Featured RAP Member Karen Keith

Three words that describe you:

Child of God

What are the top challenges that you faced when reentering?

Employment was huge, still is as I am in a temp assignment. Finding that one person to give you a second chance is very difficult and very stressful. Five hundred+ applications submitted, not one interview from any of those companies.

Finding resources for basic needs was another, without money it’s hard to purchase things like toilet paper, deodorant and shampoo/conditioner, let alone a bus pass so you can attempt to get resources and apply for work.

What resources have you found most helpful for reentering?

For me, it’s been the emotional resources that have sustained me; the strength and encouragement from those who have gone through reentry themselves.

Did you have a mentor or a role model?

On April 8th, I attended a discussion at the UT School of Social Work on Smart Decarceration & Reentry where Glenn E. Martin was the keynote speaker. I heard my words coming from his mouth. I related to his story, as a mother of a son and as one who had been incarcerated myself; that evening moved me beyond measure and Glenn E. Martin became my hero.

A Facebook post by Glenn and my response to it, led to a meeting with Lauren Johnson. We met for coffee on April 19th, and forever I am changed. Lauren motivates me to do more, be more, stretch myself – sometimes in ways that are not easy or comfortable. However, the topic of mass incarceration, standards of prisons, inequity to those being incarcerated and the vast problems faced when reentry occurs is not a comfortable or easy discussion but the discussion MUST be had and the words MUST be spoken because change MUST occur.

I tell her this all the time; I want to grow-up to be like Lauren. She is inspiring and courageous, a daughter, wife and mother to 3 boys, advocate for many, fighter of justice, speaker of truth.

What drives your passion and makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?

My choices/actions led me to prison – the cost was too high for me. Going to prison cost me my 3 children (and 3 grandchildren) and there is not greater loss to me than my 3 loves. My 3 loves; forever will be my 3 loves. They are the air I breathe, why my heart still beats, the reason I wake up each day and try to do better, be better, and the reason I choose each day to help others.

Why do you participate in the Reentry Advocacy Project?

While in prison, my job assignment was as a GED Teachers Aide. Translated, it meant teaching math to 25 women per class, 2 classes per day, and 3 hours per class – 30 hours of math a week. Sound fun to you? Now that in itself could have driven me mad, instead it made me want to fight, to do something – anything to effect a change.

To see that 85% of the population did not have their GED/high school diploma was unacceptable to me in a country where education is free and we say “no child left behind”.

To see that I could help 86% of my class receive their diploma the first time taking the test simply by encouraging them when nationally 35% are passing the 2014 GED test – that showed me it can be done.

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The Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable is collaborative promoting safe and healthy communities through effective reentry and reintegration of formerly incarcerated persons and individuals with criminal histories in Austin/Travis County, Texas.

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