When asked to tell her story, Colette is always eager to share. “I like to give people perspective on change, let them know that change is possible.”
Life became difficult for Colette when she was eleven years old. Her father’s business was failing and her older sister, the caretaker of all five siblings, started to show signs of paranoid schizophrenia. Then the family was evicted from their apartment.
As they moved into a Salvation Army shelter, Colette couldn’t understand why this was happening to her. “I felt ashamed, like I was living a double life because other people at school didn’t know.”
Colette dealt with her hardships in the only way she felt she could. She started stealing food and clothes at the age of twelve and by the time she reached fourteen, she was sentenced to a year in Warrenville Illinois Youth Center for burglary.
In Warrenville, “I met a lot of people who knew how to commit bigger crimes,” recalls Colette. After her first time, Colette returned to jail four more times for non-violent convictions.
After becoming addicted to heroine, Colette couldn’t hold down a good job and ran through a string of low-paid work.
It was during Colette’s last prison sentence that she realized she had to make a change. “My son was basically following in my footsteps, he was [serving a sentence] in the same institution. I needed to lead by example so he didn’t repeat my lifestyle.”
She participated in the drug treatment program in prison and developed a passion for gardening. When Growing Home came to talk about the job training program at her parole facility, Grace House, Colette thought, “Wow! This is perfect for me.”
She began the program in March 2012 and loved every minute of it. “I love smelling the dirt and everyone was so nice and supportive. Growing Home taught me the importance of teamwork and how to build positive relationships. It felt like a family.”
Growing Home introduced Colette to Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA) who helped her seal part of her criminal record. Over time, Colette built a relationship with the agency and now holds a full time job with benefits at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, a subsidiary of CGLA.
“I’m able to help people, to be an inspiration,” says Colette of her current life. She helps kids and mothers reunite, lobbies for political reform, and works to eliminate sex trafficking. “This job is meaningful. I’m not going anywhere.”
Colette is currently enrolled in the social work program at Harold Washington College to continue building her career. “I just hope to get an education, to help people find a positive path, and to lead by example for everyone.”