Who We Are
Individuals don’t go to prison alone; their entire family goes along with them. Families and friends need support as their loved ones complete their sentences. Straight Talk Support Group provides a supportive environment and forum for families and friends to meet and share common experiences and issues. Through our Resource Center we present workshops, seminars, online information and referrals needed to navigate the corrections system. The Resource Center also offers professional speakers deliver keynote addresses and presentations about the social, mental and economic effects incarceration has on family and friends. Straight Talk exists so families and friends of incarcerated individuals can exchange emotional support, gain coping skills, acquire resources and receive inspiration. Straight Talk Support Group is where families and friends enter in pieces and leave in peace.
Straight Talk Support Group, headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, offers regular support group meetings, features professional speakers and experts, a crisis line, and a ride share program. Some past noted guest speakers were former NC State Senator Ellie Kinnard, ACLU Legal Director, Chris Brooks, Dr. Anthony Smith, therapist, Mary Ward of the Dept. of Public Safety, Umar Muhammad of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Daniel Bowes of the NC Justice Center. The vision of Straight Talk Support Group is to serve all one hundred counties of North Carolina and develop nationwide collaborations. We have logged over three hundred calls to our crisis line and provided Our sister chapters can replicate our model in any community that has families in need of support during their loved ones incarceration. We have a training guide, exclusively offered with membership, to walk facilitators through this process.
Straight Talk is run by people like you, who are looking for support as they deal with the realities of having a loved one in jail or prison. We want you to join us so we can be there for each other.
Advisory Board Members
Stephen Louis Maddox was born on June 28th, 1974 in Hempstead, New York. Stephen and his older sister Melissa were raised by their single mother Arethia Williams. Stephen spent the first 18 years of his life growing up in a small apartment in Hempstead’s Park Lake housing authority complex that is located on Martin Luther King Drive. Stephen’s biological father abandoned the family when Stephen was only two-years old, and his mother Arethia William took the lead as the family’s provider, protector, and primary influencer.
Stephen spent his whole childhood growing up in Hempstead, New York and was exposed to the violence and poverty that impacted his community due to the crack epidemic that ripped apart urban cities across America in the 80’s and 90’s. Although Stephen grew up in the belly of the beast, his mother made a point to expose Stephen and his older sister to life outside of the housing projects.
As a young black male with no positive male role models in his life, Stephen’s childhood was riddled with challenges, internal anger, and disappointments as he received daily reminders on how difficult his life was due to his environment and socioeconomic background. The power of prayers from his grandmother along with the instinct to survive which was instilled in him from his mother, Stephen found a way to avoid the criminal justice system, think big dreams, and ultimately graduate from high school the month of his 19th birthday.
At the age of 19 Stephen moved to Durham, North Carolina with the ambition of earning a piece of the American dream. Stephen earned a position at IBM and worked 3rd shift on the personal computer manufacturing line, while attending college during the day. During Stephen’s 12+ year career at IBM, he received dozens of recognition awards for his leadership ability as well as several promotions that ultimately resulted in the start of his professional career.
In 2007, Stephen accepted a leadership position at an international medical and communications device company based out of Gothenburg, Sweden where he worked 1o years in a full-time management position. In addition to his corporate positions, Stephen worked in his community with families that were impacted by social, economic, drug addiction, and mental health disabilities. During that 10-year period, Stephen worked with over 200 families that involved creating a personal treatment plan with measurable goals for his clients. Over a 3-6-month period, Stephen would spend several hours per week on the evening or weekends working with the families to implement interventions that allow them to achieve their realistic and measurable goals.
Although Stephen had a six-figure salary at an international company and managed a $60M budget, his corporate management position did not measure up to the reward that he received from working with lower income families that battled from social, economic, drug addiction, and mental health disabilities. Stephen quickly realized that the lack of resources was a demon that impacted citizens from all ages, ethical backgrounds, and religions. Stephen developed an appreciation for dark days of growing up in New York and accepted the purpose of why his childhood was riddled with challenges, anger, and disappointments due to his environment and socioeconomic background.
Stephen is married to his lovely wife Genee Murray-Maddox. Stephen and Genee are the proud parents of three beautiful children Mekiyah (22), Alexis (21), and Gavin (7). Stephen and his family currently reside in Durham, NC.
In 2015 Stephen used justified force to save his life from a violent attack that resulted in him being charged with 1st Degree Murder. It was Stephen’s childhood and the exposure to what he had witnessed during the work that he had done in his community of Durham that gave him the strength to fight the State of North Carolina in a two-year battle to ultimately win a not guilty verdict in two-week Murder 1 trial.
During Stephen’s two-year battle on a Murder 1 indictment he discovered that our legal and criminal justice system was flawed with subjective processes and procedures that were not in the best interest of seeking the truth and justice. In addition to Stephen’s passion for mental health, substance abuse, and anti-bullying, he also developed a passion for criminal justice reform.
Less than two months after Stephen’s “not guilty” verdict, he started a non-profit organization called A Community of One that is now committed to raising awareness in the criminal justice system by drafting reform language, creating new protocol, and linking the lack of diagnosis of mental health and substance abusers in criminal cases for incarceration vs treatment.
Governing Board Members
“As the mother of a man who has just finished serving 24 years in prison, I know firsthand that there is nothing easy about keeping connections alive. From the outside, prison looks like a dark hole and all of the rules are up for grabs. Someone is sick… Someone is angry…Someone is lonely…Someone tells you leave me alone…Someone calls crying out for help every day…Someone asks for money… and Someone says nah, I’m all right.”
“I have been on that roller coaster and it is a hard, lonely ride. That’s why I started Straight Talk Support Group. Nobody can stop the confusion, but do not head out there alone.”
