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Sara Williams

a testimony

In her first college essay, Rhonda’s daughter, Sara, wrote about the organization that made the biggest impact on her life; Stand in the Gap.

We say this all the time; addiction, incarceration, abuse are all a cycle. So when we break the cycle for a woman coming out of prison, we also celebrate breaking the cycle for her children and her children’s children.

No one knows this story better than our own, Rhonda Bear. Her 3 children were her motivation to stick with the Stand in the Gap program while she was incarcerated and after she was released. Her Stand in the Gap small group helped Rhonda get ready to be reunited with her children, they modeled healthy parenting, and shared family meals and holidays together. Because of these investments, Rhonda’s children have their mom back.

Rhonda’s oldest daughter wrote her first college essay this fall and was given the chance to choose her topic. She shared her essay with us and we are so grateful for the story she tells…

Rhonda Bear, her daughter, Sara Williams, and one of her Stand in the Gap volunteers, Eileen Guidry, at Rhonda’s TEDx talk earlier this year.

Sara’s Essay

Oklahoma ranks number one in the world for most incarcerated women per capita. Of that rating, there are over twenty-six thousand children with a parent incarcerated. Many of those children will fall into the same cycle and lifestyle that the parents have lead by example.  However there are some that will be able to go another direction with the right mentors, guidance, and structure.

There are many mentoring programs in the state of Oklahoma, but the one that impacted my life when I was one of the twenty-six thousand children, was a program called Stand in the Gap, a non-profit organization of volunteers that walk along the side of the mother coming out of prison to help mentor her and her children to a healthier lifestyle of recovery. See addiction doesn’t just affect the addict but it affects the children too. The road to recovery and rebuilding life isn’t just for the adults, but the children have to learn to rebuild and recover too.

I was three years old when my mom started using drugs. By the age of 8 she was full blown meth addict and no longer a part of my everyday life. I lived with my two brothers and single father in a life of poverty. While she was gone I was left to be the mother figure in the home, caring for my two brothers, and trying to help my dad as much as I could.  My mom would occasionally show up for a day, sometimes just an hour or less, then she would be gone for months at a time. During the times she would disappear I wouldn’t hear from her and never was sure if she would ever come back. Each goodbye was always prepared to be the final goodbye.

This cycle of hers would go on for years until it came the day where she had to face her charges and be sentenced to prison. My mother tried rehabs after rehabs, many trips to the county jails, and tried to stay sober, but her addiction was too heavy to stop. It would take a dramatic change to bring her back to reality.

December 2001, my mom faced her reality and was sentenced to prison. She had lost her children, her home, her self-respect and dignity. My mom was used to loss though.

Life was never easy for my mom. She came from a family of destruction. Her mom ran off from home to marry a man with money, leaving my mom to care for her sisters while she was still in high school. Her dad was a sexually abusive alcoholic who wasn’t around to help out either.

My mom eventually left her town to find herself wrapped up in the Louisiana mafia at the age 17, was involved in the Banditios biker gang by age 20, and was living in Oklahoma and married to my dad by age 22.  By age 34 she was on her way to prison to serve her time and finally get sober.

Stand in the Gap not only helped my mom become the woman and mom she is today, but they helped mold me into the woman, daughter, and mom I am today.

During the time my mom was in prison there were some volunteers that would come meet with her. They asked my mom what they could do to help her create a better life that would not include the usage of drugs anymore. Her response was to get her children back that she had neglected and build a future with them. The volunteers were a part of the organization called Stand in the Gap.

They agreed with my mom that if she would do her work once she was released they would help her get her children back, find a safe place to live, provide accountability, and mentor her and her children.  They committed to not only helping my mother with recovery and rebuilding her life in sobriety, but to help restore her life back with her children too. Stand in the Gap volunteers agreed to help my brothers and I, while other team volunteers were helping my mother at the same time.

It has been sixteen years since my mom was released from prison and almost twenty years of sobriety. Her journey has not been easy but having a team of people who cared about her and her children is what has brought her to where she is today. In recovery you can’t do it alone and you can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.

Stand in the Gap not only helped my mom become the woman and mom she is today, but they helped mold me into the woman, daughter, and mom I am today. Statistics said I could have gone down the same path of destruction and ended up an addict myself. Not saying that I didn’t have my fair share of trials, errors, and wrong choices, but despite all of those things I still made a life of my own away from the cycles of abandonment and addictions.

My life was hard not having my mom there until I was sixteen. By then I was living with an abusive boyfriend, pregnant with my first child, and high school drop out. All of which are proven to happen to a child with an incarcerated parent. It’s a cycle, but it’s also a choice to break the cycle. Stand in the Gap helped break the cycles in our lives so that my children didn’t have to grow up seeing the life of addictions and hopelessness. Stand in the Gap gave us all hope to a new way of life.

Today my mom is one of the leading women in the state of Oklahoma. She works for the department of corrections, owns two coffee shops in Claremore, owns fourteen homes for women in transition, she is the program director for Stand in the Gap, and most recently she is a part of the Oklahoma prison reform task force working with Governor Stitt.

My mom would not be where she is today had it not been for someone believing in her, giving her hope, and walking along side her life to help make the changes she needed to make. Someone planted the seed of hope for my mom and helped it grow into more than she imagined to ever be. Today she is that someone to over one hundred and thirty-six women in Claremore alone, she is a teacher to all the women who are sitting behind prison bars in the state of Oklahoma, she is a light of hope and change to thousands of women and children in the state, and most importantly she is my mother and my children’s grandmother.

Change is possible for anyone that is struggling with a hurt, habit, or hang-up. Recovery is something that takes a team, it’s not meant to do alone. Stand in the Gap is always looking for volunteers to help mentor to those in need. To find out more about becoming a volunteer visit or stop by She Brews Coffee in Claremore. You could be the seed of hope for someone in need. Together we can help make a difference in the stats of the women incarcerated and the children with parents in prison.

Learn about Stand in the Gap's program for women from hard places (like incarceration).