In the fourth grade I started to hang out with the wrong crowd. I smoked my first cigarette and from there it kept getting worse. As a juvenile, I was arrested about seven times. It got to a point where my mom didn’t know who I was anymore. I did not care about school and all I wanted to do was get high. In total, I served time for about five years. However, this last time was very different because I gained so much, and the most precious thing was learning about OAR. Gaining this information in jail, I set up an appointment with an OAR case manager upon my release. Since that visit, everything has changed a lot for me. I did not want to keep living my life the way I was. I needed support and that’s what I have been getting at OAR. They have helped me with job links, employment, and encouragement. They gave me a mentoring team and also a great tutor. I have been out for over a year now. The relationship with my family has improved a lot. I am currently working part time and attending Northern Virginia Community College, and I could have not done this by myself. OAR has encouraged me to go back to school and kept my motivation to continue working. I am also thankful for the scholarships they have provided me with. Experiencing all this makes me want to become a counselor for young kids, so I can help them not follow the same road I once did. I want to thank OAR for all the help they have given me.

OAR was the first place that Sam turned to when looking for a job and he was very determined to find gainful employment. Living in a shelter with limited resources and a felony charge it was going to be a struggle, but Sam had a very positive and determined attitude. He possessed all the skills necessary for a maintenance position. For two and a half months we had been unsuccessful. He had put in numerous applications and had been on three interviews. OAR had helped Sam obtain his ID and provided him with new clothes for his interviews, numerous job leads, and transportation, Sam continued to put forth a great effort by meeting with employers and going to employment centers on a regular basis with no luck.

Sam came to us very down and looked like he was ready to give up. We did our best to raise his spirits with a pep-talk about how persistence pays off and that he was sure to get a break soon. Sam left the office still feeling defeated, but he promised that he would keep at it. The following week we received a phone call from Sam letting us know that he found a job with an Alexandria Hotel where he had applied when he first began his search. When we asked Sam why the manager had changed his mind, he told us that the manager had observed him getting off the metro every day looking for a job, and he was impressed with his persistence. Sam is ecstatic about his new job and not only does he have a job, but he has a job he can turn into a career.