While Chiffonda Hampton was serving three years in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, she met Tonja Myles, a Peer Support Specialist with Capital Area Human Services. Myles was offering wellness classes to inmates with mental illness. Those classes taught Hampton how to cope with the anger of being abused as a child and basic life skills she had never learned before. Now that Hampton is out of prison, she continues to check in with Myles at CAHS.
“How have you been?” Myles asks.
Hampton says she’s been okay, but that’s not enough for Myles.
“‘Okay’ can mean different things to different people,” Myles tells her.
“I’ve been okay in the sense that I’ve been going to work and staying away from negative people,” Hampton says, but she has trials and tribulations like anyone else.
The wellness program addresses more than just mental health. The meetings help Hampton stay focused on the things that keep her moving forward, like getting her driver’s license and housing. Myles is there to help Hampton develop a plan and a timeline to accomplish those goals.
She also wants to know about how Hampton is feeling physically.
“You’ve lost some weight,” Myles points out. “Yes, I have and I’m still losing,” says Hampton.
When Myles asks how Hampton is sleeping, Hampton says “I didn’t use to sleep well, but I do now. I dream and everything.” Myles asks Hampton about how her medications are making her feel. Hampton says she's adjusted to them -- "at first they had me drowsy, but I'm way over that now."
For Hampton, meeting with Myles ever few weeks keeps her on track.
“I have a job, I come to group every week, I keep my appointments with my therapist and social worker and I stay around positive people,” says Hampton.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is in the planning stages for a crisis stabilization unit that would be able to offer counseling like this to more people, diverting them away from the criminal justice system in the first place.