Angela House transitions women into society after incarceration

June 16, 2015

HOUSTON — In 2000, St. John Paul II made very clear statements to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about the duty of Catholic Christians “to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society.”

In Houston, there were very few resources to provide those returning from incarceration with the tools needed to keep from re-offending. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston responded to this call from the U.S. bishops by supporting Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, in establishing Angela House, a transitional, residential facility for women upon their immediate release from incarceration. Angela House is one of 60 ministries in the Archdiocese that is supported by the 2015 Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

Angela House serves approximately 38 women annually who are released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison and state jail system, and county jails. As of December 2014, Angela House welcomed its 288th resident since opening its doors in April 2002. Based on the number of requests for admission to Angela House, which can be up to 375 to 400 annually, its mission to successfully transition women into society after incarceration is “a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society.” (St. John Paul II)

“Our philosophy is to establish a community of women who respect themselves and each other, and who are committed to working for their own empowerment as well as the empowerment of their families and each other,” said Sister O’Connell, who is the founder and executive director of Angela House. “We believe in a holistic approach to each resident’s unique needs and we make every effort to individualize services whenever possible.”

Programs and services include assisting residents with access to medical, dental and mental health services; individual and group therapy; creative arts groups; faith-based support groups; 12-step recovery meetings; job readiness training; financial management; and exercise and healthy living skills. 

“Limited access to mental health services and the lack of affordable in-patient substance abuse treatment often results in incarceration,” Sister O’Connell said. “As a response to our observations regarding women who have been incarcerated, we initiated a collaborative with Healthcare for the Homeless Houston in 2013. We created our Healthy and Whole Program that seeks to empower women with a history of sexual exploitation through wellness, healing through the arts, trauma-informed care and health education classes.”

Sister O’Connell said research shows the likelihood of a person being a success when returning to the community from incarceration is often in direct correlation to the opportunities they have to make the changes necessary that will keep them from re-offending. When people do not return to incarceration, the community does not have to fund those costs and people then can contribute to the community. 

“From the spiritual perspective, the message of the Gospel is quite clear; we are all called to love the least among us, regardless,” Sister O’Connell said. “The catechism of the Catholic Church states, ‘It is necessary that all participate in promoting the common good, which is inherent in the dignity of the human person.’”

Anne Gorman, a volunteer at Angela House for six years, is an example of living out this mission of love. 

“When the residents join me at the table to write each week, the stories that we share by reading out loud are universal,” Gorman said. “The process of accessing one’s story and sharing it within a group releases pent up memories of the past, unearths forgotten joys and builds a sense of community through shared experiences and empathy.”