Arlinda Timmons-Love’s career at Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) began in 2014, but her role as a community builder began long before, when her sisters would call her and ask for help finding jobs for their friends and friends of friends. Today, Arlinda applies her talent for making connections — with people and between programs — and commitment to “treat others the way they want to be treated, and better” as a Re-entry Health Conductor. She partners with recently released men and women to get the resources they need to live healthy lives. Here, Arlinda shares how she came to a role supporting recently-released individuals and what motivates her to connect with others through her own story.
I got started doing re-entry work way before I got started at CCHS. I was working at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center as a supervisor. I would hire a lot of men and women who were being released from jail or prison because that program gave me a chance and believed in me. I’d been to prison myself and the nursing manager still believed in me — and that’s why I gave other people a chance. And in fact, everybody that I hired is still there.
I worked at the City of Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety for 5 years, first part-time as a Peace Keeper and then as a Change Agent. We focused on gun violence because we were trying to save our children, save our future. But in the midst of that, people were dying because they didn’t have Medi-Cal coverage or know how to take care of themselves. Children would find somebody they believed in and then would watch that person die. Around here, people that we looked up to died at an early age. We grew up seeing chronic illnesses and seeing people either going to the hospital or going to jail. I talked to another health conductor who told me how I could do more by helping people understand how important it was for them to go to the doctor and live healthy lives. I took a pay-cut to become a Re-Entry Health Conductor. But to me, the rewards of what I do today are so important.
I want to make incarcerated men and women visible instead of hiding in the back because of our struggles. That’s the only reason I tell my story. What I can offer young men and women returning from prison or jail is hope. I tell them, my record is long. I was ashamed to talk about it. You don’t want anybody to know you’ve been to prison. And now we have people that are afraid to even be successful, that say “I’m not ready to be free,” because they have no resources. The system just kicks them out.
Sharing these stories with people who don’t have the same lived experience is making us visible. This work, it’s coming from my heart.