Fifteen years ago, Elaine Austin said goodbye to her three daughters, then 13, 4 and 1, to serve a prison sentence on a federal drug charge. It was the hardest day of her life. She left her children with her mother, and says, “My baby didn’t know who I was when I came home.”
Elaine, 52, a resident of Bronzeville, made the best of a bad situation. While incarcerated, she read inspirational and motivational books to stay rooted in her faith and to stay focused on what she wanted to accomplish after her release. She took advantage of educational programs offered in prison, and earned a horticulture license. Released to a Salvation Army halfway house in 2002, Elaine’s residential advisor helped her set life goals. When Elaine next went before the judge who had sentenced her, he was impressed by her attitude and her accomplishments, as well as her letter of recommendation from NLEN. He eliminated seven years of supervised parole, and asked Elaine to speak to women who were violating parole. Elaine speaks for Judge James F Holderman and other organizations to this day.
Elaine has devoted her career to helping others learn from her mistake. She worked for North Lawndale Employment Network for five years, beginning as a volunteer office assistant and working her way up to Workforce Coach. She has also worked for Jane Addams Hull House and the Chicago Housing Authority Employment and Employer Services. “I love to give back to women who are incarcerated, because I was an incarcerated mom,” said Elaine. Last year, Elaine began working for Catholic Charities as a Family Works case manager, helping 125 CHA residents become more independent and self-sufficient. “When you have people in your life who see potential in you as a person, it means a lot,” said Elaine. “We’re making a difference in each others’ lives. I learn from them. They learn from me.”