When Jamie Foster-Hale walked across the stage May 13, 2017, to receive her master’s degree in criminal justice from the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies, it was bittersweet. Although a celebration of her accomplishments, it was also a reminder of the pain she suffered along the way.
During Foster-Hale’s first semester of graduate school, her 21-year-old son, Erric Monroe, was tragically murdered by his best friend during a house party in Moore, Oklahoma. Despite her grief, Foster-Hale stayed in school and finished the semester with a 3.5 GPA.
Foster-Hale said while she had taken time off from work, staying in school helped keep her focused on something other than the emptiness she was feeling without her son.
“At first, I think that I continued out of habit. I just had to keep going, and my school work was the only normalization that I had in my life at that point,” she said. “I tried to conduct myself with as much dignity as I could because I knew Erric would have expected that of me. I knew how proud he was that I always found a way to persevere.”
After that semester, Foster-Hale began to rethink her degree path. She was pursuing a graduate degree in human and health services administration, which closely aligned with her job assisting adults with intellectual disabilities. Her son, however, had always expressed an interest in law enforcement, and the circumstances surrounding his death prompted her to consider that field for herself. When she enrolled the following semester, she changed her major to criminal justice.
“Erric wanted to work in law enforcement, even as a young child. He even told me that he felt he could go to college because he saw that I had,” she said. “Maybe, in a way, I felt that I could learn things that he should have had the opportunity to learn.”
“Maybe, in a way, I felt that I could learn things that he should have had the opportunity to learn.”
The coursework not only increased her understanding of criminal justice, but it created a new way for her to think, reason and find information in the world. She said professor Holly Mackey was particularly instrumental in encouraging her to finish her degree.
“No matter how stressed I was or as close as I was to throwing my hands up and quitting, she always believed in me and had a way of making me believe in myself,” she said.
Foster-Hale also holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from PACS. A high school dropout who became a mom at only 17 years old, she was determined to make a better life for herself and her son. After working several jobs, getting her GED and making a few attempts at college, she eventually found PACS.
“I had to continue working,” she said. “I needed the flexibility, and I wanted a degree from OU.”
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2014, she immediately started her graduate program. She planned to work in the juvenile justice field, but instead she chose to keep working with adults with intellectual disabilities. She focused her thesis research on adults in that population who find themselves tangled up in the criminal justice system.
“I get phone calls regularly to place adults that have gotten into legal issues. I wanted to learn more about the criminal justice system and how it works with adults with intellectual disabilities,” she said. “There are several services that have been created for offenders with intellectual disabilities, yet they are rarely utilized. There are few, if any, habilitation programs in the correctional setting for this population, and reentry programs are almost always impossible to create and be successful.”
Today, Foster-Hale works as a Vocational Director and Qualified Intellectual Disability Professional at Santa Fe Place in Moore, a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. She hopes to obtain a long-term care administrator license, and eventually merge her current career with her graduate degree by opening a specialized care facility for reentry offenders with intellectual disabilities when they are released back into the community.
As for now, she’s utilizing her background to point families of these offenders in the right direction.
“I have a deeper understanding of what the criminal justice system faces when having to deal with adults with intellectual disabilities, and I’m able to educate and assist when I receive phone calls for placement when an offender with intellectual disabilities needs assistance,” she said. “I’m also able to consult with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections about habilitation programs that will be created to meet the needs of inmates with these disabilities. I’ll always be an advocate and try to educate the needs for this population.”