By Genevieve Pauser
Most women in prison, myself included, have painful pasts. That doesn’t excuse what we did to get here, but it is something we must confront.
Fortunately, the state of Wisconsin has a pioneering program that makes that a bit easier.
In November 2011, two state agencies collaborated to create a specialized trauma treatment program designed specifically for incarcerated women. It began with ten beds and a handful of staff. It has since been expanded to accommodate 20 women with three peer advisors.
The six-month program is called the Specialized Treatment Unit. It is offered at the Wisconsin Resource Center in Winnebago, run by the state Department of Health Services in partnership with the Department of Corrections. The agency runs these programs for men, women, and juveniles in the prison system.
These programs benefit vulnerable populations and the state as a whole. As the governor prepares to unveil a two-year state budget that the Legislature will spend months debating, that’s worth keeping in mind.
According to a 2013 national study, most incarcerated women suffer from at least one assessed mental health condition during their lifetime, including post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the study found, most have “experienced multiple types of adversity and interpersonal violence in their lives.”
In 2001, when I was 18, I drove a car to a house and waited while two young men went inside to steal drugs. They ended up killing another young man and I was charged with being party to the crime of first-degree intentional homicide, burglary and robbery. I received a life sentence and will not be eligible for release until 2024.
I went through the Specialized Treatment Unit in 2012. Of my more than 15 years in prison, the 180 days I spent in the program stand out as the most important. I learned to respond to my present, instead of react to my past.
The program provides group therapy related to trauma, cognitive behavior skills and symptom management. Participants also meet with an individual therapist once a week for specialized treatment.
In 2015, I was asked to return to the trauma unit to work with other women. The more of us who get better, the more hope it instills in others to do the same.
In an email to the Progressive Media Project, DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt,, provided some numbers: “To date, 128 women have been placed in the program, with 107 completing it successfully. Seven chose to leave; 14 were removed from the program. The overall completion rate is 84 percent. Right now, there are 18 women in the program.”
Most of the people now in prison—myself included—will be released one day. And our ability to reintegrate as productive citizens depends on what we can accomplish now.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I do have some hard-earned insight. I have seen that the cycle can be shattered, and the human spirit restored. Programs like the Specialized Treatment Unit deserve the support of all Wisconsin residents.
Genevieve Pauser is an inmate at the Wisconsin Resource Center. She will spend the remainder of her sentence at Taycheedah Correctional after her peer advisor duties are complete in early 2017. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine.