Kalli Watkins knows all too well how hard it is to pick up the pieces when all you want is a fresh start.

Two years ago, Watkins, a Cherokee Nation citizen, was released from prison after serving time for drug possession and related felonies. She knew going back to her accounting job was off the table, but she had no idea what to do next.

Cherokee Nation’s Coming Home reintegration program helped Watkins find her way.

“Everyone has to find their purpose, and through my work, I’ve found mine,” Watkins said. “I know having a record makes it more difficult to find a job. I’ve been there.”

The program helps Cherokee Nation citizens released from prison with job placement, vocational training and education services. It also helps pay driver’s license reinstatement fees and provides clothing and housing assistance. Applicants must apply within three months of release. Coming Home is a critical second chance to rejoin the workforce and re-establish a normal life.

Starting in a tribal day-training program, Watkins is now a career specialist with Cherokee Nation Career Services helping other Cherokees, including other ex-offenders, find work.

“Doors have opened for me, but I’ve had to work hard, and I struggle every day to try to do the right thing,” she said. “It’s also been so rewarding to watch other people succeed.”

Coming Home has helped more than 500 clients and has a recidivism rate of 10 percent, compared to 27 percent across Oklahoma.

Cherokee Nation Entertainment reinvests 35 percent of its gaming profits annually into services and programs for Cherokee Nation citizens. In 2017, that investment was $49.4 million plus an additional $11 million for construction of medical facilities for Cherokees.