Lending Hope

Angela Coleman has worked at GLIDE in various roles for 13 years, and is currently a much-loved Case Manager with our Walk-In Center. GLIDE recognizes the need to work closely with formerly incarcerated women and their families. New research shows that formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, with Black women experiencing the highest rate of sheltered homelessness – nearly four times the rate of white men, and twice as high as the rate of Black men. As a Case Manager with GLIDE’s Walk-In Center, Angela has been doing this important work for years. Angela took some time recently to discuss why she works with imprisoned and formerly incarcerated people, and what societal and systemic changes she wants to see.

Arriving at GLIDE
I first arrived here when I got into recovery. I felt like I was being led here by the Spirit. One of my first staffing positions here was church monitor, for four years. That’s the only job I had since I’d gotten out of Walden House. It was perfect because I was looking for direction to get me out of what I’d been through, after getting out of jail and Walden House. I had to get connected back to my higher power to survive. It was scary, because I had been using for so long, I didn’t know how my life would be without drugs.

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Angela Coleman (right) with a program participant in the Walk-in Center. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin.

I went to prison before, but this time I got a year in county jail, which was a miracle because it was my third strike. And three-strikers get 25 to life. By the grace of God, I only got a year, and then a year in Walden House.

Because of my prior lifestyle, I knew the barriers people face. You’re really starting your life over if you’re getting out of jail, especially if you were involved with drugs and you just want to change your life.

I was tired, I was really tired. I’d been out there a long time. I came here, and I begged for the job because they wanted someone that was already working who needed a second part-time job. I was living on Eddy and Hyde, where a lot of drug activities were going on. I finally got another job at a detail shop, a carwash that I managed for three years. Then I started coming here when it was raining, because I wouldn’t open the shop. I’d fill in for the security monitors.

When I left the detail shop, I called GLIDE and asked to work here full-time. It went from being in security, and now I’m a Case Manager. I have had a few titles in between: Walk-In Center monitor, client advocate, family case manager, now I’m a case manager.

Overcoming trauma
The manager of the Walk-In Center at the time asked me what population I wanted to work with, and I said “reentry.” It’s my passion. Because of my prior lifestyle, I knew the barriers people face. You’re really starting your life over if you’re getting out of jail, especially if you were involved with drugs and you just want to change your life. When you’re out there on drugs, you don’t go to the doctor, you don’t eat right, you don’t work, you’re homeless. Most of us were. I was homeless at one point, too. You start your life all over in baby steps. I was out there so long; although I had worked before, I’d been married, bought houses, cars and all that kind of stuff, it would never last because I wasn’t happy.

I lend them hope until they find their own. Let them know that they can do it—if I did, they can too.

I’d been getting high since I was 14 years old. I’d been sexually abused as a child. That’s how I grew up. That’s how I thought life was. That’s what I thought love was. Basically I had to just start all over. Walden House taught me a lot. I was so done with that lifestyle, so I just grabbed on to everything, took every class they had. I started volunteering for the social services department by escorting other residents to G.A. and doctors’ appointments. I kept busy in groups all the time. I didn’t want to go back out there, and I have not been back out there since. I’ve been clean 14 years now.

Advocating for formerly incarcerated people
When you’re getting out of prison, you have to worry about getting a job, but you might not have any teeth, so you got to go to the dentist. You don’t have any confidence or self-esteem. You don’t have any interview skills, and you got to learn all that again. Everything is difficult. A lot of people that I work with now, they are afraid of what there life might be. So they get thrown back into what they did before they went to jail.

In my role, I get people connected with primary care and mental health if they need it, recovery circles, different meetings in the city… some of them want to go to school. It’s what their goals are that I help them with. I do counseling, but it’s mostly listening, and validating and encouraging them to do what they must to stay out of prison. I lend them hope until they find their own. Let them know that they can do it—if I did, they can too.

You have to meet people where they’re at, without judgement, and understand that there is good in everyone.

In order to stop using, you have to go back to why you use drugs in the first place. No one wakes up and thinks, “I’m gonna use drugs today, and then I’m going to go out and commit a crime to keep my habit up.” There is a reason you use drugs, so we need to visit and heal that. Then you won’t need drugs, because you can embrace your past. I had to revisit all the stuff from my past. When you don’t take care of it, you only continue to build up pain.

You have to meet people where they’re at, without judgement, and understand that there is good in everyone. Just because someone lives a bad lifestyle doesn’t mean that they are a bad person. What I would like to see change in the justice system…one of the reasons I got involved on the San Francisco Reentry Council is that the housing situation is ridiculous and we need to do something about it. It’s gotten worse over the past years. There used to be a lot of 30% housing on our housing lists. There is NONE now.

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Angela enjoys a moment of levity while leading a Recovery Circle at GLIDE.

Also, since I’ve been on the Reentry Council we passed a few assembly and state bills. One, we got rid of the court fees and restitutions that people build up while they’re in jail. So when they get out of jail, they owe so much money. I think we passed a bill on that where there will be no more court fees.

People shouldn’t have to pay to be imprisoned. There should be a program for people who owe child support. Some guys are in prison and owe child support, and when they get out they’re not working, and they can’t get a driver’s license to get work. So what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go back to your old ways because you don’t have any hope or any support and you just feel that society is throwing you away.

I go into the county jail every Monday to E Pod where I encourage the ladies to get it together. I let them know about all of GLIDE’s services and that I’m here for them. We talk, and if I get a chance I take housing or job applications. I wish more people could go into the jails with some type of program in mind, something that will help encourage the ladies to turn their life around, even if people just go in and tell their stories.

I do see some women from the jail come to GLIDE programs when they are released. Even some of the men that I communicate with all over California come to GLIDE. I just mailed out 10 letters yesterday.

(Opens filing drawer, hundreds of papers inside)

All of these letters are from prisoners all over California, some of them from out of state. I had a guy once from Boston and when he got out he came here. I write to people in prison so they know they have a place to go when they get out.