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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Faith And Work

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courtesy of Audrey McLemore
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Audrey McLemore is a returned citizen and entrepreneur.

More than 22,000 people are released from prison every year in Ohio, and as re-entering citizens, they face a lot of challenges. This week on WYSO we begin a new series of ReEntry Stories and hear about the lives of four formerly incarcerated women. They all took advantage of an educational program or some kind of skill building project while they were in prison, and for all of them, it was a good first step.

Audrey McLemore is from Dayton, Ohio. ReEntry Stories series producer Mary Evans met Audrey while they were both incarcerated at Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Today, Audrey talks with Mary about why she chose the program she did while in prison and how they helped her remain successful.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Audrey McLemore: So, I was convicted in 2009. I actually started doing my time in 2011. Going in was kind of a rough patch, not knowing what to do, what programs to actually take and how to even get started, you know, so I started doing all those kites and sending the mail out and I ended up getting a lot of contact mail from different programs. I participated in the Circle Tail training program, which is for canine dog obedience. I was certified where I trained three dogs and I was in a puppy group within a year of being in the program. And I had the opportunity of actually living in the honor dorm, which is the dog dorm for good conduct and low security level, which was a blessing in disguise. So that was an accomplishment as well. Just being around, you know, God-fearing people and building my faith where, you know, it was just walking in a cloud of just trying to get to know myself again.

Mary Evans You're always someone who let your faith lead you to your decisions and lead you to better yourself and put your faith in that. So what was the breaking point for you in prison when you realized 'I had to find faith in something to get me through this?' And what was that process like?

Audrey McLemore One thing I can honestly say, if I always had the faith, but it was actually implementing it when I got myself into those dark places of trying to do everything on my own. And once I had to release that control to God was a year after I actually got inside. My daughter was acting up in school. My great grandmother had passed away, which is someone my mommy really looked up to. I couldn't be there for her. Just those conversations with - how am I going to get through this without the physicality of somebody being there always to help me out of these ditches. And that's where I had to turn to my faith. You know, God had to really pull on me to say, hey, this is your time to get it together, you know, now or never, was basically what it was for me. If I don't do it now, it's not going to happen.

Mary Evans So was your passion for wanting to have your own business and wanting to be an entrepreneur and wanting to ascertain these leadership skills — is that why you chose some of the programs you chose?

Audrey McLemore Yeah, when I started having to do my own schedule, that was the part of where life kind of just started happening again. You know, you got your sense of purpose not having someone tell you what to do, but at the same time, you're having to care for someone again, you know. That was what really clicked for me. And then being in that program, like you said, you have to make your own schedule. And then I started going to school in web design. So I actually had to find somebody. So watch my dog while I was gone. It was like I got to send the dog to the sitter. So it was kind of neat being able to be in such a place but still have a purpose.

Mary Evans Let's talk about this beautiful, amazing Key Bank Business Boost and Build program you went through.

Audrey McLemore The program that I went through for this was the Montgomery County Office, Reentry Career Alliance Academy. And basically that group addresses the needs of individuals with criminal history, barriers, and life challenges. But it's also for people who are wanting to start their business. And it's just for the office of reentry folks who have barriers.

Mary Evans Since completing the Reach program, her cleaning business has received its limited liability corporation status. For Reentry Stories, I'm community producer Mary Evans.

ReEntry Stories is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.