Biding Time (Part V): Languishing inmates, limited options

PART FIVE Too few treatment programs lead to more people flooding the overflowing system.

story by josh dulaney
design by richard hall
photos by the oklahoman photographers
published june 29, 2017

Through a haze of vapor, Brandi Davis takes another puff from a nicotine pen as she bounds through the lobby of a North Oklahoma City hotel.

The 35-year-old mother, who faced a long prison stay for allegedly stealing a hoodie to exchange for heroin, was released from the Oklahoma County jail in late May, after gaining entry into ReMerge, a program that helps mothers get clean, start over and avoid incarceration.

Sitting in a lobby sofa, she tugs on her light green shirt, brushes her blue jeans with designer rips in the thighs, and rubs the burn marks on her arms from a recent curling iron accident. After another hit of the vaporizer, Davis halfway apologizes for squirming so much. 

"I had two Starbucks coffees this morning," she says. "I'm kind of a coffee addict."

It's around noon on Wednesday. Davis starts her recovery program July 5. She'd stayed in the jail for more than three months, even though family offered to bail her out. Davis feared that once out on the streets she'd soon be using again. Now, she has just seven days to keep clean.

"I'll always be an addict," she says. "It just depends on how I deal with it."

ReMerge is a lifeline for women like Davis. A 12- to 24-month intensive program founded in 2011 to provide substance abuse and mental health treatment, ReMerge is funded primarily by private contributions. Women not only get help getting clean but also receive education, housing, transportation and employment services.

At any given time, about 50 women are in the program. ReMerge has graduated 80 women, with just four graduates ending up in prison.

Like Davis, women must be recommended for ReMerge by the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

“If you provide the adequate support to help people be successful, then the chances of recovery are increased, and the recidivism rate goes down,” says Terri Woodland, executive director of ReMerge.

But a glance at the dangerously overcrowded jail shows that support is sorely lacking in Oklahoma County. 

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