By Mike Dennison
HELENA – As part of a national initiative to spotlight successful correctional programs, Gov. Steve Bullock visited the Riverside Correctional Facility here – and heard nothing but praise from women in its re-entry program.
“I want people to feel the energy I’ve gotten, to feel the compassion that I’ve gotten,” said Darci Hill of Billings. “I mean, the other places that I’ve been, they put you in your room and you stay in your room, and if you cry, you cry all night. … These people lift you up.”
Hill and two other women said they’d gone through multiple other programs in Montana’s correctional system, but had experienced none as positive as the re-entry program at Riverside.
“We’re always doing things here; we’re taking action,” said Kayte Mutrie of Helena, who graduated from the program and now has a job as a park ranger, which she had before getting in trouble with the law. “It’s not just about sitting around and wallowing in what you did wrong, why you’re bad.
“There’s so much shame attached to addiction. And here, I just felt like I was valued for who I was as an individual.”
The Riverside Recovery and Re-Entry Program is run by Boyd Andrew Community Services, a nonprofit company that contracts with the Corrections Department.
In operation for less than two years, Riverside Recovery has 22 slots, all for women, and plans to expand to 32 beds.
Superintendent Dan Kissner said only two people who’ve entered the program have failed to graduate, and that as of Wednesday, 64 women will have completed the program. It usually takes three to four months.
The program focuses on treating people and educating them about trauma in their lives, and how that trauma has contributed to their addictive or criminal behavior.
Women must apply for the program, through their probation officer, and register a high score on the “adverse childhood experience” scale. Program officials said most women on the program scored at least eight out of 10 on the scale, making them a very high risk for behavioral and mental-health problems.
Nicole DeRoche-Johnson said before the program, she’d never grasped the impact that trauma had on her life.
“This program taught me that we don’t have to carry that baggage any more, that we can let it go,” she said. “You have some programs (in the system), but nothing even comes close to the treatment that I got here.”
Bullock got a tour of the facility before sitting down with staff and residents, to listen to their stories about the program.
His visit was part of Face to Face, a national initiative to spotlight the work of correctional programs around the country.
Face to Face is sponsored by the Council of State Government’s Justice Center – which helped Montana develop numerous sentencing reforms adopted this year – and several other national correctional groups.
Reg Michael, Montana’s new corrections director, told women in the program that he’s interested in what happens to them afterward, when they graduate and return to society.
“To me, a big piece is where are you going to go when you get out and what’s going to happen to you after that?” he said. “There is a way forward, and I want you to see that, we want you to see that.”