On March 29, roommates Rhonda Hos and Tammy Cadott sat in their cozy living room, sipping coffee and talking about the day ahead. Hos was getting ready to head to Port Townsend to work for the weekend, and Cadott was preparing for a day of volunteer work at Habitat For Humanity.
The two women have a lot in common. They are both adoring mothers of their adult children. They are healthy, happy and optimistic of their future, and they both share a criminal history that looks strikingly different from the lives they currently lead.
And they both agree that their new lives are because of the support from Irma Gary House.
Irma Gary House – the flagship program of Tacoma Catholic Worker’s non-profit New Connections – connects recently released prison inmates with a secure, safe and stable environment to get them back on track to meaningful lives outside of prison.
The house, which can host up to five women at once, aims to give women the independence, confidence and resources they need to set them up for a productive life in society.
Hos, who has been at Irma Gary House since September, said she is amazed at what she has accomplished since being released from prison after serving a yearlong sentence for drug possession.
“I’ve gotten a job. I’ve gotten my driver’s license back, and I graduate from treatment in two weeks,” she said. “I know I couldn’t have done this on my own.”
Hos said she was initially reluctant to move into the house because of the amount of structure involved in the program. But the Jefferson County resident needed a Pierce County address for probation purposes that require inmates to be returned to the county where they committed their offenses, so she jumped into a world of rules as she started rebuilding her life.
On her first day at the house, she sat down with her social worker and wrote a plan of action for her life.
“I had to write down all of my goals. I don’t think I had ever set a goal for myself before then,” she laughed. “When I first put them down on paper, I thought, ‘this is going to be impossible.’”
She soon found out it was not.
“Obviously doing things my way wasn’t working for me… so I took their advice and it worked out.”
The environment at Irma Gary was an unexpected surprise as well. The clean, warm, homey feel of Irma Gary grants one private room to each tenant, a shared living space, shared chores and shared expectations.
Each woman has to be out of the house from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day doing something productive – whether that be looking for work, attending court proceedings, attending classes or treatment, or volunteering.
Cadott, who has been at Irma Gary only a short time, is still working through her initial goals, and has taken a liking to volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.
The friendly atmosphere and caring support system is what attracted Cadott to the house after coming from a work release program and 20 months in prison.
“My goal is to get a job, have my own place and live with my kids,” she said. “Without Irma Gary House, I would’ve felt lost on my own. I wouldn’t have anyone here to help me. I really felt that caring from them, and it touched me.”
People can support the unique programming and support system at Irma Gary House by attending New Connections’ third annual Seeds of Hope event, at 6 p.m. on April 20 at Holy Cross Parish Hall (5510 N. 44th St.) Tickets are $25 and all proceeds will benefit Irma Gary House. The evening will include a silent auction, live entertainment, a delightful array of appetizers, wine and sparkling cider.
For more information, to purchase tickets or to donate, please call or visit www.nctacoma.org. Tickets are also available on-line through Brown Paper Tickets.