Persistence pays off. The Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy (MBBHT) advised my wife Patty this week that she had been approved to become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). This is a big deal in the professional counseling world. Not bad for a felon who was refused a rubber band for her hair while in the SHU at the Federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota.
What’s the back story? A Federal Bureau of Prison’s counselor greeted my wife, a first time inmate, with the following encouragement on her first day of incarceration in 2009. Without offering Patty to sit down, the corrections counselor said with condescension, “Well Miller, you know you’ve ruined your life don’t you? You’ll never get another job and you won’t be able to pay your restitution.” What a humiliating statement, intended to break a person’s spirit when they are at their lowest. It was an emotional beating with no visible bruises. This from a Federal employee, who is supposed to be a “counselor” and whose wages are paid by our taxes. Those words were never expected to see the light of day outside those prison walls.
While Patty was under Federal investigation, she was fired from her job, there were two search warrants executed on our home and the local crime reporter kept knocking at our front door. Amidst this chaos, Patty decided to go back to school and get her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling. This involved student loans, hope in her future, requiring faith and fortitude; all while wondering if she’d go to prison. It was a gutsy call. Over 18 months, Patty completed all her classes at Liberty University with good grades despite spectacular stress and uncertainty. Prior to completing the final step of her degree, a counseling internship, she was sentenced to 27 months at Waseca Federal Correctional Institute. Liberty University put her on academic leave and life as we knew it was on hold.
After much heartache, three different prisons and many barriers, Patty managed to resume her schooling after her release in May, 2011. She completed her internship at the Union Gospel Mission in Duluth, MN and graduated from Liberty University in August, 2012. During that time Patty was on supervised release. Her Federal probation officer, to his credit, allowed Patty to fly out of state several times, to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was so Patty could complete her studies and take a grueling four hour comprehensive graduate exam. She ended with a 3.7 GPA. Shortly after graduating Patty had yet another National exam to take. Another four hour test she needed to pass in order to apply to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Patty passed the exam without exception in October, 2012. She then applied to the State Board for a license to practice; only to learn on December 31, 2012 she was denied due to having a felony; Happy New Year.
Patty appealed that decision and scored a huge upset victory. The denial was reversed and she became an LPC on September 1, 2015 with a minimum of two years of conditions attached to her license. After two years of those conditions, Patty was able to appeal to the State Board to have those conditions removed. On October 23, 2015, the Board removed those conditions and granted Patty an unconditional license as an LPC. During that same two year period, Patty passed another four hour national exam and took four additional post master degree courses, among a host of other requirements. As a result, she had positioned herself to apply for the state’s top license: A Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). Patty applied for her LPCC on November 5, 2015 and it was granted December 1, 2015. This is an incredible victory for Patty and quite frankly for the people in her care.
Why share all this? The humiliation in prison is subtle, calculated and systemic, seen by few experienced by many. For any felon on probation trying to get a job and housing; barriers are everywhere, but things are slowly changing. Patty’s faith journey has been utterly unwavering, providing hope and strength in very dark times and places. She has successfully reentered society and yes, is faithfully paying her $500 per month restitution. To those who wrote her off, Patty has grace and forgiveness. She has taken the high road, which can be a long and winding and less travelled by many of us. To err is human, to forgive is divine.
NOTE: After receiving her LPC in September 2013; Patty volunteered full time over the next nine months as a LPC back at the Union Gospel Mission where she did her internship. In June 2012, after passing a state back ground check, another stunning win, Patty landed a paid position at a children’s residential treatment center as a therapist where she continues to work. Patty loves her job and the children and families she serves. From my vantage point it is quite heartwarming to watch.