We've all heard the numbers and stories about Arkansas' growing prison population.
They're never really positive stories.
In this time of giving, we’d like to change that, by sharing the story of a young woman, being given the greatest gift of all: a second chance.
"There were so many times I wanted to stop, but I couldn't." For more than a dozen years, Kasey Jordan struggled with a meth addiction. "I kind of leaned towards that lifestyle of using and partying instead of studying," she told us.
At 16, she was a high school drop out with an expensive habit. That's when she began to deal.
"At first it was a choice of just using. Then it became an addiction,” said the now twenty-seven year told.
That all changed the day she was busted.
"We had sold to a CI, an undercover police officer, and we were feeling like something was about to happen. We decided 'well, let's not call it off.' Within 30 minutes, we heard boom, boom, boom and the door goes into pieces. Then we had at least 20 officers in our house with guns drawn on us,” she said.
Just like that, in July of 2016, Jordan, who'd never been in trouble before, went from living a party girl lifestyle, to serving 20 years in Wrightsville women's prison on felony drug charges.
Jordan got into programs at the prison, originally to pass the time, but ended up finding her purpose.
"I think that's when I decided to further my education in substance abuse. I want to be a recovery coach or be a substance abuse counselor and help people who are struggling and going through the same things I once have."
Her story caught the eye of the Arkansas Community Correction's re-entry program.
"We are here to protect and serve, but we are here also to change lives and to give individuals a second chance."
"Re-entry is a 6-month, 180 day program. We screen individuals who are within 6-18 months of being released on their regular parole date, or have the opportunity to be released. They're all moderate and high-risk of reoffending,” Carrie Williams, Assistant Director of the program told me.
Jordan's addiction, she explained, made her high-risk.
She would be most likely to reoffend within the first 180 days of release.
So instead, ACC houses them, gets the ex-cons educated, and gets them a job to learn how to work and manage money again.
"They have financial obligations. Not only if they have child support, they have financial obligations to the court. Without that job and that income, the struggle is real. How do they expect me to do that, and sometimes it's easier just to go back to prison, and not have to worry about those issues,” Williams said
Jordan was ultimately accepted into the program; meaning she got out of prison after only 13 months.
Her road to recovery had only just begun.
In August, she was moved to the Reclamation House in Jonesboro, where she was expected to work, get her GED, and focus on recovery for her, and for her two children.
"My kids have seen me struggle. They've seen me hurt. They've seen what addiction can do to a person and to a whole family, and how it affects everyone,” she told us, saying she’s glad her kids have seen both sides of life.
She started by working overnight in housekeeping at a local hotel, while working to get her GED during the day.
"I just wanted her to get a second chance, because she deserves it,” said Jordan’s manager, Lori Hodge. After only a month in housekeeping, Jordan was moved to the front desk at Lexington Suites in Jonesboro. "That's where change comes from, and everyone deserves a second chance,” Hodge went on to say.
"It gives me an experience, a foundation of something to go off of. Because coming out of prison without this, I wouldn't have known to go to a hotel, or even try to do something like this,” Jordan proudly explains.
With a job and sobriety under her belt, Jordan was only missing one important piece: her GED.
"I went to check my scores, and she said 'congratulations, you passed.' And I just started crying. It's something I never thought I was capable of,” she explains, beaming.
In just a few days, Jordan will head back home, to Fort Smith, and her family. She still has one month left in the program; time to find her bearings and prepare for life on the outside.
"It kind of makes me feel like a proud mama. I tell everybody. A lot of these kids coming out, even though they are older than I am, some of them. Just gives me that a-ha moment in my life, to where I can say look what this person did for themselves just because someone gave them that opportunity,” Williams says of the Re-entry program, which has so far graduated more than 600 ex-cons.
"Do you think prison saved your life,” Winnie Wright asked Kasey Jordan.
"Yes, I do. I'm very thankful for prison,” she said.
Since its inception in 2015, ACC’s Re-Entry program has been able to save Arkansas taxpayers $7.1 million in prison beds.
As recidivism continues to rise, and non-violent inmates are released to free up space, Williams said they only expect their program to grow.