Reentry Ready Team Meets with Formerly Incarcerated Women

By Morgan Franklin, Reentry Ready Project Associate

The Convergence Reentry Ready Project team engaged in a listening session at the end of March with women who were previously incarcerated to discuss the recommendations under consideration by the project stakeholders. In June, Reentry Ready will be releasing recommendations for supporting successful reentry from prison in order to help formerly incarcerated individuals lead more productive, healthier lives. The team wanted to hear from women who had experienced incarceration and reentry to make sure that the report satisfactorily responds to the stakeholders’ concerns regarding the way women are prepared to return home.

The listening session was hosted by the non-profit Community Family Life Services (CFLS), an organization dedicated to social justice and the provision of resources to previously incarcerated women. Currently led by Ashley McSwain, a member of Reentry Ready’s stakeholder table, CFLS has helped tens of thousands of D.C. residents since its start fifty years ago in 1969.

Some of the women who attended the listening session were sent to federal prison while others were in state prison; some had long stays and others served a smaller amount of time. All came to the discussion with lived experience, knowledge of the challenges facing women upon release and openness to help make Reentry Ready’s recommendations as strong as possible.

The women who attended the listening session were remarkably gracious in telling their stories. Though their experiences were different, many of them discussed surviving in harsh prison environments, the crushing challenges associated with the disease of addiction, and the difficulties that come with navigating compounding poverties. Their willingness to describe some of the most painful moments of their lives, the varied consequences that stemmed from their criminal behavior, and the challenges that they experienced when seeking redemption and reentering after incarceration benefitted the project team.

While several reactions to the report were given, three gained significant traction:

  • Correctional facilities and others providing support for incarcerated individuals should focus on the distinct needs of incarcerated mothers. This will help alleviate the negative impact on children and communities.
  • Women need programming while in prison that is responsive to a changing economy, reflective of different kinds of jobs available and inclusive of training that supports understanding of any technology necessary for specific employment.
  • Incarceration should not be a period that inflicts harm but rather a time for skill building and preparation for reentry.

The women we spoke with have had to do one of the hardest things that any of us can do – evaluate past behavior that has led to negative consequences and choose to avoid the same destructive decisions moving forward. These reflections allowed us to confirm that the recommendations proposed by stakeholders aligned with lived experience of people the report intends to help.

This listening session has informed the way that the Reentry Ready Project team will disseminate the report and reminded us to elevate women’s voices when promoting its recommendations. The Reentry Ready Project team is hopeful that, through the utilization of the strategies offered by our stakeholders, more people will have the resources to move beyond incarceration and live whole and fulfilling lives.