Nicole Mattis murdered her abusive boyfriend. Cindy Livingston, 46, has been a PCP user since the age of 13. Together they are starting over at New Directions for Women Inc., an alternative to incarceration for female offenders.
The one-year program provides an array of services for rehabilitation and independence. Substance abuse and psychological evaluation programming are two key elements of New Directions that contribute to the mental stability of ex-offenders when they graduate.
While the majority of residents struggle with substance abuse issues, there are cases like Nicole Mattis, who have suffered from domestic violence.
It started when Mattis’ boyfriend became violent after drinking heavily. “When he drank everything was my fault. … He threw me out of a second-story window. I have no hearing in my left ear, broken bones,” said Mattis who also has seizures due to head trauma from the abuse. Mattis took matters into her own hands by ending a six year relationship with her alcoholic boyfriend, Ereiron “Miami” Green, by stabbing him in an artery of the heart. “He even said, what are you doing with that—you don’t fight back,” Mattis said. “I held him in my arms—praying and crying—as the blood was coming out of his mouth. I was in shock I didn’t know what to do. And an hour or so later the detectives came.”
After spending 14 months in prison at Riverside Correctional Facility on State Road, five of which were spent on lock down 23 hours per day, Mattis was sent by a judge for a therapeutic inpatient program. “It was the roughest, hardest thing in the world,” said Mattis, who was initially on suicide watch after being arrested. “They stripped me naked of all of my clothes and put me in a smock. It was like—I’m trying to deal with all this—and it was torture,” she said.
Mattis could not easily find a program that would accept her. She said that because she is not a drug addict or prostitute, she was not considered a priority by inpatient treatment centers.
The most challenging obstacle Mattis faces now, as she completes the initial program phase at New Directions, is facing the guilt of killing a loved one. She has a small cross tattooed below the corner of her eye, “so when you look in the mirror you can remember the one who died,” Mattis said.
According to non-profit organization, Strengthen Our Sisters located in New Jersey, an Illinois Department of Corrections study of Chicago women’s prisons found that 40 percent of inmates who were incarcerated for murder had killed partners who repeatedly assaulted them and who had contacted the police at least five times before committing the homicide.
The 33-year-old recently reached the next phase of the program and can attend therapy sessions outside of the facility and go to a spinning class.
A veteran of the program, Cindy Livingston, has been at New Directions since December 2010. She is on welfare and a treatment plan and participates in mental health groups regularly. She will shortly qualify for a unit at a local non-profit, Dignity Housing. “It’s really helped me—you learn a lot,” said Livingston, who was incarcerated initially for 15 years for arson and is recovering from a life-long use of PCP, also known as angel dust.
Sober for 15 months, the sister of six brothers and grandmother of four, she still longs for her partner, Carmen Sanchez, who is carrying out a seven-year sentence in prison. “She wants me to come back to jail for her,” said Livingston, who has her partner’s name tattooed down her right forearm.
Livingston is looking forward to self-sufficiency and is eager to graduate from the program. She said that many people leave the program early and don’t stay to graduate. “In order to have peace with myself I have to be honest. I know what I did was wrong,” said Livingston, who has spent ample time reflecting on her transgressions.
Livingston is in the highest level of the program, A-level, which gives residents the most freedom and responsibility. She wants to come back after she graduates as a role model to those struggling with the same issues she has overcome.
New Directions for Women Inc. was founded in 1987. Equipped with 25 beds, the program is eligible to women 18 years of age or older. To find out more information go to www.ndfwinc.org
Editor’s Note: One of the participants asked us to remove her name during a search for employment. Although Philadelphia Neighborhoods was not legally bound to do so, the management thought it was the best ethical approach.