Brandy Carter first smoked marijuana when she was 7.
“My older brother thought it was cute to get us high,” she said.
By the age of 12 she was a full-blown alcoholic. At 13 she was in her first abusive relationship. At 26 she was strung out on methamphetamine and involved in criminal activity to support her drug habit.
The mother of four — including twin 10-year-old daughters — spent time in the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, but without any treatment for her addiction, she went back to her old ways upon release at the age of 28.
“I used the day I got out,” she said.
She was out less than a year before serving four more years in prison. After her release, she managed to stay clean from meth for 11 years but admits she was a functioning alcoholic during that time.
“I never thought about alcohol as a drug of choice because it was always there,” she said. “Meth was my ultimate destroyer.”
In 2011 she relapsed on meth and just seven months later she was arrested on charges of endeavoring to manufacture. Because of her status as a habitual offender, she was facing life in prison without parole.
That’s when she heard about Women in Recovery, an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent female offenders in Tulsa County who have alcohol and drug addictions.
“I never knew where to ask for help, let alone how to ask for help,” she said. “I was afraid of my children following in my footsteps.”
On Wednesday, Carter was one of 22 women in the program’s 12th graduating class.
“I get to break that cycle of addiction and abuse and be a role model to them,” she said. “I have coping skills, a relapse prevention plan, parenting skills. Instead of not having a mother, my kids have a mother they can look up to.”
To graduate, participants must be drug- and alcohol-free, crime-free, employed, actively participating in community recovery support, engaged in reunification plans with their children and meeting all legal and court requirements.
“Brandy, like all 22 of these women, has accomplished a very difficult program,” said Mimi Tarrasch, program director. “They are on the path of change, with a solid foundation, and they should be welcomed as neighbors, coworkers and tax-paying citizens that have really turned their lives around.”
Since 2009, when the program began, 168 women — including Wednesday’s class — have graduated. Women in Recovery is funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and is operated by Family & Children’s Services.
Tulsa County is the largest contributor to the state’s nation-leading female incarceration rate. In the past 11 months, 306 women from Tulsa County have been sent to prison.
In total, nearly 3,000 women are in Oklahoma prisons with an estimated 7,000 children impacted.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, who spoke at the graduation ceremony, added that 75 percent of women arrested are for non-violent offenses.
“We should be spending our limited resources on rehabilitation programs like Women in Recovery and not on prison cells,” Jordan said. “Their chances for success are much better and, frankly, I need the space for more violent offenders.”
Mike Averill 918-581-8489