Your Past Does Not Define Your Future

Your Past Does Not Define Your Future

One month, one family at a time

Guest House in Alexandria is a residential facility that helps women successfully reenter the community from incarceration. It is the only residential house of its kind serving women in Northern Virginia, providing wrap-around services and individualized case management that help each person bridge the gap to a new life.

Guest House can accommodate up to 30 women in its two primary residential facilities located on E. Luray Avenue and Payne Street. They also have Second Chance Community affordable housing on Gordon Street, which can accommodate eight women. 

During a special pizza lunch break between classes three Guest House residents share their stories.

Guest House residential facility for recently incarcerated non-violent women


Janet Wood has just arrived from the Lynchburg Adult Detention Facility where she had spent 332 days, mostly in lockdown due to COVID restrictions. “We were restricted to our rooms with our doors shut.” This is her third day at Guest House and her first day in the classes at the church just across from the Guest House residential facility on E. Luray Avenue. She says the worst thing for her in jail was she couldn’t do anything … ”People telling me when to get up, have meals.”

Wood pulls out her daily schedule at Guest House. She has just been to art therapy and shows a collage she has created of her journey. The first picture is a happy couple. She says this shows she is praying God will give her another mate so she can live in togetherness again. The picture below in the corner is an eagle with spread wings, which she says is flying free with no restraints, which is her goal. The map at the top represents her 20-years of homelessness journey from Texas. “I have prayed about it.” And the beach scene again represents freedom with each person choosing to do a different thing. The feathers in the corner speak to her from her long walks, each feather representing a different thing.

Wood’s goal is to graduate in the 6-9 month program and give back to the community. 

She says, “I have been a year and a half clean but there will be temptations everywhere when I get out. I need a structure.”

Lydia McVee has come to the Payne House residential facility of Guest House from Robinette Regional Jail through a court order. She has been with Guest House for a month and a half and is attending classes and looking for employment as is required. She says she used to own a construction company with her husband so she is used to a lot of responsibility and organizing competing demands but she’s not sure what she’ll be allowed to do here.

For McVee it is difficult not having any leisure time.  There is so much to do. Already today she has had meditation, a Together We Bake interview, art therapy and she has her therapist tonight. She explains there is a structure of classes, therapy, meetings, job interviews and other expectations like helping other residents. “And everything is different. It can be a bit overwhelming, and for a lot of people this can be a trigger.” But she says she doesn’t really have a choice except to go back to jail.

The most difficult thing for her is “not being able to see my babies.” Her two sons are 13 and 17-years-old and she has not seen them in person for a month and a half. She says the residents get passes but her sons live 4 hours away and it doesn’t work for them to drive all that distance for the short visit that she is currently allowed.  She is waiting for her first 24-hour pass and currently using FaceTime, which just isn’t the same.

McVee looks forward to having her own business of some kind again, doing her own thing and making her own choices. “I like the girls I’ve met here. They’ve been through the same thing, and they understand. There are really great people here.”  

Michelle Miller has been at Payne House for two months, sent through a court order from RSW Regional Jail. “But I’d heard about Guest House and I asked to be here.”

The most difficult thing for Miller is being sober. “I’m 40, and I’ve been high most of my life. I have to find a new way of living.” She says, “There are a lot of changes. I have to feel emotions, things I’ve never felt. Real life hits you in the face.” Miller says she was diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia and major depression when she was 12-years-old and used drugs to feel normal—“self medicating I guess.”

She says it is difficult getting everything done when you arrive at Guest House, all of the appointments you have to make. “The schedule feels like it is overwhelming me. Some girls can do it but I just come home at night and fall asleep.” She adds, “I was extremely depressed two weeks ago.” But she has three therapists— for substance abuse, a psychiatrist and art therapy, which help. She says they are assisting her to get on the right medications. 

Miller has an associate degree in human services and may try for a receptionist job while she is at Guest House. She says she was so happy back when normal for her was a functioning user on meth and heroin. Now she is hoping “to get her life in order, live sober and find a new me. They are doing their best to help me adjust.”

Guest House is funded through the Virginia Department of Corrections and grants through local government entities, which provide the basic shelter and food. 

The breadth of additional services offered, which contribute to the success of the program, such as case management, workforce preparation training and life skills reinforcement are funded through other grants and community and business support and contributions.  

During the pandemic Guest House was able to continue the vast majority of its services but was able to serve 150 fewer women. In addition, the underlying trauma of the clients, exacerbated by the increased anxiety and isolation caused by the pandemic, led to the need for additional support. But since many key providers of services eliminated in-person treatment and virtual options were much less effective, the impact on client’s mental health and substance abuse recovery efforts was slowed in these critical areas.  

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