From Hardship To Healing

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From Hardship To Healing

The Complicated Journey Of Women Incarcerated At Rikers Island

“I’m so tired of the system. Juvenile detention to adult prison … All those years behind bars, but I never got the help I needed.” ― Annie

The “help” for which Annie – and hundreds of women like her – so desperately yearned was treatment for her addiction to alcohol and heroin. Many women also experience depression, anxiety and other types of mental illness. And nearly all have experienced some form of trauma, either as a single or series of events, e.g., death of a child, divorce, job termination, abuse, etc. All of which creates the perfect breeding ground for substance use, homelessness, psychiatric disorders and encounters with the criminal justice system. Incarceration itself can lead to further re-traumatization.

As the former Chief of Addiction Medicine for NYC jails, including the infamous Rikers Island, I had the opportunity to meet women like Annie who found themselves in a situation they neither expected nor asked for. But their stories helped put things into perspective. As a society, we often perceive incarcerated individuals, aka “criminals,” as bad people. “They committed a crime, so they deserve to be punished.”

But I’ve come to learn that life is rarely this simple. What is life but a series of circumstances – births, deaths, graduations, accidents, promotions, suicide? How we respond to these life events varies by individual, and is heavily influenced by genes and environment. And when that environment is an intimidating jail complex where inmates have no freedom, are victims of violence – by fellow inmates or correction officers – and recipients of innumerable other indignities, the pain and anguish can be unbearable. Some of the stories I’ve heard are harrowing.

“I started using at 13. Whole family used,” Georgia remarked, looking me straight in the eye. Gently tugging at her cream-colored Department of Correction-assigned uniform with her left hand while nervously adjusting her disheveled auburn hair with her right, Georgia continued. “I didn’t know how to deal with the pain, so I used. My uncle raped me when I was a kid. I sold my body for money, for drugs. Anything to take the pain away.”

Stories like Georgia’s are heartbreaking but sadly not uncommon at Rikers. The multiple biopsychosocial factors resulting in incarceration are tightly entangled for this invisible and yet growing population of women.


Sean & Libby's Recovery Story

Tom is committed to the CTBR mission to #ENDADDICTION throughout the world and to help all the broken learn how to become free and Live in The Go. He makes it a priority to work with alcoholics one on one whenever possible.

Tom Williams is the CEO of Came to Believe Recovery since 2018. Attending well over 100 retreats made Tom uniquely qualified to lead the movement. While Came to Believe Retreats have been around for decades, this coalition of leaders was essentially a startup, requiring universal branding, training, and materials for all events. Tom is a veteran of the US Army and spent 15 years as a fitness professional. Once RECOVERED, Tom earned an undergraduate degree in business followed by an MBA — graduating with high honors. Tom worked as a recruiter for Centenary University and advanced to become the Director of Business Development. Tom has a passion for running and weight training and his favorite hobby is playing guitar.

Casarah joined Came to Believe Recovery in 2021. She has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Political Science from Muhlenberg College and has a Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology from George Washington University. Casarah previously worked for Morris County Prevention is Key-C.A.R.E.S as the peer services coordinator. At C.A.R.E.S, Casarah ran recovery meetings, did outreach to high risk populations/homeless populations, handed out Narcan while teaching the individuals how to use it, and supported all individuals that entered the recovery center. She has taken training such as Peer Recovery Specialist Training, Mental Health First Aid, and Trans/Queer/LGBTQ+ Cultural Competence. Casarah entered this field because she wanted to be a part of creating a continuum of care for those with substance use disorders and others struggling that is based on compassion and unconditional support.