Anita Neal was flabbergasted when a judge put her behind bars for drinking and driving but admits today that was one thing that helped save her.
Something else also gave her the tools to build a healthy and productive life: the Women's Treatment and Resource Center (WTRC).
Neal was one of the first people to take part in the WTRC's programs, which were launched in 2005 to help women on probation or parole in Salt Lake County. The center at 80 S. Orange St. (1900 West) celebrated the opening of a new building Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Neal, a recovering alcoholic and a single parent, has moved from the wreckage of a dysfunctional childhood, active alcoholism and a sense of having no value as a person to a sober life with a solid future. Among other things, she will be attending graduate school to become a social worker.
Although she is admittedly a determined person, Neal credits the WTRC with helping her gain the insight and skills to make important changes.
"I am a living example that this does work," she said to enthusiastic applause from a roomful of people.
The center offers such things as parenting classes, job training, educational opportunities and help for substance abuse and mental-health problems. It currently serves 200 women.
Tom Patterson, executive director of the state Department of Corrections, said he hoped this new building is a step toward the next stage of offering hope to women who need it.
He noted that nationally there has been an 800 percent increase in the number of females behind bars in the past 12 years. Most have suffered domestic violence or some other abuse; are below the poverty level and have few job skills; and have more than one child. Without help, children of these women are six times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than other youngsters.
Shannon Cox, supervisor with Adult Probation and Parole, said the center sparks hope in women so they can revive their dreams of getting an education, being reunited with their children and living a better life.
The facility has served 1,400 women since its inception."This building is giving us the opportunity to provide more services to more women," said Leslie Miller, director of the Orange Street Community Correctional Center. "It's a wonderful thing to see the changes in these women's lives."