"Now I feel so much lighter": Osborne Participant Shares Her Story of Coming Home from Rikers

04 December 2017

A participant in our Elder Reentry Initiative (ERI) recently shared her experience meeting Osborne while incarcerated on Rikers Island and coming home to support. She asked we only use her initials for this story. 

FA: So tell us about your journey to Osborne and how you found out about the Elder Reentry Initiative.

AV: I met Osborne while I was incarcerated on Rikers Island. I was doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have done, and I ended up on Rikers. I was there for about 13-14 months. Osborne staff introduced me to a program that was for the elderly. I am 51 years old, I’ll be 52 in a couple days. You all were facilitating group sessions where I could talk about anything I wanted to talk about, and you offered me feedback and support in preparing to go home. Every Wednesday I looked forward to you coming. You would sit there with me for an hour and you never rushed me out. You just were there for me, whatever I needed. It’s so important to have people like that, especially at my age. It practically saved me. Before Osborne I was really depressed, and I wouldn’t trust anyone. I was a hermit. I didn’t talk to anyone. But Osborne helped me with that and now I feel so much lighter. I don’t have a problem telling people how I feel. And I’m able to trust more.

"Now I feel so much lighter."

FA: Just doing this interview is such an amazing show of growth for you. When I asked you about doing it, you were so willing to share. I see such amazing transformation in you.

AV: Before I was so ashamed of who I was and what I was doing. I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel I’m less than anyone else. I feel like I was rescued because I met people at Osborne. Having a structure helps me feel accountable. I’m doing really well. I’m going through an outpatient program, and I feel so much better about myself right now.

FA: I think we all need people to hold us accountable. Do you think the program provided support for you to grow as you have?

AV: I’ve been to a lot of groups and I have never opened up the way I did at Osborne. You being consistent, showing you cared and that I did matter had such a huge impact on me. The day I was coming home from Rikers, you all came and picked me up and made sure I made it safely home. That was a miracle. I had nothing when I came out of Rikers Island. In my first 24 hours out of Rikers, Osborne was there to pick me up, gave me a home, a place to go eat and talk to someone, and a way to communicate with my family. That made such a huge difference in my life and where I am at now. Those first 24 hours are so important. You come out really scared. But I felt safe knowing there was someone waiting for me and that I would get home safely.

"In my first 24 hours out of Rikers, Osborne was there to pick me up, gave me a home, a place to go eat and talk to someone, and a way to communicate with my family."

FA: You always have a home here. Can you give any advice or thoughts on how communities can be more receptive to people coming home?

AV: Osborne offered me everything I needed to be successful coming home. No matter how hard it gets for me, I know there is someone there for me. You even offered to go to the dentist with me. I don’t even know how to say how grateful I am to have this organization behind me that didn’t know me but put their trust in me and believed in me. I’m a chronic relapser, and to still be sober at six months–because someone showed me it was possible and there is a way out–is huge for me.

FA: It takes a lot of bravery to step out of your comfort zone and you have really done that. Do you have advice for other people going through what you are?

AV: Trusting someone makes a world of a difference. Also, don’t take the easy way out. All my life I’ve done the same thing and expected different results. But I know that’s a lie. Change is hard. Change is a responsibility. I might not be where I want to be, but I’m definitely not where I used to be. I’m a lot happier. Most important lesson I have learned is to say what I feel and be able to express my emotions. I used to always put my feelings on the backburner and it destroyed me. Now I can express what I need and want. Just now, at age 52, I’m learning that I have my own voice.

"I’m learning that I have my own voice."

FA: All these stories are highlighting how you are loving and protecting yourself first. You are prioritizing yourself.

AV: I had no priorities before. I put everyone else before me, even if it hurt me or wasn’t good for me. I was a follower. Now I let myself be guided by how I feel and speak up when I feel uncomfortable. If I’m not doing good, good things are not going to come.

FA: It’s been so wonderful to work with you, and I always look forward to working with and seeing you more. All these insights you shared came from you, I have just been a sounding board. You’re making these choices, attending these groups, and doing this amazing work. I’m so happy to support you and I’m so proud of you.

AV: Thank you, that means so much to me.