Sunday, May 23, 2010

Redeem-Her: Eye-Opening, Heartbreaking and Inspirational

As a "random", (the term given to those of us who are not ex-convicts living in the world outside of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey) I went into our monthly Fellowship League event with a limited understanding of the prison system in New Jersey as it applies to women. I'm sure I had a preconceived notion or two and a level of ignorance about a topic that I rarely feel comfortable admitting to, but I was interested in learning about an organization I knew nothing about and finding out how we, as a community, could provide some kind of assistance. The experience was one I won't soon forget.

Stacey Kindt, founder of Redeem-Her began by introducing herself and then proceeded to weave a tapestry of statistics and stories that were to engage our community for nearly two hours. The first things we learned were about the current prison system in place for women convicted of crimes and sentenced to longer than a year. The recidivism rate is 62% in the first three years following release from prison, so of the roughly 15,000 inmates released each year, over 9,000 will return. Our group also found out that the prison system in New Jersey is in place to provide punishment and not rehabilitation to those incarcerated. Women who go into the prison system have little hope of addressing the problems that led to their state and instead begin a vicious cycle that can bury a woman in debt and legal woes for the rest of their lives

I could write pages and pages about Stacey's visit but need to render an incredible visit down to a situation that really made me see a side of the issue I'd never been exposed to. What happens to a woman released from prison after 5 or 10years of incarceration?

A woman released from prison is given her personal belongings from her arrest as well as $20 "gate" money. There is a high probability that she did not have her wallet or ID when she was arrested, so she walks out the gate and into a society that has developed a series of obstacles and pitfalls that make reintegration into the world an extremely difficult process. The ex-convict, who was forcibly introduced to heroin at the age of 11 by her drug dealing father and grew up addicted to a variety of drugs, is faced with many challenges.

Where can she go with $20 and one change of clothes when she may have alienated her family and friends years prior? Perhaps a trip to the Ocean County Board of Social Services is in order to arrange for some kind of housing and general assistance. If she had been arrested on drug charges related to distribution or intent to sell, she has no chance of receiving general assistance and will likely end up returning to a life fraught with danger and the likelihood of a return to jail a likely possibility.

So we have a woman who needs a place to stay who, in a better case scenario, is eligible for some assistance. The only places available for women in her position are located in areas where low income housing and government assisted living goes hand in hand with drug use and illegal activities centered around supporting addictions of every kind. In Ocean County this means she will more than likely end up in a motel in Seaside Heights in a room next to someone who could be a methamphetamine dealer, a prostitute or an alcoholic in the throes of a violent detoxification.

This situation becomes even more untenable when you look at the fact that I am describing perhaps what is only the first day. Imagine trying to get your life back on track when you have $20, no ID or driver's license and you live in an assisted living environment where it would be so easy to accept a chance to make some quick money via sexual favors or drug distribution. Add to that the fact that you have limited opportunities to find employment when you have no phone, your address is a known area related to crime and drugs and you rely on a bus to get you off of the island where you live.

How do women manage to overcome such odds? Keep in mind that there are so many other factors these women deal with that almost ensure a high rate of recidivism...

Redeem-Her gives a chance to a handful of women returning to society after a stay in prison by offering them some much needed support during the 36 hour window of crisis avoidance necessary to make re-entry into society a little less perilous. From a ride from the prison gates to a place to stay, to temporary employment in the organization-run thrift store to countless other acts of support and caring Redeem-Her does what it can to help.

As mentioned earlier in this post, I could go on and on about how much our group got out of Stacey's visit, but I can only recommend that you find out for yourself how Redeem-Her is working to help save a handful of women trying to find redemption in a world that seems to prohibit rehabilitation.

Find out more about Redeem-Her and see what you can do to lend a hand to an immensely worthy cause.