Cindy Rios defies our subconscious stereotypes about drugs, addiction and incarceration.
“I was living on the lake. I had two children. I really had a good life,” she recalls.
It wasn’t drugs that did her in; according to Rios, it was her low self-esteem. “I got into some unhealthy relationships with people doing drugs,” she says, “and I got sucked into it very quickly.” Eventually, she landed in federal prison. Rios entered a stringent drug treatment program and received a year off her sentence. When she was released from prison, Rios looked forward to picking up her life where she had left off. The world had other plans.
“Everything was different,” she says. “I thought I could just go back, but everything was challenging.” Although she felt strongly that her problem was her “thinking” and not an addiction to drugs, Rios entered a substance abuse program at Cleveland’s Oriana House, where she found a refuge and a place to restart her life.
Thanks to resources at Oriana House, she found a job and an apartment. “I had to rebuild,” she says. “It was through the help of other women that I was able to stabilize.”
With her life gradually getting back on track, Rios was bothered by a recurring thought. “Women are going to prison at surprisingly alarming rates,” she says. Many of them, like Rios, are released without the proper resources to help them with basic living skills. She knew she had to do something.
She had the idea to create a home base for post-incarcerated women who did not have a history of substance abuse. “God gave me the vision of this house,” Rios says. And on that vision, Dinami House was built.
Rios found an abandoned two-family home in Slavic Village and, with the help of her husband and a handful of volunteers, refurbished it inside and out. Dinami House accommodates up to six women, who share a kitchen and bathrooms. The interiors are comfortable enough so that the space doesn’t feel cramped.
The welcoming atmosphere of Dinami House immediately puts new residents at ease, but it’s the resources developed by Rios and her board members that provide the crucial key to reentry. This is not a 12-step program; it’s a process in which women use the resources they most need to get back on their feet. “They could need help with anger management or grief and loss,” Rios says.
Two licensed therapists offer their services for free. Residents can take part in programs like gardening and adventure therapy, while also enhancing their job readiness, social skills, parenting abilities and understanding of personal finances. Dinami is the Greek word for “strength,” and that is the simple purpose of this transitional home: to help residents realize their personal strengths so they can lead productive lives.
Residents pay 30 percent of their income toward room and board. “We say they can stay as long as it’s a tool and not a crutch,” Rios says, adding that thus far the longest stay has been nine months. Once they leave, the women are encouraged to keep in touch with Dinami House. Rios notes that not one of the women who has been at Dinami House has reentered prison.
Dinami House and Women’s Wellness Foundation, the faith-based, all-volunteer organization that comprises Dinami House and other services for post-incarcerated women, have formed alliances with established local entities, like Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, to identify women who could benefit from living at Dinami House. Some of these women find employment during or right after incarceration and are ready for the life skills and stability offered by Dinami House. “We also work with probation officers, and we go to re-entry fairs,” Rios says.
On this particular day, Rios is off to interview a woman about to finish her sentence for an assault charge. She’s an ideal candidate for Dinami House, Rios says, because she has been working while incarcerated, and she is not in need of a rehab living situation. “Unfortunately, there’s nowhere else for her to go,” Rios says, and so she is hopeful that Dinami House will be this woman’s chance at reentry.
Rios knows that it’s hard to go back to your previous life after you’ve been in prison, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live with purpose, self-reliance and self-respect. “It’s not cliché to say that everyone deserves a second chance,” she says. “With gratitude, drive and ambition, you can make it happen.”