On today’s episode, we meet Challise Cantleberry, the Director of Detention Center Services at Changed Choices. Changed Choices is a local non-profit that supports women impacted by incarceration. They do this through the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, North Carolina area prisons, and in the community. When women are residents at the detention center, Changed Choices can support them through life skills and parenting classes, mentorship program, and counseling services. If women are accepted into their program as clients and are residing at North Carolina state prisons, Changed Choices supports them through their wraparound services including bible studies, pen pals, mentorship, substance abuse curriculum, and support for their families. Once the women in the program have completed their sentences, the community services include mentorship, bible study, assistance with housing and job searching. Changed Choices also has the “Ruth Snyder Home” named after the founder where they can support 5-6 women in the home. Challise mentions that some of the challenges that their clients face once they are in the community include finding a job and housing which can be difficult depending on what is on their record. Family reunification can also be a challenge for them.
“It’s a message of somebody on the outside knows this woman and she has someone who is paying attention to what’s going on and she’s valued and loved and all of a sudden, things change, they are just not forgotten in that prison.”
During COVID, Changed Choices has been unable to provide in person services at the detention center and local prisons. Their mentors switched over to writing letters and their classes were held virtually in the pods. Counseling services ceased at the detention center but were able to continue virtually at the prisons. They started an initiative where they collected items to go into “Encouragement Bags” for the staff at the prisons and detention center.
“That’s why we need second chances; sometimes people really aren’t given a good start and situations perpetuate bad decisions.”
Changed Choices started in 1999 by a woman named Ruth Snyder who was asked to come mentor a couple of women at the detention center. This turned into classes and Ruth recruited other women to join her.
“They look just like us. They just need somebody to give them a second chance that they’ve changed their ways and they want to live a life that’s pleasing to the Lord. So they are attending churches and part of a congregation, they are working for employers all around town, and their kids go to school just like our kids.”
Before working at Changed Choices, Challise had a background in Social Work and Women’s studies. She had a desire to move south and through a friend was connected to the organization. She has now been there 5 years. Self-care for her includes her faith(family and church family) and getting outside(walking, bike riding, and swimming). Challise loves working with the COOOL(Changing Our Outlook on Life) mentors.
Changed Choices could use support as they are a non-profit that is funded by individuals, churches, and grants. Financial support is accepted on their website and by mail, volunteers are needed as mentors, card writers, and pen pals. Visit their website to sign up for the newsletter to learn about what is going on in the justice system and current needs.
Challise is inspired by Brave Step and Crystal Emerick(a former podcast guest) for the partnerships they have formed and what she is doing with her organization. She also enjoys working with Beds for Kids, Dress for Success, and Fashion and Compassion, all Charlotte organizations.