WAITT Graduation – and an Announcement!

As we close out 2019, we look to congratulate those who graduated the We Are In This Together (WAITT) Program at Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail (VPRJ) during its first year of inception, including the most recent graduating class on December 13th.

The WAITT Program gives female inmates an opportunity to jumpstart their recovery in a space that promotes support through togetherness.

In fact, the program itself was founded in collaboration of various community efforts… and since beginning in March 2019, we have seen 3 graduations!

Having been present at each graduation, Sheriff Danny Riggs shared with REAL LIFE’s Driector before the ceremony started that he has seen the very real change that occurs throughout the process and the “results of it being a worthwhile program.”

Superintendent Tony Pham opened the ceremony recognizing the changes taking place within the graduates.

With change comes different perspective.

Superintendent Pham introduced the Honorary Supreme Court Justice Cleo Powell as the keynote speaker.

Instead of handing down sentences, Justice Powell spoke about the courage needed to choose a “different path for your future,” and also emphasized the need to remember the courage that brought graduates to this point of accomplishment, celebration, and new beginnings.

Following the ceremony, graduates had the opportunity to reflect on their journey.

The speeches were overwhelmed with the utmost respect and appreciation for everyone involved—which is really a testament to how these ladies have changed.

One graduate realized all the support that brought her to complete the WAITT Program, like being inspired by her children’s success, appreciation towards Justice Powell and Superintendent Pham for the opportunity, and the guidance and patience from many others.

Over 12-weeks participating in the WAITT Program, the journey was full of “laughing, crying, fighting, and supporting one another… but most of all, believing in one another.”

But, this graduation was different. It was the last one of Superintendent Pham, as he is moving to another position outside of VPRJ. This comes with mixed emotions, as we (REAL LIFE) are excited for his future opportunities, but are truly sad to see him go and will miss him!

Almost immediately after taking post at VPRJ, Mr. Pham began discussion on beginning a program. Up to this point, VPRJ did not have legitimate programming – they had various services, but never had a holistic program that prepared inmates for release. Ultimately, this led to a partnership between VPRJ and REAL LIFE to provide 15 to 20 hours a week of programming ran by a part time REAL LIFE staff member. This was WAITT’s inception.

The partnership grew, however, and the Superintendent’s involvement was great, likely more than any other jail administrator. Upon opening of our female recovery house in August 2019, Mr. Pham jokingly said it was the VPRJ house. But, it was not a joke; it quickly became a house for women being released from WAITT. Mr. Pham began working with attorneys and judges to have the female inmates released to the recovery house – which not only provided structured recovery and transitional housing, but also it removed them from the environment where they ‘got in trouble.’ To date, the large majority who have been and currently are housed at the REAL Female House, are from VPRJ, including our house manager Liz!

This partnership and the belief Mr. Pham has in these ladies has led to incredible outcomes and growth. And while not all women have a “successful” end to their story, the majority do, and now are now active in their children’s lives, working a tax-paying job, participating in community service activities, and working to mentor others coming behind them.

It is because of this partnership and dedication to the lives of those he once incarcerated that we are excited to announce naming a room of the house the “PHAM-ily Room.” This will allow us to continue to honor the contribution to these lady’s lives, as well as his support of REAL LIFE, even though he has moved to another career. The impact Mr. Pham has made in these lady’s lives will never be forgotten. Soon, a sign will be hung at the house as a way to continually recognize this partnership and the strong role he has played in the lives of these women.

We appreciate you, Mr. Pham and wish you well!

And to the graduations of the December class – This work is not meant to be easy, but it is definitely worth it. You should be incredibly proud of yourselves for putting in the effort to choose a new beginning in your life! Let’s start 2020 strong! We are in this together!