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The Evidence of Recovery in State Correctional Institutions

Liz Woodley Photo description:
Liz Woodley

A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) for more than 10 years, Liz Woodley is the Training Coordinator at Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers's Association.

Based in Westmoreland County, her focus is peer support within the criminal justice system and, with funding from the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), she recently provided a Supporting Incarcerated Veterans Training in nine of Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institutions (SCIs).

The Mental Health Association of Pennsylvania interviewed Liz and published her story in the Fall 2016 Newsletter. Liz was interviewed about her work to help incarcerated veterans and the moving experience of sharing the I’m the Evidence/Mental Health Campaign (ITE/MH) with men and women in SCIs:

You were on the road a lot this year, traveling to SCIs in different corners of the state. Tell us about it.

Last November, Drexel University contacted me about co-facilitating a two-day, Supporting Incarcerated Veterans Training as a pilot at SCI Pittsburgh. The training is based on Drexel's veterans peer support initiative. The pilot at SCI Pittsburgh was so successful that Drexel received additional funding to expand the training to SCI Dallas.

Both pilot sites were successful. OMHSAS provided funding to PMHCA to offer the training at seven additional facilities; SCIs Benner, Cambridge Springs, Albion, Mahanoy, Forest, Graterford, and Greene. We trained a total of 183 CPS's in tools and techniques to help veterans while incarcerated and upon release back into the community.

This is an enhanced training that builds on work done from 2010 to 2011 to train people who are incarcerated to be peer specialists. All of the SCIs statewide now have certified peer specialists, some serving short sentences and others life sentences.

Why did you share the ITE/MH Campaign during the trainings, what message do you think it gives people in SCIs?

The Campaign is empowering, not only for people who are walking their recovery but also for people starting out. So it’s great for a training of peer specialists who can take it to others. The Campaign helps people acknowledge their value and share their own personal recovery stories to provide hope for someone else.

Almost 70 people signed up to be Campaign Ambassadors during these trainings. Clearly the Campaign resonated with them. What was the response like in person?

The response was very powerful, especially for the individuals serving life sentences who won’t get released. One person said something that still gives me chills: “Once you know your purpose in life it doesn’t matter where you live.” So many of the men and women I’ve met at the SCIs have found their purpose in peer support.

What’s next for this work?

Going inside the SCI's walls was a wonderful experience for me. But we’ve only been to nine of the 33 facilities. I hope to find additional funding so we can visit every one. All of the feedback about the trainings and the ITE/MH Campaign has been positive, from participants to Department of Corrections staff. I want the training’s tools and the Campaign’s message to make its way across the state correctional system.