How Lessons Learned in Jail Inspired Lois Jarman to Help
by Karen Gardner photography by Turner Photography Studio
Jail is certain to change the lives of those doing time, but for Lois Jarman, a college professor and former member of the Frederick County Board of Education, her incarceration following a traffic accident opened her eyes to the bleak outlook faced by fellow women inmates upon their release.
While in jail last year, Jarman learned of women who are released from prison with nowhere to go and few job prospects. Those with children face an additional hurdle in gaining custody. Jarman felt a need to help, partnering with Carleah Summers, executive director of Andrea’s House in Frederick, a faith-based program that provides housing and treatment services for mother’s recovering from substance abuse disorders. What resulted is Magic Moms, a Frederick-based cleaning service employing formerly incarcerated mothers.
An unlikely participant in the criminal justice system, Jarman is active in the education and civic communities and once wrote a column for The Frederick News-Post. She is a member of the faculty at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., where she teaches organizational theory and development. She also teaches at Blue Ridge Community College.
In November 2019 she was involved in an automobile crash near Keedysville when her 2017 Lincoln MKX struck the rear of a 2000 Honda driven by Riley Simmons of Keedysville, who was stopped to make a turn. The impact pushed Simmons’ car into the eastbound lane where it struck a 2016 Chevrolet Equinox driven by Gordon Scott Mills of Thurmont. Simmons and Michelle Showe of Thurmont, a passenger in Mills’ car, suffered severe injuries.
Jarman was charged with using a hand-held mobile phone and failure to control her car’s speed. Following a guilty plea, she was sentenced to a year in jail, with all but three months suspended. She served 10 days in jail in August 2021 in Washington County and was released to home detention for the rest of her sentence. She was also ordered to serve 200 hours of community service.
Jarman says she was reading a text when the crash occurred. At the time of the accident, she was a Board of Education member; she lost her seat in the November 2020 election.
During her brief imprisonment, Jarman encountered other female inmates who warned that getting out of jail wouldn’t be the end of their problems. “Until I was incarcerated, I didn’t think about it because people just don’t know,” she says. “I remember my son at a young age saying bad people go to jail, but there are a lot of good people who go to jail.”
Summers works with imprisoned and formerly imprisoned women, most in their late 20s to mid-30s. She gets them access to basic services like health care. “I work with a couple of organizations getting them hygiene products,” she says.
Once released from jail, she helps her clients find affordable housing and good jobs. The housing part is a struggle, she says, because most can’t afford to pay rent on their salaries. “It’s overwhelming.” But with programs like Magic Moms, she hopes that will change.
“You’ve got to do something,” Jarman says. “You’ve got to shout out about it.”
Jarman has been doing that since the crash. “My mistake was horrific,” she says. “… In order to live with myself, I had to do something to make some good come from it.” She is in therapy, and practices meditation and yoga. She also plays the harp, something she’s done most of her life, and says that it’s a form of therapy. But helping people is the best therapy.
“I still have nightmares where I wake up and it’s a car crash,” she says. “In a split second, I ended up hurting people. I’ll never get over it. I’m working on trying to forgive myself, but I don’t know that will happen.”
Summers was a college student when she had foot surgery; a prescription of oxycontin to manage the pain led to addiction. “I wouldn’t blame it on the drugs as much as childhood trauma,” she says. She was molested as a child, she says, and substance abuse was common in her family. She finally entered long-term treatment but had to surrender her son to another family while in treatment.
“You can have all the issues in the world, but nothing touches the love between a mother and her child,” Summers says. “I decided I needed to find ways to build support for the mother. My motto is: There’s a million ways to tear a family apart, and a few ways to get them back together.”
Summers has never been imprisoned, but she learned that 90 percent of inmates in the system are there because of addiction and mental health issues. She decided to focus on finding ways for imprisoned mothers to play a major role in the lives of their children, both while serving time and upon release.
“I work to keep these women in their kids’ lives and give them the tools they need,” she says. She discovered there are few resources for women once they are released.
Heather Toms is one such mother. Toms has served nearly 10 years in prison on drug-related charges stemming from addiction. Her most recent three-month stint in prison resulted from a distribution charge from a sting operation. “I didn’t sell the drugs,” she says. “Someone asked me to find someone drugs and I placed a phone call. The person was wired up.”
Toms’ 2-year-old son was put into foster care. When she was released, “nobody was willing to hire me, even though I was bonded. Most companies, once they see you have a felony, they don’t care what kind of rehabilitation you have,” Toms says. With help from Summers and Andrea’s House, she is now drug-free and has two jobs, one with TJ Maxx and one cleaning houses for Magic Moms.
Summers started Andrea’s House in Frederick earlier this year. She says most of the women she helps face the twin stresses of finding a job and finding childcare. “There is no support system,” she says. The state looks to nonprofits to fill in the gaps.
“They’re expecting us to fix these women,” she says. Yet, “we have a very limited amount of money. I’m taking money out of my own pocket. It’s very frustrating. For the services we provide, we shouldn’t have to beg.”
Most women out of jail are not trained how to change their lives. “You’re coming from an atmosphere where you’re told what to do and when to do it,” Summers says. Many grew up in traumatic situations, she adds.
“Childhood trauma is the gateway drug,” Summers says. Growing up poor, in families that often can’t cover basic food and shelter needs, leads to mental health issues for many. “If you don’t have mental health issues when you go into jail, you do when you come out. You break the cycle by helping the mother. Heather is a perfect example. She’s in a position to break the cycle.”
“I met Carleah at a Women’s Democratic Club meeting,” Jarman explains. Summers ran for state senate in the recent election. Although she did not win, she hoped her candidacy highlighted the need for a strategy of relief, recovery and reform for poor and disadvantaged people.
“I said to Carleah back in February or March, I’d love to have a cleaning service where I could employ these women,” Jarman says. “I’m trying to help them build resumes, and as the ladies build a resume and work history with Magic Moms, they can go on to other jobs.”
She put together a business plan and started Magic Moms LLC in July. The company is still in startup mode, building a foundation and working on marketing materials. Magic Moms has several clients in Frederick and two employees. Eventually, Jarman hopes the women can do the marketing, bookkeeping and scheduling—all skills they can use in seeking other jobs.
The same skills help prevent relapses, Summers says. “One of the most frustrating things is to feel like your hands are tied. Sometimes I can see the relapses coming and I can’t stop it.” Very often, women emerging from jail become overwhelmed not only with job and childcare issues, but also transportation, reporting to their caseworkers and scheduling classes.
“One woman I saw while incarcerated had her first child at 13 by a man who was in his 20s,” Jarman says. “That’s statutory rape. It’s a generational problem. When we declared a war on drugs, we didn’t declare a war on mental health issues.”
Jarman says when she questioned the lack of services for imprisoned women, she was often told, “At least she has a roof over her head and food.” However, Jarman adds, the system “does nothing to correct or rehabilitate behaviors.”
Imprisoned women aren’t afforded much dignity, either, she says. Women are required to wear white underwear in prison, but if the underwear they’re wearing when taken into custody is a different color, they’re required to buy white ones. The prison system supplies them, but the inmates must pay for them.
Tax money isn’t giving imprisoned women the support they need, Jarman says. “It’s not going into preparing those incarcerated to lead productive lives after.” Women in short-term prisons, like most county jails, don’t have the educational opportunities available at state and federal prisons, she adds.
In addition to concentrating on Magic Moms, Jarman is looking to secure funds to help Toms with an important purchase. “Heather is working on getting custody of her son, and as it gets colder, I would love to help her get a car,” Jarman says.