Helping Women Enter the Recovery-to-Work Ecosystem in Appalachian Tennessee

Across Appalachia, developing a ready workforce must include helping workers re-enter and retain employment. Since 2017, the staff at the Helen Ross McNabb Center in Morristown, Tennessee, has been doing just that. The McNabb Center’s Jail to Work program gives women serving in county jails on drug offenses the opportunity to participate in substance abuse and mental health treatment, along with job and life skills training.

The Jail to Work program takes women serving sentences on drug offenses out of jail and puts them in a support group where they receive counseling, help finding work, and a new lease on life. As participants transition to sober living, they’re provided with a safe, drug-free living environment and access to numerous support services. In addition to substance abuse and mental health counseling, support service opportunities include spiritual growth, anger management, parenting, interpersonal communication, and heath/fitness instruction. “Thanks to this program, I have completed my parenting plan and will be able to be in my son’s life again,” said Brandi C. a participant in the Jail to Work program.

Staff at the McNabb Center believe that when provided with services to assist with mental health, substance abuse, as well as various re-entry skills, and employment placement, offenders will have improved opportunity to gain and maintain employment, remain sober, and continue contributing to their communities.

Eight women enter this 12-week program at a time. During the first two weeks of participation, they receive intake and assessment services and other support services based on their need. Participants receive assistance in obtaining identification documents such as social security cards, birth certificates, and valid IDs that are required for employment. Substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, and other job and life skills are also available during this time. Six weeks into the program, participants are encouraged to find a job.

“First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for allowing me the opportunity to come into the Jail to Work Program. This program has totally changed my life. I am sober for the first time in my adult life, paying my fines and maintaining a job. I have received 13 certificates while in the program. I have been sober for seven months… If you hadn’t sent me to this program, I know I wouldn’t have changed… I wake up every morning happy to not be the person I was a year ago,” said Brandi C.

Including Brandi, there have been a total of twenty-six graduates in the Jail to Work program, all of which have received full time employment prior to graduation. With programs like the McNabb Center’s Jail to Work program, individuals can not only find the support they need to enter the recovery to work ecosystem, but also keep their employment, maintain sobriety, and become happy and fulfilled individuals.