Gaining trust is the first step toward helping post-incarcerated clients

Stigma: In and Out is a monthly series profiling the clients, providers and leaders of AFC's Corrections Case Management program, which helps HIV-positive people emerging from prison or jail get the support they need upon reentry.

Arlette D. Brooks is a woman who has overcome a lot of challenges. She works as a corrections medical case manager with the South Side Help Center (SSHC), providing direct, one-on-one support to clients recently released from jail or prison. AFC coordinates the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) corrections case management program.  AFC aims to assist SSHC in accomplishing their goals, especially when it comes to their HIV-positive clients who have histories with the corrections system.

The work that Arlette performs is vital to public health and reducing HIV rates and decreasing stigma. Arlette meets her clients where they are emotionally and provides essential psychological and social services, groups for clients allowing  for a safe space for them to explore relationship issues, life as a re-entry citizen, medication regiment practices, and more — in addition to conducting harm reduction groups for drug users. While Brooks mostly works with older men and women, she participates as a member of SSHC’s Street Outreach Community team, which locates clients who have strayed from the program in an effort to get them back into vital services.

The bulk of the work that Brooks does for the community is hands-on. Meeting clients at their medical visits and delivering grocery vouchers and public transportation cards are just a few of the things that Brooks does on a daily basis. In the past, she has even given her own and some of her families’ clothing to clients in need of interview clothes to assist their efforts in finding employment

“Clients don’t come to us because they feel that we cannot help them. I am for helping.” Brooks can relate to those same feelings — now after 30 years of being freed from her battle with drug abuse, it is easy for this community leader to identify her mission. “Case management is my calling.”

After her term of rehabilitation at a treatment facility in Peoria, IL, she was ready to be an inspiration to someone else in need. She too has lived with stigma; her past has caused her to lose friends and experience prejudice. For Brooks, gaining her clients’ trust is not only the hardest part of her job — it is also the most important part. Knowing the weight that stigma can carry, she encourages her clients to “live and be fabulous.”

Her career in case management started with Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). It was with this organization she landed her first job working in juvenile detention as a case manager, helping youth who were active drug abusers better navigate life. Brooks did this until it was time for her to take on a different challenge — working in adult corrections. She worked out of Statesville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison for men in Crest Hill, IL. She found working in the prison, primarily with men who had life sentences, hard at times. A lot of the men who were coming through the prison were the same young men she had spent years working with in the juvenile sector. However, it wasn’t until Brooks endured the loss of her brother-in-law due to violence within prison walls that she knew she had to move on. She had had enough and wanted to go into prevention. Working in corrections case management is prevention — she works to prevent her clients from living behind prison walls again.

Experiences like the ones Brooks has had help her show love and compassion toward clients. “I have a heart for the people because I have had that pain in my life before.” Brooks looks forward to the future with SSHC and hopes to one day have a facility that houses males in need of housing after being released from the corrections system. “Having mostly male sex offenders as clients, it becomes even harder to find them housing in a system catered to women and children.”

Getting a client to trust can be a challenge, but with case managers in the field who can relate to their clients, the corrections community gets a step closer to eliminating stigma.

Categorized under Case management, Inside Story and Stigma: In and Out.