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  • Writer's pictureSusan Rohwer

Second Chance Success: Capable Of Change

Updated: Mar 20


photo of woman at a dinner
Reentry Campus Program student, Nora Gilleos' advice for those who are considering going to school? "Don't be afraid to ask for help. Take a class that has to do with something that you're interested in. "

Nora Gilleo learned about the Reentry Campus Program (RCP) in the 90-day program at Amos House in 2021. She knew she wanted to return to school because returning to jobs in bartending or waiting tables wouldn’t offer her the kind of culture she wanted as someone in recovery. 


But Nora also wanted to give back to the community that supported her through her journey, so she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology from Rhode Island College. Ultimately, she wants to be a licensed mental health counselor who does therapy for people living with PTSD and addiction inside and outside of prison. 


She said none of this could have happened without the support of the Reentry Campus Program. The program staff at RCP helped her with tutors, encouragement when she was frustrated, and just listening. She said she's "sick of the 13th grade," and she can't wait to get to the point in her career where she gets to do clinical work. "But you know, it takes time," she says, "just like recovery takes time." 


Here's more from Nora and her experiences with the Reentry Campus Program:  


What was your, what's your favorite part of school? 

My favorite part of learning is the lecture part of classes, learning and hearing from teachers, such as their life experiences with the subjects that they teach, and getting to know people. 


I'm an older student, but I'm not the only older student. I love the experience of learning. I don't think I'll ever stop going to school, and I'm going to be a perpetual student because I just love learning. 


Photo of Reentry Campus Student
How does Nora describe things now that she's back in school? "Life is good."

I had a hard time when I was younger because I was dyslexic, but I didn't get diagnosed until I was in high school. I was always told you're a C student; you'll never be anything more than a C student. 


I was never encouraged to pursue college by any of my teachers. RCP helped me by telling me how I can get resources like a 504 plan at school so I don’t have to struggle like I used to, so I actually like school now. I like learning because I have amazing support. 


What kind of advice would you give to somebody who is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated and is coming home thinking about going to school?

I would say if you're even thinking about it, go for it. Even if it's just a thought in your head, just try it. But also, baby steps: Take a class and see how you feel. And take advantage of all the support that is out there. 


Community College of Rhode Island has great support for people with learning disabilities or reading difficulties. RCP guided me to hook up with those services. 


Don't be afraid to ask for help. Take a class that has to do with something that you're interested in. Don't go right for college algebra like I did–start slow. 


Reacclimate yourself with the inside of a classroom or with coursework, because taking college algebra almost made me want to stop going to school. 



What do you think people get wrong about those who are incarcerated or those who are reentering from being incarcerated? 

I think people automatically put you in a box and assume that you're uneducated, that you're not smart, and that you will exhibit criminal behavior. I might even have a hard time becoming a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) because of my record. 


The biggest thing that people assume is that you're not capable of change. Especially with a record like mine, I have domestic violence on my record. I have drug charges on my record. People just assume that you're incapable of change or redemption. 


Especially the longer that I was on probation, and I kept getting like it extended and kept getting put back in rehab, people gave up on me. 


People give up on you when you put it into the system, regardless of how long you've been in; if they find out that you have a record, especially my kind of record, they assume that you're never going to change that I'm an angry person. They assume all sorts of stuff about me, and that's what sucks. 



photo of woman wearing sunglasses and a pink sweatshirt
"I love the experience of learning," Nora says. "I don't think I'll ever stop going to school, and I'm going to be a perpetual student because I just love learning." 


What does your life look like now?

Up until three years ago, I was homeless for years. I had lost my children. Had nothing left in this world, was bouncing from sober house to sober house to the streets to the streets. You know, like just back and forth and now. 


Going back to school really gave me a sense of purpose. I think that was one of the biggest parts about going back to school, not just doing those schoolwork. It gave me a sense of purpose and a drive to stay sober. 


I lost three children. Two aged out of the system but are back in my life now, thank goodness, knock on wood. My 15-year-old lives with me now, and I work at Amos House in the finance department. But I'm working on–within the next few years–transitioning into the social services side of things at Amos House. 


Life is good despite all of these hurdles that keep getting thrown in front of me. It's been four years now since I've been off probation. 


But it's still like I can't get jobs because of my record. I can't even do gig jobs like Uber Eats, Postmates all those places. I can't do it. They won't hire me with my record. I only have misdemeanors, but because of the types of misdemeanors they are, I can't even get my record expunged. So that's with me for life.


You can’t get a car loan, and you can’t get a house to live in–the only reason I have a place to live is because Amos House gives people a second chance. 


I'm still concerned about not being able to get my licensure because of my record. The thing that I want to do most in my life is something that I think will give me a real purpose? I might have to fight for that. 


But again, you know, despite my struggles because of my record, I have a life that is second to none. I am grateful each day for my recovery and my ongoing education.

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