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Program helps women transition out of prison system

Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 13:27:36-05

PHOENIX — When it comes to being a proud mom, look no further than Kathy Martinez.

"I have not missed a birthday, I have not missed any holiday. I am there for anything," explains Martinez.

But it wasn't always like that.

Martinez says she struggled with her duties as a mom at the same time she struggled with staying sober.

"When I was in my addiction, I was losing my babies one by the one the deeper I got into my addiction."

Martinez says as her addiction got more and more out of control, so did her life. In her twenties, Martinez's drug use landed her behind bars.

Nick: When you were in jail did, you feel like there were moments where you felt helpless and that you'd never change?

Martinez: Yes. And the first two times it was proven because I got out and went right back to what I was doing.

Martinez goes on to explain she was tired of living a life always on the run.

"I was done. I was done running. I was done trying to live that life that wasn't good for me. I was tired of pleasing everybody else. Leaving myself, not realizing that I love myself because back then I didn't."

That inner turmoil was sparked by the death of her mom, leading to a life of drug use. One part of Martinez knew she had to change, but there was another, more conflicted side that didn't know how to stop.

It would take two more arrests to finally realize she had to turn her life around. With her most recent arrest in September 2019, Martinez says this one was fate. She had matched a description of someone else and got picked up by police. She says if blessings in disguise actually exist, this was one of them.

"I was in a black mini skirt, a strapless cheetah print top, high heels on a 20-inch bike. How did I fit the description? I know that was God and I looked at the officer and I didn't fight. I just said, 'Look, I am wanted for a probation violation, and I have drugs in my backpack,' and he just looked at me and said, 'You're just gonna give it up like that?' And I said I'm tired. And when I was in the back of the cop car, I thanked him for saving my life."

Fast forward to November 2020 -- Martinez is about to be released from prison for the third time, but this time, she isn't doing it alone.

"We really are committed to helping women manage life after prison," explains Alison Rapping, CEO of the non-profit Arouet, whose mission is to give women in the justice system a support system as they transition out of prison.

"Women coming out of the justice system had to do everything. They had to get their children back, they had to find employment, they had to find housing, they had to rebuild their lives but there were very few resources to help them."

But Arouet is changing that.

"We pick women up at the gate. We bring them hygiene, we bring them clothes, we take them to parole, we take them to healthcare appointments. We do financial coaching, income support, and employment coaching. We do job placement, we help women find jobs."

Since Arouet was founded in 2011, the organization has helped more than 1,600 women, mostly in Arizona, transition out of the justice system. According to Arouet, nationally, roughly 40% of people in the criminal justice system will return to prison. But Arouet says their rate is much lower, at just three percent.

Alison says it's proof that even a little bit of help makes a big difference.

"With support, with community help, you can make it."

To volunteer or donate, head to Arouet's website.