Removing Stigmas And Helping People Succeed

Formerly Incarcerated Women Speaks To WV Legislature

Ashley Omps testifying before the Jails Committee Photo by will Price

The June Legislative interim was a prime example of strength in numbers and what changes are possible when people come together for a common purpose. Twenty women from Recovery Point in Charleston, most of whom have been incarcerated, had the privilege of attending the regional jail interim committee meeting at the West Virginia State Capitol. Recovery Point Charleston West Virginia is a long-term recovery women’s facility. Recovery Point’s program helps place children back with their mothers. I was honored to be one of the speakers who testified to the committee as a formerly incarcerated woman, Melissa Rose being the other.

I felt welcomed and was formally greeted by the committee comprised of all men, seating on a rise much like a judge, as I took the podium. I felt heard and was asked questions by lawmakers after my presentation. It’s good to know that my opinion and those of other formerly incarcerated West Virginians can help our state come up with solutions to the problems affecting many of us. My story is not the exception. You can find stories of rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community in all 55 WV counties.

People who are closest to the problem are the ones who are closest to the solution. So it gave me hope that those who have experienced the criminal legal system can have a positive voice. We can work together toward long-term solutions that will save money and resources and reduce the incarceration rate.

I know all too well the issues of overcrowding and understaffing, but getting to paint a picture for our lawmakers of what it’s like inside the jail walls was empowering. Even though it was difficult, I share my story about my mental health disorders, the lack of resources for pretrial diversion, and barriers to reentry. I hope my experience will benefit others.

West Virginia is not an easy place. Being incarcerated in West Virginia is tough. But, then, picking up the pieces of your life after incarceration in West Virginia is extremely hard too. At times, it’s been so overwhelming that I saw no way to get my life back on track, which has led me to violate probation. My journey, the good and the bad, offer a testimony that I hope can help others. It helps me to share and see how far I have come. Today, I am proud to be a voice for those who are incarcerated right now, and I hope to be an inspiration for more people to come forward and share their stories.

(Below) Crystal Allen (wearing Black Voters Matter Shirt) organized women from Recovery Point and Reimagine Incarceration to attend June 2022 Interim Legislative Sessions.Ashley Omps stands proud with her recovery sisters (second row from back, second from left).

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