Case worker, former teacher connects inmates to chance to do better
ALPENA — A former Alpena teacher wanted to help adults get their high school diplomas. Now, Nicole Hatch connects people just released from jail with the resources they need to survive — and thrive — outside the jail’s walls.
At one time a teacher and principal at All Saints School in Alpena and an adjunct English professor at Alpena Community College, Hatch, with 16 years’ experience as an educator, first entered the doors of the Alpena County Jail as an adult education instructor.
Those connections with the jail brought her to the notice of Northeast Michigan Community Corrections, a program under the umbrella of the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments that advocates for fair treatment of incarcerated offenders.
In May, Hatch started work as a case manager for Alpena and Alcona counties — a newly full-time position that taps into Hatch’s passion for education and for helping people past their hurdles.
Now, in addition to her adult education work, the former teacher meets with inmates 30 days before their release to help them make a plan.
To assimilate back into the community and keep from returning to jail, offenders often need to break away from their old lifestyle — a challenge, when they don’t know where to find the resources to make needed such changes.
Hatch serves as an information hub, pointing clients toward education, housing, employment, insurance, health care, and other resources they need to land in an environment better than the one from which they went to jail in the first place.
Release from incarceration doesn’t mean life is suddenly easy. Some of her clients live in tents or vehicles because they can’t find a place to live. Others don’t have money, a job, a car, or any idea how to obtain them.
“They want to do the right thing,” Hatch said. “But that can be a difficult situation when you don’t have the support of your family and you have nowhere to go and you don’t know where your next meal’s coming from.”
She started with one client and now works with 16 people. Hopefully, that caseload will grow, Hatch said.
Clients may meet with her weekly, depending on their needs. Some have homes and a plan in place, but still need help getting health or dental insurance. Some call daily, asking how to get a bus pass so they can go to a job interview or vouchers so they can do laundry. Sometimes they sit on the far side of her desk and use her office computer.
As their needs are met, visits to her office taper off, but she’s still there if they need her, Hatch said.
An Alpena native, Hatch didn’t realize how many resources the community offers until she started trying to find them for other people. The people coming out of jail don’t know how to find that help — but, with Hatch’s assistance, they don’t have to.
She can’t fix their problems or meet all their needs. Housing, probably the largest obstacle faced by people trying to start their lives over, is nearly impossible to find right now, Hatch said.
“At least they know we’re working on it,” the case worker said. “And that gives them hope.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.