As Mothers In Charge prepares to host its 15th Anniversary Gala, we are excited to share the stories of real women who have been impacted by the work that we do. Please save the date and check out this story of Mothers In Charge.
“I was born addicted to heroin. My birth mother didn’t want me and was going to sell me,” Valerie Todd says. Valerie never met her father. She was raised in her grandmother’s house, where she was physically and verbally abused. Before she was 10, her step-father had sexually molested her, shot her sister in front of her, and hanged himself. She began drinking, served time in juvenile facilities, and later was sentenced to prison.
In 2009, Valerie noticed her prison cellmates return “excited and happy” from a class taught by the anti-violence non-profit Mothers in Charge. During 25 weekly class sessions, the women were learning problem-solving and social skills and unlearning risky decision-making that had landed them in prison. Valerie signed up, and thrived in the class. The role plays “were so real and alive,” says Valerie. The class and finding religion in prison helped Valerie to “throw out my childhood negative core beliefs,” and to instead begin to trust people. After the class, Mothers in Charge co-founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight invited Valerie to be a peer mentor for other interested inmates.
When Valerie returned from prison, she accepted Ms. Dorothy’s invitation to join Mothers in Charge as a trainer. Since 2012, Valerie has taught anger management, job-readiness, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills to both male and female inmates and to over 100 formerly incarcerated women.
“Now people are a source of joy to me,” says Valerie. She knows that not all of the former inmates will go on to hold jobs, and that some will return to active addiction, crime, and even prison. But she celebrates when someone “forsakes a dangerous behavior.” Or is able to take control over their own emotions. She adds, “I know the seeds have been planted.”
Valerie says Ms. Dorothy “is stretching me to new heights” by encouraging her “not to be afraid of new opportunities.” Ms. Dorothy “has pushed” Valerie to speak to groups in Philadelphia, New York, North Carolina, and other places. As the two took the microphone to address 1000 formerly incarcerated women in California, Ms. Dorothy whispered to Valerie, let’s sing. Valerie called on God to give her courage. And together they sang “I’m a Survivor” to the crowd before their talk. In Harrisburg, Valerie addressed Pennsylvania’s statewide prison re-entry coalition, including legislators, staff of the Governor, Attorney General, Corrections agencies, and non-profits. Valerie was the only person in the room who had served time in prison.
About venturing outside her comfort zone, Valerie says, “Ms. Dorothy has taught me how to be addicted to uncomfortability, in a positive way.” She adds, “I never say no to her. I’ve said yes so much and it has stretched me and made me better.”
Interview with Valerie Todd, July 26, 2018, by Sarah Ricks