BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For Judy Maechling, the last 35 years haven’t been a cake walk. Prison life became somewhat the norm. She says she started going to prison at a young age and things began to spiral out of control.
“Each time, I would go back out there, in my head thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it differently this way. I’m going to do it this way this time.’ Each time, it was the same thing,” Maechling said.
But now, Maechling has a new outlook. The past three years of recovery have had a lot to do with it.
“My life has changed tremendously,” she said. “My road had to come straight to a dead end before I would stop.”
She also gives credit to one of the few reentry programs in Louisiana that’s focused on helping women after prison.
At any given moment, roughly 30,000 people are in prison across the state, and according to Connections for Life, around 2,000 of those are women.
“Even though there are fewer incarcerated women, there are too few places for women,” said Karen Stagg, executive director of Connections for Life. “They’re very underserved when it comes to returning to the community after a period of incarceration.”
The non-profit gives women the living essentials they left behind or skills they might have never had.
“I have my own vehicle. I pay my own rent. I live in my own place,” Maechling said. “I never really had those things. I never gave myself a chance to think that I could do that.”
Stagg says they also help newly released women get a steady paycheck.
“Once an employer gives one of our clients an opportunity, that’s all she needs,” Stagg said.
It sounds fairly simple, having a job, but Stagg says establishing a routine when reentering the community sets the right boundaries. Maechling can’t help but agree.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Maechling said. “There’s a lot more that I want to learn. There are a lot more things that I want to do.”
She’s been a staple at the Connections For Life thrift store as a cashier for so long that she now has regular customers.
“My determination is what keeps me going,” Maechling said. She graduated from the program in 2017.
Roughly 600 women have cycled through the program. Of those, about 65 percent have stayed on the right track. Meachling is already considered a success story and has every intention of it staying that way.
Kimberly Gagnard was recently accepted into the program in January. She works at Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries on Ben Hur Road. She says she’d been wanting to change her lifestyle for a while now.
Gagnard says joining the Connections for Life family was a game changer.
“I knew that I was on the wrong path for a long time and I wanted to change, but I guess I needed that extra push," she said.
“They do all the work,” Stagg said. “I tell women that when I am speaking with them while they’re incarcerated, if you join us, we will walk the walk with you, but we cannot do it for you.”
Each woman admitted to the program must finish a 12-month course. Details about the non-profit, programs offered, and how you can help can be found here.