ANGELS AMONG US: Mental Health Partners bridges gap for inmates

Kim Hall carries a coat and some gloves into the Hancock County Jail to distribute to a prisoner. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

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GREENFIELD — Three years ago, a young woman walked into Kim Hall’s office needing help. She had been released from jail hours earlier, leaving with no belongings or a place to sleep that night.

Hall, executive director of Mental Health Partners of Hancock County, quickly connected her to local resources. From her office in the Memorial Building downtown, she told the young woman about the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen nearby. She also gave the woman clothing and personal care items and directed her where to find a job. The woman later found a friend to stay with for the night.

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“It got me to thinking about how many other people need this help,” Hall said. “When they get out (of jail) at midnight,

where are they going? If they don’t have a ride, what’s happening to them?”

Since that chance meeting with the woman in 2016, Hall started Mental Health Partners’ advocate/navigator program. She meets with clients after they’re released from the Hancock County Jail and on their way to probation, work release or a recovery house as well as people who are currently incarcerated.

Hall has met with about 25 people over the past few years. Some have gone on to recovery houses or secured jobs. The woman from 2016 now lives in Indianapolis, has a job and is doing well, she said.

After an inmate agrees to be a client of Hall’s, she begins meeting with them weekly, shifting the frequency of visits to once a month and later to once a quarter. When she talks with inmates, Hall asks them about their highest level of schooling and if they want to continue their education.

They also discuss life issues. Many have little to no family support, she said. Some have told her that they’re “the black sheep of my family” or a “horrible person.”

“I’m not a counselor, but when you’re in the room and you’ve got somebody that’s not in orange and not in brown, you’re going to talk to that person,” Hall said. “I’m here to help you. I will never lie to you, and I don’t want you to ever lie to me. I want to trust them because they’ve lost trust in others.”

Mental Health Partners’ connection with the county’s criminal justice program stretches back years.

When the heroin protocol program began in 2016, Hall wrote grants to secure funding to pay for the initial fee for a bed in a recovery house as well as money for bedding, food and personal care items for clients — totaling close to $23,000 since 2016. She’s been able to secure grant funding through the Hancock County Community Foundation and also Neighborhoods Against Substance Abuse. This past May, the Hancock County Council agreed to give $10,000 to the organization for 2019.

Once her clients are released from jail and transition to a recovery house, work release, probation or go back to everyday life, Hall gathers personal items for them, such as bedding, shampoo, soap and toothbrushes. She also uses a voucher at Hancock Hope House’s thrift store to give them clothing, and she provides them with shoes from Changing Footprints, a Rush County organization.

Hall also connects her clients with doctor’s appointments, counseling and addictions services and local organizations like Hancock County LINK, which supports those seeking post-secondary education.

Angie Lyon, program coordinator at the Hope House and a board member with Mental Health Partners, said not only does the shelter and thrift store provide clothes, it also helps some of Hall’s clients secure housing, whether that’s a recovery house, a bed at the shelter or an apartment.

Lyon, who’s also apart of a “mental health roundtable” organized by the Hancock County Probation Department, said she has a personal passion to work to lower the recidivism rate of those in jail.

“I believe that if we can impact them in a positive way, we can hopefully stop some of the issues and curb the multi-generational effect that it has,” Lyon said.

Over the past several months, Hall has been meeting with Cody Clark in the county jail. Clark has been incarcerated for eight months on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and a probation violation. Earlier in December, Clark left jail and moved to Hancock County Community Corrections.

Clark said in addition to his tangible needs, such as clothes and help with doctor’s appointments, he’s been able to “vent” to Hall about his personal and family struggles. Clark’s father has had several strokes this year and is now in a nursing home, so he hasn’t been able to see his father.

“You can’t trust nobody back in the block to open up to, especially if it’s real-life stuff,” Clark said. “They have their own stuff going on. I trust (Hall) more than any other person that’s come through (the jail.)”

Clark said he has more time to find a job thanks to Hall; she knows community resources, so he doesn’t have to spend as much time seeking those out. And while he’s unsure about his next steps, Clark, who earned a high school diploma, said he’s thought about going to barber school. He learned how to cut hair while in jail, all with a razor. Clark also has the support of his mother, Amy Clark, who drives him to appointments and regularly visited him during his eight months in jail.

Amy Clark said it was difficult to support her son when he was in jail at the same time her husband is in a nursing home. She’s grateful someone like Hall met with him when she didn’t have the time.

“I see so many people saying, ‘oh, they’re addicts, just let them kill themselves.’ No,” she said, emphatically. “I’m a mom. And yeah, he’s dumped on me several times, but he’s still my son.”

Hall said when a client of hers walks through her office doors seeking advice and resources after getting out of jail, like Clark, she feels appreciated — and she’ll quickly figure out what they need to succeed.

“To me that means that meant something to them,” Hall said, “that I’ve been helping them and they’re not giving up and they want me to continue to help them because they want success in their life and they’re done with their jail life.”

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[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About this series” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

In the spirit of the season, the Daily Reporter is publishing a four-part series of stories called "Angels Among Us." This is the second story in the series, which will continue Saturday and next Tuesday. The stories are profiling ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things in service to others.