NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Jolene Ramirez was interviewing in Nashville when she got the news that her youngest son had been arrested in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
COVID had hit the U.S., and the mother of three had planned to bring her boys with her to Music City.
Just when Ramirez landed the job as associate chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt, it happened again.
This time 19-year-old Reggie was sentenced to prison for selling narcotics.
That was May 2020.
Ramirez hasn't hugged her son since.
"I have not seen him in person, only on Zoom," said Ramirez. "It's been horrible. I don't even have words."
She knows the challenges that await Reggie once he's released.
"When he comes out, he won't have a driver’s license; he's lost his social security card," Ramirez added. "I wouldn't even know the first thing about helping him to get reconnected with that, or a job now as a felon or a student, like my other two college students. So, this program has helped me immensely feel hope so there might be an opportunity for Reggie in the future."
Jolene says the worry would have overwhelmed her if it weren't for a perfectly placed neighbor with a story just like hers.
"I purchased a home, and my neighbor Joan is on the board here at Dismas House," Ramirez explained. "Her son was incarcerated for 25 years. We connected."
In its new modern building off Charlotte Avenue near Centennial Park, Dismas provides shelter, clothing, and transportation to men just released from prison.
Through therapy, mentorship, and job readiness training, the program can serve over 175 residents a year, addressing the root causes of why they went to prison in the first place.
Each new resident receives a basic needs package upon arrival with toiletries, household items, and three days of clothing.
Within 72 hours of arrival, he receives his first of at least 30 hours of individual and group therapy sessions, with another 30 hours of relapse prevention programming.
The non-profit's mission is to set the standard for reentry programming and ultimately break the cycle of incarceration.
Ramirez jumped at the chance to volunteer at Dismas, serving meals every few weeks; mentoring residents one-on-one; and joining the board of directors.
"The timing of how this all occurred in my life was a perfect opportunity for me to serve, as well as learn," Ramirez said. "And have a connection of how I can possibly help my son, and have a second chance for when he's released."
She added that she's "finally at peace, hopeful, and a little scared."
The Tennessee Corrections Department will decide if Reggie can ultimately move to Nashville and have the chance to call Dismas home.
She encourages parents in similar situations to know there is an end to the darkness they're going through.
"Life is hard, but you will come out on the other side," Ramirez said.
To learn more about Dismas House, click here: https://dismas.org/