my name is Danielle Shapiro. I graduated from HOPE for Prisoners in 2017 when it was in the beginning stages of what you are a part of today. The experience is Life altering. For me, it gave me a new perspective on how to value myself. I no longer felt alone or limited in the world of success. Society tells us that we are outcasts, damaged, or untrustworthy. H4P breaks all the stigma that has held us back.
I was born in Ventura, CA in 1985. I was raised by my Nana mainly, my mother struggled with substance abuse as well as mental illness. My father was running from himself into the abyss of addiction as well, so he wasn’t in my life. My Nana was my rock. I moved constantly due to my stepfather’s criminal lifestyle. Which instilled in me the inability to ground myself or stay in one place for very long. I was a free spirit ready for any adventure. I was in all honor roll classes until I was in 6th grade when I tried hard drugs for the first time. The insanity I was exposed to would become the norm.
I endured some very unfortunate trauma that altered my thinking, and I developed something called Impulse Control Disorder, and PTSD. I was operating in fight or flight mode constantly. Combined with hardcore substances, and no fear, I was a tornado. My life was headed to destruction.
By the age of 13, I was on Formal Probation for robbing the same Circle K three times. I became a ward of the court at 15. Juvenile Hall was to become my parent and teacher. In total, I did 2 ½ years in juvenile hall. During this time, I was impulsive, fearless, and lacked any self-love. A criminal mentality and the life that comes with it became addictive.
During my life, I had many pockets of success, good jobs, and healthy relationships, but it all shattered to the ground due to my destructive behavior. I knew in my heart that was not the woman I wanted to be. On January 2015, I was incarcerated for 5 class A felonies including Kidnapping for a crime I committed in 2013. During that time, I allowed revenge to hypnotize me in a plot to end someone’s life. I had been indicted and I was on the run. I was incarcerated for an entire county year waiting for my case to be resolved. In the end, I realized that God had a different plan than me spending years in prison. Once I was sentenced, and later released I was left with just me, a bag of books, and nowhere to live. I had to figure things out. I met someone in this sober living, who took me to the H4P huddle. At this point, I had no idea what I was going to do for employment or stable housing. Or how was I going to move forward on this side of life? The challenge was that it had been 6 years since I was a participating member of society.
Suddenly, I had all the answers to my questions and immediate needs. I had the resources I need, and I was provided with a plan. I enrolled in the workshop which changed my life forever. It was a spiritual experience for me. I was excited about what was next for me in life. H4P is not just a reentry program, it’s a movement and a community. H4P played a big role in giving me the confidence I needed to believe in myself again.
It was like I was in an employment Bootcamp. My graduation was a rite of passage into a new phase of life. I was going to be held accountable by my peers as well as myself. I recited my oath with my class knowing that there was a lot of work ahead of me to be done. I had a lot of uncertainties like supporting myself financially. I had no family to relieve some of those stressors or fears. So having H4P as a support system was everything to me, I know for a fact that if this program were not available to me, I would have resorted to old behavior and toxic people. This program showed me the importance of intervention during an impressionable time is the difference between a catastrophic failure and success.
As graduates, you are part of a movement that is saving so many lives, families, and entire communities. H4P can mean to you whatever you want it to mean. For me, standing side by side with the Metro Police Department was mind-blowing, considering I had been running from them for so long prior. This accomplishment is not the end. You have an entire team, including your case managers that are there to be your cheerleader, giving you the road map to being self-sufficient.
I participated in the Huddles every week, bible study, and the google knowledge computer class that they had 2-3 times a week. I maintained contact with my case manager weekly. I was assisted with everything I needed to secure employment – a resume, job leads, etc. I landed a job at the Macaroni Grill where I worked for a year. I was also provided with a mentor who assisted me tremendously.
So, take this journey seriously, push everything and everyone aside, change the way you see yourself, and focus on yourself. I consider myself to be a life in HOPE for Prisoners. My life reflects where I have been, but more importantly where I am going and the impact I am making. I am able to provide HOPE!