The Rehabilitation of Aline Williams

Aline Williams lost her life 13 years ago, her civil life that is. She found it again a week before Christmas when she was released from prison. Now, at 51, Aline is ready to take on her long-awaited second chance.

“When I was at the County Jail I was broken,” she said. “I was at my weakest and didn’t know which way to turn. I was quiet because I knew I was in trouble. You just know that this is it,” she said.

Aline was sentenced to 65 years on charges of a first degree robbery. She was paroled after serving 13 years. It all happened after a car accident. According to Aline, a friend of hers hit another woman’s car. The woman’s purse was laying on the street and Aline took it. Then the woman started screaming that she stole the purse.

“I saw two guys walking towards me and I panicked,” Aline said. She remembered her previous convictions.  “All I could see was that I was going back to prison,” she said. “And I ran with the woman’s purse. I should’ve stayed there.”

Aline was in and out of prison most of her life, convicted for the first time at the age of 18 when she drove a friend to a gas station to buy cigarettes. He robbed the store and although security cameras showed that Aline did not participate in the robbery, she spent 5 years behind bars. Since then, her life took a downturn toward drugs, robberies and prostitution.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of crime reported in Oklahoma is not higher than that of the nation. The arrest rate of female offenders in Oklahoma is the same as that of the rest of the country. Yet, the rate of incarceration of female offenders is more than double the national rate (39.2 versus 18.9 of the 100,000 population).

The numbers keep growing every year. As a consequence, female inmates in Oklahoma constitute 12.4 percent of the total inmate population. This is more than four and a half times the national average, making Oklahoma the state with the highest female prison population percentage.

“We are incarcerating a big number of non-violent offenders,” said Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “Prison is a costly alternative.” She said she believes the answer to the problem is prevention. “We can maintain public safety and reduce the number of offenders that come to prison at a lower social and economic cost,” Pitman said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is actively involved in efforts to provide counseling and training for women in prison and their families. “We are tougher on crime,” said Amy Santee, Senior Program Officer with the foundation that oversees health and human services grants. She said the state of Oklahoma issues short-term prison sentences for the same crimes that other states give mandatory probation. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 34.6 percent of female offenders were incarcerated for possession and trafficking of drugs. Regardless of their marital status, most female offenders are mothers.

“One solution that will have immediate impact on the female incarceration rate is to provide an alternative to prison,” said Santee. “In many ways the system has failed these women,” she said.

The foundation has developed a program, called “Women in Recovery” that offers treatment and helps convicted women stabilize their lives so their children’s lives are not as strongly affected. The foundation is working closely with the District Attorney’s office, the Public Defender’s office and the criminal district judges in Tulsa to identify women that would otherwise be going to prison. “Basically they are being bonded out of jail on a bond through county court services and to a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program,” Santee said.

“I don’t believe we have worse women in Oklahoma than other states, I don’t believe that. It has to be our laws and our method of imposing those laws,” said Joanne North, who has taught Bible classes to women in prison for 27 years through a program at her church. This is how North and Aline met.

“I listened to this woman and the love pulled out of her,” said Aline. “It brought so much love inside of me that I wanted what she had.” She was eventually baptized and has developed a strong friendship with North.

After Aline was paroled, North and her husband, Dr. Stafford North who is a professor at Oklahoma Christian University, invited her to stay at their home and help her with the transition into society. Aline had to learn almost everything from the beginning. “It’s a different world out here,” she said after 13 years of isolation in prison. “Things have changed
so much.”

Aline is writing a book about her experiences and wants to become a spiritual author. “Stay focused on your goals and your dreams. Don’t ever let them die,” she said. Aline often mentions the verse that changed her life: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev. 3:8)

“I feel like a responsible, independent woman,” Aline said. Her faith and determination have transformed her into a free person with a cured heart.

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