Mental health program proves it’s helping former inmates

The ‘Stepping Up’ initiative is booming in North Alabama as it connects inmates with mental health specialists

Mental health program proves it’s helping former inmates

MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - A mental health initiative program here in the Tennessee Valley is making strides thanks to a recent government grant.

Professionals at the Mental Health Center of North Alabama are working closely with current and former inmates to get them the mental health help they need.

“I was adopted, I was caught in a house fire. I got me and my sisters and brothers out the house fire. Later on, we were adopted, split up, moved all over the place. My experiences started when I was real young," Billy Chapman said.

Billy Chapman spent three decades in different federal, maximum security prisons. At 18-years-old he was convicted of drug and armed robbery charges.

“A lot of things was going on with me when I was in prison that I couldn’t identify with. Schizophrenia and paranoia,” Chapman explained.

Chapman characterizes prison as adapting to an entirely different lifestyle. A lifestyle similar to a jungle. You just have to survive.

While serving a life sentence for drug and robbery charges, Chapman got homicide charge as well. That left him with two life sentences, with the chance of parole and he got it.

“It’s hard to accept the fact that you’re free because I did 32 years. And I learned how to live different than people in society for 32 years. It’s not easy to break away from that, it’s not like talking about it, you’re not going to do it over night.,” Chapman said.

Chapman turned to the Mental Health Center of North Alabama's 'Stepping Up' program.

It’s a program in jails across the Tennessee Valley that refers inmates to mental health services after being locked up.

‘Stepping Up’ has been operating in Morgan County for months now, and just got its start in Limestone as well.

Chapman says he’s been working with case managers for only 2 1/2 months and has seen tremendous progress.

“I wanna move on. I wanna be positive. I want to be able to trust people. I wanna live like a normal human being. I wanna do things, I wanna work again one day,” Chapman explained.

Kathy Goodwin, director of the Stepping Up Program says this is proof giving inmates mental health access works.

“When I came to Miss Kathy I was at my lowest. Begging for help, hands and knees. And she helped me,” Chapman said.

Chapman's been back in the real world for nearly two years now, but with only two months of help, he says it's truly a different world.

For 32 years, Chapman and his current fiancee lost contact while he was in prison.

“She’s been my backbone, my support, my shoulder to lean on. We were in a relationship when we were 17 before I went in,” Chapman continued.

Trying to get his mental health back in check, as well as his girl.

For more information on services offered by the North Alabama Mental Health Center, click here.

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