Been There, Done That

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Kathryn Griffin, 53, leads an unconventional reentry program at the Harris County Jail in Houston for women who have been incarcerated for prostitution. Griffin’s mission to rehabilitate women who were living on the streets supporting their drug addictions by means of prostitution is not just a coincidence. She has lived this lifestyle herself. Photo courtesy statesman.com

Griffin’s experience began 30-years ago, when she toured as a singer with Rick James. She developed a cocaine habit that she couldn’t sustain with her singing income alone. Griffin had to sell herself for sex to keep up with her drug addiction.

After 20-years of accruing drug and prostitution charges, Griffin was facing up to 35-years in prison. Her life turned around after she completed her drug treatment and sentence.

Griffin was volunteering at Harris County Jail when she met up with Adrian Garcia, then city councilman and currently Harris County Sheriff. The program was spawned when Garcia was inspired by Griffin’s vision of creating a program for women serving time for prostitution. Garcia is responsible for launching the program that dozens of women have successfully completed.     

Griffin began her journey presenting a version of her prostitution reentry program to Houston-area outreach organizations. She funded the program with her father’s residual proceeds from one of the songs he wrote for Marvin Gaye. Ironically the hit was “Let’s Get It On.”

The 90-day program’s main objective is to build women’s confidence, eliminate victim mentality, and restore healthy relationships with men. The goal of the unique reentry program is for former prostitutes to gain life skills so they can function in the real world without drugs and prostitution.      

Inmates are encouraged to share their stories with other women. Griffin is the captivating facilitator of the innovative learning process. Her inspiring contribution to the women is her experience as a drug addicted prostitute living on the streets.

Quoting straightforward affirmations is one of the program’s strategies for building the inmate’s self-esteem. The women are cautious about divulging the reprehensible details of the lives they led that landed them in jail. An affirming declaration that encourages women to speak-up is: “To get well, you got to tell.” The program is named after the confirmation, “We’ve Been There Done That.”

The group consists of about 18-20 participants that are hand-picked by Griffin. Some of the group members are victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. Shockingly some were sold as children for sex by their own parents.

Griffin commits herself to monitoring the women for five years after their release from incarceration.

Sheriff Garcia proclaims, “I am grateful for her commitment to help others who are currently traveling a journey that she knows all too well.”

Lately, the program made significant progress. Harris County Judges are beginning to refer defendants with prostitution charges to the program. Recently Ms. Griffin lobbied to pass a law that produced mandatory prostitution courts with a program centered on rehabilitation.  

The exclusive reentry program has gotten the attention of State Senator John Whitmire, Democrat of Houston. He is in favor of the program because his focus is to budget criminal justice funds towards rehabilitating perpetrators.

Dallas and Corpus Christi already run similar diversion programs, but since legislation that supports the program passed the program is rapidly expanding.

Jurisdictions from the east coast to the west coast have inquired about the diversion program.

 On Aug. 1, the program will expand to help 57 male inmates. The men are human trafficking survivors that evolved into the prostitute and pimping business.

 Ms. Griffin’s heart is still into helping former prostitutes start new lives and she is now mentoring others to follow in her footsteps.

“I know that I was not created to be a prostitute or a drug addict,” Ms. Griffin said, “but because this entered into my life, I learned how to turn this misery into a ministry that covers all levels.”