Programs by Pillar
Dismas House provides our residents with food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. In this way, Dismas House looks to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a 5-tier model of human needs often depicted in a pyramid. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. By providing our residents with all their basic needs (physiological and safety) from the time they walk in the door, Dismas House ensures they are provided a strong foundation from which to focus on their own self-care and adjustment to the free world.
Health & Well-Being
Through this pillar of programming, we help residents develop tools to manage stress, gain self-awareness, and improve physical and mental health. Below is a sampling of our current programming. The list is not comprehensive and is subject to change.
Residents start every day with morning meditation which allows them the opportunity to practice and reap the benefits of mindfulness. Meditation, with its proven mental and physical benefits, teaches residents a tool to use for managing stress, increasing self-awareness, focusing on the present, and reducing negative emotions.
Mental Health Program
Every Dismas resident receives weekly individual therapy and group counseling, as well as psychiatry with medication management. Upon arrival, all residents are diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder (in addition to some pre-existing diagnoses) due to the emotional challenges of making the transition from incarceration to the free world. Through our partnership with Centerstone Tennessee, every resident has an initial assessment, at least two individual trauma-informed therapy sessions, and a psychiatric evaluation which may include medication management. Upon completion of individual counseling, the case management team makes a recommendation and at times mandates that a resident continues individual therapy. Additionally, each resident participates in weekly group therapy for the duration of their stay at Dismas.
Recovery & Relapse Prevention
Since many residents come to Dismas with a history of substance abuse, it is critical to quickly engage them in recovery programming. During their first 30 days (or Phase I) at Dismas, all residents attend an NA or AA meeting every day or 30 meetings in 30 days. In addition, each resident works in tandem with their case managers to develop relapse prevention plans. A phase I evaluation at the 30-day mark determines whether a resident will remain on our Recovery Track, which necessitates ongoing addiction support based upon each resident’s particular recovery needs. Dismas residents attend 12-Step meetings offered in-house, virtually and outside locations such as Nashville Recovery Center, The Friendship House, Last Stop Club, Salvation Army, and Goodwill.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Offered once a week starting in January 2021, DBT is a therapeutic modality proven effective in the treatment of personality disorders, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Through DBT, residents practice skills that help with emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, and distress tolerance.
Ted Talk Tuesday
Every Tuesday following meditation residents watch a Ted Talk from a staff-curated collection followed by a discussion about the topic. Chosen topics and speakers are meant to inspire and encourage thoughtful discourse and therefore must be informative, relatable, and engaging. Topics may include overcoming adversity, managing emotions, life experiences in/after prison, addiction, masculinity, healthy communication, embracing mistakes, and living without regret. Brene Brown’s popular talk on the power of vulnerability is a favorite.
Twice weekly, residents participate in a virtual CrossFit course offered by Nashville Personal Training Company and an in-person one offered by Music City Crossfit, both outside providers. This is an opportunity for residents to reap the benefits of exercise, as well as use their body weight to improve their strength, agility, and cardio health.
Residents participate in a weekly class. This is an opportunity for them to practice mindfulness and improve their strength, balance, flexibility, and overall physical and psychological well-being while also improving the relationship between mind, body, and spirit.
Legal Aid Society
Through a Tennessee Bar Association grant, our residents meet monthly with the Legal Aid Society, which provides pro bono legal representation and assistance for many legal issues including expungements, restoration of voting rights, child support, child custody, and various other specific legal needs.
Driver’s License Reinstatement
Through a Tennessee Bar Association grant, our residents meet regularly with Chelsea Nicholson, an attorney who specializes in driver’s license restoration. Returning citizens often face many barriers to getting their driver’s licenses back, which in turn impacts their ability to find employment and effectively parent. With Chelsea’s help, our residents are given the incredible opportunity for pro bono legal representation in criminal court and personalized support in reducing and even eliminating significant court fees.
Below is a sampling of our current programming in this pillar area. The list is not comprehensive and is subject to change.
Our new mentorship program carefully matches a Dismas volunteer, who has been trained in mentorship methods, with one or more of our residents to create a beneficial relationship that provides our residents with emotional support, encouragement, guidance, friendship, connection, as well as serving as a resource, assisting with goal setting and coaching, providing career or academic support, and spiritual guidance and/or recovery support.
Technology deficits among those leaving prison are a major challenge to successful reentry. Twice a week our residents participate in technology skills classes taught by Vanderbilt University students from the Vanderbilt Prison Project. This is an opportunity for residents to gain and hone the computer and smartphone-based skills necessary to succeed in the 21st-century digital world. Topics covered include using a cell phone, searching the internet, googling, creating word documents, sending emails, emailing attachments, uploading resumes, downloading apps, responsible use of social media, and basic troubleshooting.
The Dismas financial education curriculum is offered through a partnership with Fifth Third Bank and includes a series of four courses – budgeting & saving, boosting credit, eliminating debt, and protecting your identity. They have begun offering a popular 5th bonus course – first-time homeownership. Fifth Third has made a digital learning platform tailormade for Dismas residents that include 35 short, interactive classes on every financial topic you could imagine. In the age of COVID-19, having such an accessible, digital resource for all our residents is both beneficial and innovative. What makes Fifth Third different from other banks, is that they do not charge any fees to our residents and will open accounts for those with convictions, like fraud, that many banks would not take on.
Job Readiness Program
Prior to beginning employment, residents participate in job readiness training through Project Return. Residents participate in their one-week program, taking classes focusing on job acquisition and retention, financial management, and job skills. Residents create their resumes, practice mock interviews, and are provided with multiple resources to aid them in their job search. Upon completion of this program Dismas House residents are eligible for job opportunities through Project Return’s transitional employment program (PROe).
Volunteer Community Dinners
A tradition as old as Dismas House, residents are given the opportunity to connect with community members through family-style dinners every Monday through Thursday where residents eat in fellowship with volunteers. Community Service – Residents “pay it forward” by volunteering with various non-profit organizations in the community such as The Bridge, an organization that helps at-risk children, the homeless, and the working poor.