The women were polite, but I'd clearly walked in on something.
And by the pained expression on the face of the pretty woman sitting at the end of the couch, that something had to do with her.
For a few tense moments, the group introduced themselves and talked briefly about how they'd come to participate in the transitional program for female ex-offenders.
But finally the anguish coming from the corner couldn't be ignored.
She got some bad news today, the women said when I asked what was wrong.
Earlier in the week, Trina Mirante had been thrilled to learn that her once a week visitations with her 22-month-old son would be increased.
But then, just a few days later, she was told that the boy's foster parents were fighting the change.
"They were justified in taking him, but they aren't justified in keeping him," Mirante said, crying. "I've been clean for a year, and it's like it doesn't matter."
Some other time, Mirante might have given in to her frustrations and turned to the drugs that caused the state to take her son away.
Instead, she came here, to a house in the midst of potential trouble — the package store just 50 feet from the back door, the bar down the street. Places that can either trigger the addictions that landed the women here in the first place or remind them of how much they have to lose.
For years, GoodWorks has functioned under the radar — a nonprofit organization funded mostly by private sponsors and year-round fundraisers that includes transitional living for a handful of women, weekly meetings, workshops and mentoring.
Women are referred here from York Correctional and other recovery programs, though increasingly by word of mouth.
Missy brought in Starr and Trina. Leonora brought in Diane. And so it goes, with one woman pulling in another, one woman pushing another forward, just as they were doing for Mirante the other day.
"It's not over," one of the women reminded her.
"I lost my kids, too, and I eventually got them back," another added.
"You have to tell them about all you're doing to get your son back," one of the mentors suggested when Mirante tearfully told the group she's already decorated her son's room in anticipation of his arrival.
In the background, with a serene look on her face, was the program's founder, Theresa Goode.
After more than three decades of working for state agencies, Goode saw a gaping need for a program for women coming out of prison, women whose addictions had cost them families, jobs and their self-worth.
It took seven years, but the idea that Goode first fostered in her bedroom, then a small office in Bloomfield, has finally come together in this house the women have come to call their safe place, their serenity.
Before leaving, Mirante was still worried, but hopeful. She'd keep trying to regain custody, she said. She'd keep proving herself.
"This place, these women; they're saving my life," Mirante said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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