Carmen’s RCS Story: How cash assistance provided much-needed reentry support, while reuniting a family

Mar 22, 2022   |  By Eric Borsuk

Carmen was 40 years old when she found herself caught in the grips of addiction. Carmen’s life began spiraling out of control, resulting in recurring trips to jail and drug clinics, followed by long stretches of probation. She felt her life was starting over again from scratch every time she returned from incarceration or rehab, with no resources or support system. Carmen’s children grew weary of the seemingly never-ending routine, and cut off contact with their mother.

“I lost everything,” Carmen says, “but the worst part was that I lost the trust of my kids.”

Desperate for a solution, Carmen and her probation officer came up with a plan. Within the same week of her release from detox, Carmen was scheduled to attend orientation at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which provides comprehensive employment services to formerly incarcerated individuals.

With the help of CEO job coaches, Carmen chose not to define her life by her criminal record. She quickly advanced through the program and secured long-term employment.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Carmen’s work hours were limited and didn’t even cover her monthly rent payments. As Carmen knew, safe and stable housing is an especially important need for those with substance use disorders.

Fortunately, Carmen was eligible for CEO’s Returning Citizens Stimulus (RCS) program, which provided immediate financial support to people returning from incarceration during the pandemic. Since April 2020, CEO has distributed over $24M in RCS funds, the largest-ever conditional cash transfer to formerly incarcerated individuals.

“The RCS stimulus check was a blessing,” Carmen says. “Having that added support made all the difference in the world. I was able to cover my rent, and it gave me a much-needed confidence boost that I’d be able to get through the tough times.”

Most of all, Carmen says it allowed her to regain the trust of her children. “Once my kids saw that I was doing better, [staying] sober, and taking advantage of programs, they became my biggest supporters. They are so proud of me and everything that I’ve accomplished in the past few years.”

Also, she’s now able to spend time with her grandchildren for the first time.

Today, Carmen has been sober for nearly three years and is a full-time Site Supervisor in Colorado Springs.

“Drug addiction is an everyday struggle,” she says, “but if you want to overcome it badly enough, you can do it.”