Spinal Stenosis is a condition where the disks in the spine degenerate leaving the spinal cord pinched. It often results in pain, numbness, and muscle weakness in the lower back and legs as well bladder and bowel control issues. Imagine experiencing these conditions on a daily basis in combination with PTSD and general anxiety. Your ability to find and hold a job, maintain stable housing and generally take care of yourself would be severely impaired. You hang on by utilizing the services of the Christian Aid Center and eventually the STAR Project.
Now, imagine spending two years in that daily pain and precarious living situation while also trying to convince experts and a judge that what you are experiencing is real and serious enough to justify receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) so that you can take care of yourself. This entire two year time span your income is only $197 a month. As the pièce de résistance imagine that you have felony which can have a prejudicial effect on everyone from potential employers to doctors and judges.
Marsha had SSDI for spinal stenosis before her incarceration (she applied 3 times before she got it the first time.) She had been put to work in the prison kitchen which had aggravated her condition. However, she could not prove this to the judge in her SSDI case because of incomplete health records kept by the prison. She then had to reapply upon her release. That was in December of 2011. She spent the next two years in appeals. Fighting conflicting doctors’ reports and trying to get DSHS to approve the funding to get a new spinal MRI from the only spine specialist in town to overrule the previous doctor who had told her that her condition was “not that bad.”
Finally, two years later, in January of 2014 the judge made a favorable ruling on the basis of her mental health diagnosis that gave her the time and funds to get her new MRI which confirmed her stenosis. She had sought approval from DSHS for a course of steroids to treat the pain that approval was denied. However, she has now started a course of physical therapy and hopes that she will be approved for steroid treatments in the future.
The entire course of her appeal process left her scared and feeling invalidated by people constantly denying the reality of her experience. However the support of STAR Project and her reliance on a higher power helped her make it through the process. Reflecting positively on such a painful process Marsha says that she has learned perseverance. “If you really feel like something’s going on in there just keep going.”
Now that she has been approved for her SSDI claim Marsha is looking forward to being more independent. She is especially excited to finally be able to go to Idaho with her son and grandchild to visit her family who she hasn’t seen in 30 years.
David is a client who went to prison for one offense. He was initially release to the west side of the state and was moved by DOC, with very little warning, to Walla Walla. He has been working with STAR since he first arrived here and has become a champion volunteer and has a reputation as a hard worker. This link is to an audio file of an interview we did with David about his experiences trying to find employment here in Walla Walla as compared to his experiences on the west side of the state.
Candi has joined the STAR Project as a client twice. In between she went to an inpatient drug treatment facility. She says, “While I was in treatment I was worried because I didn’t know where I was going to live. Then I got a letter from STAR saying there was going to be an Oxford House. I knew I would have a place and it was a relief.” “Having this housing makes me feel free. I just feel so blessed. Like I've earned my place in recovery, and in the house, and in STAR.”
She says that the difference between her 1st and 2nd times coming out of treatment is that the first place “I had to live in was a dirty place, surrounded by drugs. Now I don’t have that around me.” The Oxford House “allows me to feel a sense of peace and responsibility.”
Candi has now left the Oxford House and is standing on her own two feet.
"Once again thank you for all you & STAR has done for me and all the other clients. Those who have made it as well as those who have fallen again. If it wasn't for your valiant efforts at helping me I would probably be back in prison. In addition, with STAR's help I got registered into school and received my Associate in Applied Arts and Sciences Degree in Auto Body Repair Technology with a GPA of 3.26. There is nothing I wouldn't do for STAR. Thank you!"
George came to us after 24 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder. He just left the program because he got permission to move to be with his son and grandkids.
This is an excerpt of his story in his own words:
"First of all let me introduce myself to you. My name is George J. Porter, born in Moscow, Idaho December 8, 1956. … I lived in Dreary, Idaho for the first 7 years of my life. Then in 1963 my parents moved to south eastern Washington, to a small town called Waitsburg where I attended grade school and three years of high school. I am a high school drop-out.
