Angela House helps women build life after prison

December 10, 2013

HOUSTON — Bridgette Buggs’ trajectory from what she said was a good home in Washington D.C. to the Angela House in north Houston was swift. 

Now 31, Buggs hadn’t long been out of high school when she decided she needed to “get away” and headed to Texas. While working in door-to-door sales with a colleague, Buggs was arrested as an accomplice to burglary, for which she was later convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. 

After 11 months, Buggs was released on probation and wound up at Angela House.

Buggs wonders how her life would have turned out had it not been for Angela House. Funded by the Diocecesan Services Fund (DSF), it was there where she learned to trust people, where she found out who she was and where she learned to be independent.

“It was pure heaven,” said Buggs of her 11-month stay at Angela House in 2003. “It was a very loving environment. Where I came from, it was very hard — you had to mask yourself. At Angela House you had to learn to change your interaction with people.”

Angela House has helped scores of women such as Buggs get back on their feet since it opened in 2002. Now, with the imminent move to a larger, newly renovated location, Executive Director Sister Maureen O’Connell said they will be able to offer more services and more space for residents and staff.

Sister O’Connell said the new facility will allow them to expand programs, such as the one on healthy lifestyle that teaches residents about a balanced diet and how to cook a healthy meal, institute new programs, collaborate with other agencies and build community connections.
“It really has been a work in progress, and I think that is our strength,” Sister O’Connell said. “We look at the needs of each woman and ask, ‘how can we respond to them?’”

A social worker by training who spent years dealing with families in abusive situations, Sister O’Connell founded Angela House, named for her late sister-in-law, after seeing a need for a place locally that helps women build a productive life after prison and reduces the habitual relapse into crime. 

Angela House, started out as “special work” through the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, but in 2006 it became an independent, nonprofit entity.

During their stay, about seven months on average, residents receive a host of services, including counseling, medical treatment, education and job training to help them transition back into society and become productive and independent. Angela House also offers writing classes, speech and drama, Bible study and leisure activities, such as bingo and trips to the theater. Residents are also encouraged to find a church home.

“We work hard to help them learn new ways to be in the world and to let them know they don’t have to do it alone,” Sister O’Connell said.

Sister O’Connell said about 76 percent of their residents, most of whom served time for drug- or prostitution-related crimes, manage to get their lives in order without returning to prison, Buggs being one of them. 

Though she has had her ups and down, Buggs said she is doing well overall. She has a job as a nurse’s aide and is studying for a licensed vocational nurse certification. While a brief marriage did not work out, Buggs adopted two children, a boy, now 10, and a girl, now 19, and has a 3 year-old grandson. She also recently moved into a new house. “I wish I had more money, but I’m very grateful for what I have,” Buggs said.

Sister O’Connell said they will have to work harder at fundraising to cover what are sure to be higher operating costs of running a larger facility. The current annual budget is more than $400,000.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their cheerleaders and supporters. Among other groups, students from Duchesne Academy have been coming over for years with meals and to help with social events, bingo and office work.

“Angela House has an impact on everyone who goes there,” Sister Sharon Karam, RSCJ, upper school language arts teacher at Duchesne Academy, said.