Gina McConnell-Otten turned 12 the day she ran away to escape her abusive home in Lake Stevens. She was 15 when she got addicted to cocaine and 29 when she served her first sentence in a Washington state corrections center on 17 felony counts for drugs, forgery, possession of stolen property and identity theft.
She later served another seven years on similar charges.
That was then. Now, the 45-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer has turned her life around by giving back to her community, staying free of drugs and setting an example for others that there is a chance at a productive life after prison.
“It doesn’t matter what prison you walk into in the state of Washington, they all smell the same and that’s the smell of a lack of hope,” said McConnell-Otten of Kalama.
She’s currently a teacher in Longview’s Goodwill Industries’ job and education training program and has spent the past three years stepping back into jail — this time, as a volunteer advocate who encourages female inmates to pursue a college education after they serve their time behind bars.