As a formerly incarcerated individual, Carmen Pacheco-Jones has dedicated herself to transforming the criminal legal system to create equity and justice for all who are impacted. Pacheco-Jones is the founder and chair of Peer Navigator Training Program, and serves as a Health Program Specialist for the Black Health Initiative. She also serves as a member of Spokane’s Regional Law and Justice Council, among other roles.
Pacheco-Jones also formerly served as Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention Coordinator with Washington State University, State Certified Trainer in Diversity and Social Cognition, Certified Forensic Peer Counselor, Community Health Worker, Whitworth graduate and Masters Candidate in Education with Gonzaga University.
“Between the ages of 12-17, I went through 13 placements in the foster care system, all of which I ran away from and ended up in the streets, where I was forced into human trafficking. I aged out homeless, pregnant, and suffering from substance use disorder. I struggled to get clean. I married, but when my marriage ended in divorce, I relapsed, lost custody of my children, and was back out on the streets.”
Soon after, her children entered the foster system. “I have five children, and they were separated into different homes. Because of the trauma of my own abandonment as a child, I didn’t want my children to experience what I had. It was after my first visit with Child Protective Services, when I had just come out of jail and had detoxed, that I decided to check myself in for treatment.”
Pacheco-Jones credits treatment, not jail, with helping her turn her life around. “We need to address the root causes of substance use disorders with programs and services that actually work. I’ve been clean for 20 years. I’ve rebuilt my relationship with my children. After three generations, we have broken the cycle.”
Carmen pursued her education, earned a BA, and began working as a Crisis Response and Victim Advocate. “I wanted to ensure that the most vulnerable people were safe and that their voices were heard.”
Pacheco-Jones says it’s critical to organize around the barriers that impact the formerly incarcerated — access to school, employment, housing–everything that impacts people in re-entry. “People of color are over-represented in prison and do not have access to programs that can help; this is structural racism. People coming out of the system now, they don’t need to wait 20 years, we can offer them services we know are successful. I wouldn’t want anyone to navigate it alone as I have.”