For over 25 years, Bessie Elmore, co-founder and Executive Director of Straight Talk Support Group, has worked in the field of self-help as a support group facilitator and counselor in domestic violence. She is also an advocator for incarcerated individuals and their families. Bessie designs programs for ex-offenders, domestic violence victims and grandparents raising their grandchildren as Founder and CEO of Turning Corners Alliance. Since 2013 she has been reaching out to established organizations and esteemed individuals to create a platform for families of incarcerated individuals and returning citizens to help put their broken pieces together. The Osborne Support Group in New York was very instrumental throughout the developmental stages of Straight Talk Support Group in its mission to assist families in North Carolina.
After hosting Straight Talk’s first open house, with a reception of more than one hundred interested supporters, Bessie began to grind her gears. She started reaching out and received consultation from W. David Guice, Commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice for the North Carolina’s Dept. of Public Safety and entered into discussions with Harvard University’s Professor Bruce Western about reentry and the role families have in combating recidivism. Authoritarians in the field of mass incarcerations, such as Megan Comfort, author of Doing Time Together and Gina Davis of the Essie Group, have aided Bessie in her plight to bring Straight Talk’s visions to fruition. To keep abreast of current events and issues coming down the pipeline she attends conferences, as well as those held at the Burlington’s Reentry Symposium and Raleigh’s Reentry Council Meetings. This has opened up a multitude of opportunities including possibly collaborating with icons such as Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of Equal Justice Initiative; and Nicole Sullivan, Director of Rehabilitative Programs and Services of Adult Corrections.
Her expertise is often called upon to deliver presentations on job readiness and building strong family units for incarcerated individuals counting those conducted at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, NC. She has participates annually in Our Children’s Place’s Family Day events at Orange Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, NC. Presently, Bessie Elmore is employed at Durham Technical College as a Job Readiness Coach.
Is an Administrative Professional with over 20 years of experience working in private corporations and local government. She has been a facilitator with Turning Corners Alliance since 2002. Cheryl firmly believes that families should be educated with as much information available to them in order to help themselves and their loved ones who are incarcerated.
“Simone” began prison work as a volunteer for the Paul Green Foundation, coordinating the Prison Pen Pal Project, matching professional writers with incarcerated writers – and leading writing workshops with poet Jaki Shelton-Green. In 2008 Simone started a weekly workshop at Orange Correctional Center. In 2012 William Elmore joined the workshop, introduced Simone to his mother, Bessie Elmore, and the Straight Talk Support Group.
William, professional public speaker, whose topics focus on social justice, mass incarceration, school to prison pipelines, teens thinking smart, prison ministry and reentry and life beyond prison. He was the 2016 Abraham Galloway Fellow from Duke Divinity’s School for Conversion to serve at the organization’s Reentry Expert in their Church Beyond the Walls program. He is also a mentor and Volunteer Outreach Coordinator for Reintegration Support Network (RSN), a program that serves teens during drug recovery. William also provides personal service as a certified restorative justice mediator, consultant for prison preparedness and personal fitness instructor.
Zelda Everson- Board Chair
Zelda Everson is a non-profit consultant with twenty-three years of experience in board responsibilities, organizing operations and program development. She is the co-founder and executive director for SYSTAs 4 SYSTAs, Inc., a 501 (c)3 nonprofit, focusing on at-risk youth and female empowerment. Zelda is also a writer, author and content developer specializing in curriculum and proposals with a passion for social and criminal justice advocacy.
Ve’ga J. Swepson
Ve’ga J-Swepson is a human services professional with a concentration in and mental health and academia. Her experience and expertise have enabled her to now serve as Resource Specialist at Durham Technical Community College. Ve’ga has provided facilitation, instruction and management at Wake Technical Community College and North Carolina State University. She also has twenty plus years of experience providing case management and intervention services as a Qualified Developmental Disabilities Professional (QP) in Orange, Durham and Wake counties as well as within private agencies.
She completed both her Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation and Master of Science in Recreation Management degrees at North Carolina Central University. Ms. Ve’ga enjoys supporting her students, consumers and other youth with community, educational and employment endeavors. Ms. Swepson is a Girl Scout Leader in Durham County and volunteers at Community Success Initiative, Inc. and for various community events.
Celina Low Jones
A community builder and mindfulness mentor, Celina advocates for liberation of the mind and heart. The transformation of incarcerated youth and adults she witnessed as an in-prison counselor, has inspired her to serve as a compassion-warrior for at-risk children. Celina holds a Master of Arts in infant and early childhood development. She is certified in contemplative psychotherapy and trained in mindfulness-based emotional intelligence, a model developed for the incarcerated population to build communication, conflict resolution, as well as resourcing and resiliency skills. Celina currently works with children of all ages and aspires to do more for children of incarcerated caregivers. Her work centers on relational learning, life-skills building, and contemplative wisdom. She is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in infant and early childhood development with a special interest in mindfulness. Joyfully married to a wonderful being, Celina lives as a global citizen travelling between the U.S. and Asia.
Working for Our Mission; Speaking About Our Mission
Chances are you know someone with a loved one currently or formerly incarcerated. Perhaps you observed their pain and confusion without knowing where to turn for guidance and support. Now you can direct them to Straight Talk Support Group.
In addition to our support groups, Straight Talk Support Group presents workshops and seminars for families and employers on How to Communicate with Returning Citizens and related topics; and online sources about how navigate the corrections system through our Resource Center. The Resource Center also provides life skills, coaching and job readiness training for incarcerated individuals and returning citizens.
If you are looking to book a professional speaker or presenter to deliver a keynote address or presentation about social, mental and economic effects of incarceration on families and friends please do not hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are working hard and there are so many more things we have to accomplish. Check back often to see how we are progressing!