I began using alcohol at the age of 12, by the age of 14 I was well on the way to being a full-fledged alcoholic. I drank some sort of alcohol every day because in my mind I thought I needed the alcohol to get through each day…
I got married at the age of 19. Two years after we were married our first son was born, George Anthony and two years later our second son was born, Delbert Eugene…
I found myself many times after my divorce being arrested for DWI’s, drug possession, and domestic violence on the average of once or twice every three months. The courts, my family, wife, and friends all begged and pleaded with me to go and get help for my problems, but I just laughed at them all and went on doing my own thing. That was my first big mistake, I should have listened and I would not be sitting where I [was] on death row…
In June of 1988 I moved back to a small community called Kamiah, Idaho. There I met a young lady named Theresa that I began dating. She was very special to me and we both shared a special kind of love for each other and talked about marriage in the future, the spring of 1989. Theresa had gotten me to quit using marijuana all together and was trying to get me to quit the usage of alcohol also.
In the first part of December 1988, I was called home by my mother, Violet Porter, because my dad, George D. Porter, had suffered a massive heart attack and was not expected to live at the time.
About three weeks later the authorities from Kamiah and Nezperce, Idaho came to Washington and notified me that they had found Theresa murdered in her home. I became very upset with what the authorities had told me that happened to Theresa. I was told that I was a suspect and that I would have to undergo a regular homicide investigation where I was dating Theresa and knew her real well …The authorities then asked me about my past life history, so I told them and didn’t try to hide anything from them because I knew all they had to do was pull a FBI rap sheet on me. Secondly, I had no reason to be dishonest with them.
I firmly believed that I would be cleared as a suspect when the homicide investigation was completed. On June 13, 1989 I was charged with first degree murder in connection with Theresa’s death. My attorney and I hired a private investigator to look deeper into the case. Monte interviewed 40 to 50 witnesses and one which was a prior boyfriend of Theresa’s. This interview resulted in a full confession to Theresa’s murder. I went to court several times and presented the confession with all the corroborating evidence which completely exonerated me from the murder at hand. We moved the court several times to dismiss the murder charge against me, but the court refused and held me illegally charged. They got a conviction at the trial and later sentenced me to death. The State did not have one piece of physical evidence to use against me at the trial. My case was based on strictly circumstantial evidence, which was my past life history, which the State used to obtain an illegal conviction for first degree murder against me.
I am now 57 years old putting finishing touches on this testimony.
At last after spending 21 years on death row, my case was taken back and redone due to DNA testing that was done to show I was not the actual person responsible for the crime.
I have truly seen my prayers to God answered and blessings being exhibited to me by my counselor, my family, and most of all though, The STAR Project and its Director Glenna R. Awbrey. The help for which I have received—advice, kindness, love for a fellow man—in helping with my transition back into society. Truly God enabled these blessings to come through people who serve him daily. I would have been lost without these people’s assistance. I was released from prison on 12/05/2013 with $84.00 in the pocket by the Idaho authorities. They offered me nothing merely because I choose to top out my sentence of 25 years. How sad it was, here I had no vocational programming offered to me at all.me against Theresa. The old judgments were vacated the charges reduced to 2nd degree murder without premeditation. The state of Idaho and its attorneys drew up a plea and sentencing agreement and stated to me and my counsels take the deals offered or an appeal will be taken to obtain reversal of the new trial orders issued on June 21st, 2010. They would have sought the old judgment to be reinstated. Needless to say I took the deals offered and closed the case forever. I spent another 3.5 years in a medium/minimum security prison before being civilly and criminally freed from prison on 12/05/2013.
But all said and done I am succeeding in society because of a loving family, people like Glenna and her staff who have supported me and assisted me in being successful in my transition. I can’t be more thankful.
My advice to fellow prisoners is don’t wait to begin changing your life tomorrow, it could be too late. If you have a past history of crime against you there’s a chance that you could fall and be a victim of illegal prosecution that could take years of your life, friends, family from you. Don’t be that victim like me. I wish you all well in making changes to your lives. It’s wise to allow Jesus Christ to walk the high road of trials with you during this life, failure is ultimately lurking around the corner if you go it alone…"