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A local woman goes from inmate to advocate

Posted at 7:57 AM, Nov 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-24 08:57:59-05

Overcrowding is a crisis facing the prison and jail system, here in Nebraska and in states across the country.

For many inmates, breaking the cycle of crime and building a new life can seem like an impossible challenge. One Omaha woman went from inmate to advocate.

“You hear the clank of those doors and it just about petrified me, I held on to my badge like it was lifeline, I call it my get out of jail free pass,” said Roni Wilder with the Douglas County Corrections.

Wilder knows all too much about getting into jail.

“Jail became a revolving door for me because I had to steal to pay for my habit,” she said.

Her habit?  Drugs.

It was a story that began when she was 12-years-old.  Four years later, Wilder turned her life around and joined the Marine Corps.

“I was the first woman Marine, to ever go into a male-dominated field. I became a diesel mechanic and I was so proud. I had three meritorious promotions, I got to my permanent duty station and Marines weren't very nice to women, back then,” said Wilder. ”They didn't want me in their shop. I graduated number one in my class and I got bullied.”

So Wilder ran, which is something she later become accustom to.

She started smoking pot, got married, pregnant, sobered up, but then she had to take pain medications for a work-related injury. Those pain meds turning into methadone and methadone turned into methamphetamine. Eventually Wilder’s drug use turned into a rap sheet 17 pages long.

After missing a court order, she fled and hid in Iowa.

“I lived in Iowa and in my head, they're not going to come and get me. Why would they come after lil ole me?”

The law caught up with her. Tired, Wilder made a life-changing phone call

“I probably did the smartest thing I ever did,” she said. “I called my drug court counselor and I said, ‘Man, I screwed up. I screwed up really bad.’ “

That confession would open doors for wilder. After becoming clean, she rose the ranks, traveling the state and mentoring inmates.

"I wasn't a good daughter, sister, mother and they want me to go out and help individuals who are vulnerable,” said Wilder.

Her vulnerability is what eventually led Douglas County Corrections to hire her as a Certified Peer Support and Wellness Specialist, now she relates with young people ages 18-24.

"Maybe when they get a little older, they don't have to live with the guilt and the remorse that I have to live with everyday,” she said.

Wilder found the root of her addictions was mental illness. She suffered from ADHA, ADD and PTSD and believes it’s part of the reason, she couldn’t stay out of jail.

“I know there are a lot of people here who had really no control over what their actions. Jail is the largest mental health facility we have in our state right now. Jails and prisons and it shouldn't be like that,” Wilder concluded.

And that’s where Part 2 of our series picks up.  Why are jails the new mental health facility?

That answer and how Douglas County is tackling the crisis head on, tonight on KMTV Action 3 News at 10.