By Joan D. Warren
CAPE COD — The modest split-level home is unassuming from the outside, but once inside, exudes an overwhelming feeling of comfort, healing and God’s presence.
St. Clare’s Home is a seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom transitional sober home for women recently released from the Barnstable County House of Corrections and other Massachusetts jails. Many of the residents are former substance abusers from the Cape Cod area or nearby communities within the state.
Owned and operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fall River since 1998, the place of refuge has assisted hundreds of women get back on their feet after experiencing difficult life situations, all with the hand of God to guide them.
The concept for St. Clare’s was the brainchild of Deacon Dick Murphy who saw the need for a place women could go after incarceration. He had started the Residents Encounter Christ (REC) (see story on page 1) at the Bristol County Correctional Facility in Bourne and was concerned that reentry into society was difficult for those coming out of incarceration.
In 1998, his prayers became a reality when the grand opening of the house was blessed by Bishop Sean O’Malley (now cardinal for the Dioceses of Boston). For the past 19 years, Elaine Haley has been the program manager.
The woman have the opportunity to make positive changes in their lives with the help from the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. They are not self-referred to the program; they must be recommended by the respective correctional institutes.
The women stay at St. Clare’s for six months overseen by a staff of seven (all women). The residents are required to contribute to their living expenses with funds from disability and food stamps. They share cooking duties and eat dinner together nightly.
On a recent weekday morning, three of the six residents gathered in St. Clare’s Room, a comfortable living area with no television, radio or other forms of distraction. The room is teaming with religious statues, pictures and crucifixes and a case overflowing with secular and inspirational books.
Laurie, originally from the Cape, has been at St. Clare’s for five months and truly believes God put her there.
“God wanted me to be in a safe place where I can share my feelings with people who care about me and my well-being. I am grateful to God,” Laurie said.
Her story is all too typical of the opioid epidemic that has gripped the country in recent years. She began using painkillers for kidney stones, became addicted and has struggled with addiction ever since. She overdosed on heroin on numerous occasions and regularly came back for more of the drug that almost killed her.
“I think I wanted to die; I even told my friends that, but it wasn’t my time. God saved my life so many times. God has a purpose for my life,” she said.
Now with more than a year of sobriety, Laurie goes to meetings and is looking for a job. As the mother of a 13-year-old daughter (who lives with her grandmother), her goal is to show her daughter that she is strong.
“I want to be an inspiration to my daughter. I have been given this opportunity and am so blessed,” she said.
Daytime support staff Bernie Carty is a licensed substance use disorder counselor and is a woman in long-term recovery from alcohol abuse. She said the residents must learn to be functioning adults — something most never learned when they were younger.
“Many of these women must learn how to be members of society and take responsibility for their actions. Being faith-based and small, St. Clare’s is intimate enough for individualized counsel. Old habits die hard, but these women are learning to depend on God and not themselves,” Carty said.
The rules are simple at St. Clare’s: there is a, among things, no stealing, lying, or substance use. Residents must participate in recovery meetings, do chores, get permission to leave the house, observe a 10 p.m. curfew (they are breathalyzed upon return), pray the Rosary, attend Bible study and go to Mass every Sunday. They worship at Our Lady of Victory in Centerville.
Resident Bonnie was raised Catholic but for years did not practice her faith. At 21, she was the passenger in a car hit by a drunk driver and was prescribed painkillers — Oxycontin and Percocet. By the time doctors cut off her drug supply, she was addicted and had to buy drugs on the street. She did jail time for dealing and stealing. She had times of sobriety over the years but after a string of personal tragedies, spiraled out of control and landed back in jail.
She has lived at St. Clare’s for three months and has made positive changes in her life but says she has more to accomplish before going out into the world on her own.
“I am just getting back on my feet and need a sponsor. I wish the program was for a year since it takes time to get your life together after being in jail,” she said.
Darla is from the Boston area and has been at St. Clare’s for two weeks. Her story of substance use started when she was eight years old smoking marijuana, but her drug of choice was alcohol. Like her housemates, she has had times of sobriety, meaningful employment and was a manager of a sober house.
One night, she “fell off the wagon” after a year-and-a-half of sobriety, was arrested for violating probation and sent back to jail. After spending the past three months in South Bay House of Corrections in Boston, she was accepted into the program at St. Clare’s. She believes God put her there for a reason.
She is so thankful to be a part of the St. Clare’s family and believes, like her housemates, that God has a plan for her.
“I had an aggressive cellmate and I prayed like crazy for a Divine intervention. Shortly after, I got bailed out from that cell and put into the WIT program (Women in Transition). I truly believe He got me out of chains. I had a true spiritual awakening, and He took away my craving and compulsion for drinking,” she said.
She is so thankful she was arrested because if she hadn’t been, she knows she would have gone on a bender that could have led to her death.
All her life, church and organized religion weren’t her a part of daily life, although she considers herself to be spiritual. After recent experiences, and her acceptance into St. Clare’s she wants to get baptized.
“God has blessed me, and I am so thankful,” she said.
The names of the residents have been changed to protect their identities. To learn more about this ministry and ways to help, go to the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fall River website at www.cssdioc.org.