Getting your life on track after being convicted of a crime -- or multiple crimes -- can be a daunting task. Preshes Johnson, a single mom of three children, has bucked the odds. She was discharged from probation early on a felony drug conviction, and has succeeded in obtaining a degree and landing a job in industrial maintenance.
Preshes' story is one of persistence, and of people coming together to give support, but she has certainly been through a lot.
Family members say she started dealing with mental health issues at 14. She fell into drug addiction, was sexually trafficked, and along with that, came criminal convictions. Then came a turning point.
“I had my daughter in prison, and my family couldn’t be around," recounts Preshes. "This is my first child, and my leg was handcuffed to the bed, and I had a sheriff standing in the room with my doctor.”
She continues, "And right then and there I knew—my life gotta change. Something gotta give and right now’s the time. She depended on me, and that changed my life.”
Two years later, she was able to earn her GED. Then Preshes had setbacks, losing a job, and later being convicted for delivering cocaine. But she completed a probation term, receiving an early discharge after three years.
And last month, Preshes graduated from Gateway Technical College with an associate’s degree in applied science, and has a full-time job as an industrial maintenance technician. She remembers what got her through the roughest times: "God and my dad. My dad passed, so I promised him that no matter what I would finish school."
Preshes says she has still not fully come to terms with the loss of her dad. But she kept her promise to him.
Gateway Technical College Instructor Jay Cook, who teaches industrial maintenance there, says, "Preshes seemed to excel in this program. It was a real pleasure having her. She learned how to run lathes and mills and how to take machines apart and put them back together and troubleshoot them and find problems and fix them."
Jay saw her work ethic. He saw the single mother of three, including a special needs child, arrange to be at classes and attend make-up sessions when necessary. So, when employer Bill Harrigan of Harrigan Solutions called Jay looking for good workers for his service machine support team, Jay recommended Preshes.
Harrigan Solutions opened its doors to her, placing her as the only woman on an all-male team. "To me, the overarching story of this is how does a community, a neighborhood, really, work together to do this over and over again," Bill says.
Wendel Hruska agrees that’s the goal. He’s executive director of Project Return, an organization which helps people re-enter society after incarceration. "First and foremost, individuals really need that positive support network," he says. "And, unfortunately, too many individuals are returning to a very negative support network, and that only escalates problems the individual had been experiencing before."
Wendel says a coordinated plan for re-entry would include finding someone a career with advancement opportunities, stable fair housing in safe communities, and counseling services to address addiction and mental health issues. "And positive support and community organizations that are welcoming to that individual even if there are those road blocks or those hiccups that happen on the way, " he adds.
Bill Harrigan, Preshes’ employer, agrees that it takes a village. "When all of these groups in a neighborhood work together, it’s like an ecosystem. All the money, all the talent, all the resources are there to solve this problem, and actually to do so, without, in my opinion, intervention from the government. But it requires a web of people who are like minded and want to be deliberately developmental about the people and resources in their area. When that happens, it’s awesome."
As for Preshes, she says of her journey in industrial maintenance and re-entry: "It’s hard, but it can be done, and it’s worth it." She adds, "[Graduating] gave me a feeling of accomplishment, and it made me realize I want to further my education."
Preshes says she eventually wants to get her bachelors in engineering.