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Life-Saving Cookies

Catalyst Cookies, a ReMerge program teaching job skills to moms with non-violent felony charges as a part of its two-year program, is helping to keep women out of prison and reunite them with their children.

The birthday cake cookie is soft in the middle and crusty on the outside. At second bite, the rainbow sprinkles dance in your mouth. Come to think of it, this cookie could be named after Brittany, who just celebrated her graduation from Catalyst Cookies’ 12-week program.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Brittany said. “I love making cookie dough. But now I get to transition to a regular job.”

Looking forward to a regular anything is significant for this mom of three who, like everyone in this program, is facing non-violent felony charges in Oklahoma County. Without substantial intervention and support, these moms are unlikely to break the cycles of imprisonment, poverty and drug or alcohol abuse, as 58% of incarcerated women are rearrested. Catalyst Cookies is designed to be part of the solution to high recidivism rates, and it is part of a larger program known as ReMerge. 

Photo by Logan Walcher.

Rebuilding at ReMerge

ReMerge is a two-year program that’s a lot of hard work,” said Melissa Walton, ReMerge Director of Community Engagement. “The moms have to completely rebuild themselves and their social networks.”

Since its launch in 2011, ReMerge has graduated 166 women who parent a total of 404 children.

“That’s a 62% graduation rate,” Walton said, “which is good for a diversion program.”

ReMerge added Catalyst Cookies in 2021, which means Walton will soon have updated graduation data for ReMerge’s enhanced two-year program.

“We think that adding these job skills will help moms move through the process,” she said. “We’d like to see a 75% graduation rate.

“Incarceration costs about the same as coming to ReMerge. But consider what we provide: food, transportation, sober housing, an addiction recovery program plus mental and physical health care. And that’s not all: Each mom’s team includes a case manager, therapist, health and wellness program manager, child reunification program manager, education and employment coordinator and a peer recovery support specialist.”

The help and skill building isn’t even the best part – successful completion of the program means their criminal case is closed.

“What makes ReMerge truly different from other diversion programs is that, upon graduation, our moms are eligible to have their charges dismissed, removing a substantial barrier to the rest of their lives,” she said.

Photo by Logan Walcher.

Entrepreneurs in the kitchen

That, of course, is good news to these moms who need jobs to sustain their families. The training provided at Catalyst Cookies lays that foundation. In the kitchen, moms learn in-demand skills like communication, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, customer service and marketing.

“Marketing includes cookie presentation,” Walton said. “Our customers love the enclosure cards that are individually signed by our moms.”

And entrepreneurship?

“We’re always looking for small business owners who want to talk about entrepreneurship while joining our moms for a Thursday lunch in our beautiful ReMerge dining space,” said Ana Rutherford, Catalyst Cookies program coordinator.

Brittany finished packaging her last batch of cookies. The scents of oatmeal and chocolate and salted caramel linger in the air.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people like to buy our cookies,” Brittany said. “I hope they know they’re helping to save our lives.”

That’s a mouthful, but it’s oh-so sweet.

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