In February, Veronica Germaine went through jail withdrawal.
After spending three years at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, the innocent inmate was finally released.
The 32-year-old Northern Tutchone woman was found not criminally responsible due to mental disorders in 2007.
Her charges were dropped.
But she remained in jail for two more years.
“They had nowhere else to put me,” she said.
“There are a lot of people out there with mental health issues and they’re treated like criminals.”
During her years there, Germaine got used to the correctional centre.
“For the longest time it was home,” she said. And when she was finally released, she missed it.
“I knew what to expect there,” said Germaine.
“I could shut myself off in jail.”
Now, Germaine has to learn how to live in the community.
“I take it day by day,” she said, sipping a green tea at Baked Cafe and Bakery last week.
“It’s the only way I can deal with it so I don’t get overwhelmed.”
Even learning how to talk to people she meets at the gym or at church is a challenge.
“I have to stop myself from talking like I’m in therapy,” she said.
“Just normal conversation is something I have to learn how to do.”
She’s also learning to cook and do the dishes—“because they won’t do themselves.”
Germaine lives in a Porter Creek home with four staff that alternate shifts.
The staff are there from 3:30 p.m. until 9 a.m. every day, she said.
And Germaine has “to be polite.”
“In jail, I was used to just ignoring the guards,” she said.
“So it’s been hard to open up. I’ve had a hard time letting my guard down.”
As a little girl, Germaine grew up in a group home in Mayo.
She was sexually abused from the age of five until she was 14.
During those years she tried to kill herself again and again.
“Now, when I get angry and frustrated, I pray for them,” she said of the former foster parents who abused her.
“This helps keep it from building up and building up.”
But the abuse has left Germaine with trust issues.
“People being kind to me is foreign to me because of when I was a child,” she said.
So when staff at the home ask Germaine about her day, she has to remind herself that this is part of a normal conversation.
“It feels like an invasion of privacy, but it’s actually genuine caring,” she said.
“I have to remember this is just communication, and that these people aren’t trying to get into my life.”
Germane is not sure how long she will remain at the community placement in Porter Creek.
“I’m supposed to meet with the review board in a year, to see how I’m doing,” she said.
The first few weeks in the new place were a roller coaster for Germaine.
She arrived at the home on Monday, February 2nd.
But on Saturday she was sent back to jail for the weekend.
“Something happened with the staffing,” she said.
After another week in the home, she was sent back to the jail for another weekend.
The Yukon’s mental health branch wanted to have the jail as a secondary option for Germaine for up to three months while the community placement was established.
“They didn’t understand what this did to me,” said Germaine.
“Going back and forth to jail, I just wanted to cry. I was so brokenhearted.
“But when you’re in the justice system there’s no place for feelings at all—you’re just a number.”
Luckily, the review board listened to Germaine’s concerns and, after two weeks, “a disposition kicked in where mental health was no longer able to use the jail as a backup if they screwed up,” she said.
Germaine’s community placement is unique.
But it shouldn’t be, she said.
Men have the Salvation Army’s Adult Resource Centre, but transitional housing for female inmates doesn’t exist in the Yukon.
“There are so many people out there that aren’t getting the proper support,” said Germaine. “I am so thankful the review board told mental health to open their cheque books and start doing something.
“Everyday I’m thankful to the review board for giving me another chance.”
Germaine was released from the jail a year ago to attend a 30-day treatment program at Alcohol and Drug Services.
“I jumped into that treatment too fast,” she said.
“I was pretty overwhelmed by the grief and trauma I was experiencing, and I had no idea how to deal with it.
“It was fight or flight.”
Germaine went AWOL and, 10 days later, she was back in jail.
“I was actually happy to be caught, because I was going back to what I knew—jail was my home,” she said.
But now, relapsing scares her.
“I don’t want to be prosecuted again, because I was prosecuted my whole life,” she said.
And Germaine’s getting used to living outside.
“It’s a lot better than being inside and having nothing,” she said.
“I appreciate what I have now, and it makes me want to work hard to keep it.”
The first month in her new place was hard.
“I felt numb,” she said.
Germaine still feels like a robot.
“I’m programmed,” she said.
Every day is full of meetings with counsellors, programming, AA meetings and working out at the gym.
Germaine spends her Sundays at church.
“My life is pretty full,” she said.
The routine is actually “a little boring,” she added. “But I can’t complain because my life is better than it was.”
Germaine also spends some time with old friends.
“I have a friend who used to be hard-core into drugs and alcohol and she turned her life around and that keeps me strong too,” she said.
Germaine is looking for work in the evenings—the only time she has free.
“I’d really like to work with people who are on the streets, the homeless,” she said.
“Because I was part of that, and I know how it feels to be in their shoes.
“And they’re human beings too.”
Addiction drives them, she said.
“And sometimes it takes something tragic before they can turn their life around—like me,” she said.
“I put so much energy into being self-destructive—so why can’t I turn this around and put this energy into doing good for myself and for others?”
Germaine is still waiting for her appeal to come through.
She’s arguing that innocent people struggling with mental health issues shouldn’t be held at the jail.
“I’m still waiting for my appeal, so it doesn’t happen to somebody else,” she said.
“And if it makes it easier for someone else, good, because it wasn’t easy for me.”
Germaine tries not to think of the three years she was held at the jail.
Therapy talks about radical acceptance—accepting things that are not fair, she said.
“And it made it easier for me to wrap my head around this.
“But even today I have a hard time living life as a normal person, and accepting that something’s not going to happen to me,” she said.
“I feel like I’m scrutinized all the time.
“I feel like I’m different. And I don’t like that feeling.”
It hasn’t been easy.
“I went through a lot in my life and I had a long uphill,” said Germaine.
“And people are quick to judge.
“But I’m just a human being that had some trials I had to overcome.”
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