According to the Sentencing Project, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 222,455 in 2019.1 Though many more men are in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980.
Nationally, about 1 in 8 (13%) of all individuals released from state prisons and more than 1 in 6 (18%) jail releases are women.2
We rarely hear the stories of women after they have been home and what their lives look like now. I want to highlight three formerly incarcerated women who are doing amazing work for Criminal Justice reform and their communities.
Jonel Beauvais and Sharon Richardson were both incarcerated with me at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York and through the many years, we remained friends, reconnected when I came home in 2018. In 2019 I met Evie Litwok and instantly made a friend while taking a training workshop in Los Angeles with Susan Burton’s organization, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, an organization that promotes healing, power, and opportunity for formerly incarcerated people. Susan Burton is another remarkable formerly incarcerated woman healing her community. These women who survived incarceration came home and devoted their life work to creating opportunities for other women, their communities, and families to prosper, grow and heal. I want to shout them out and give kudos to the hard work and foresight these women had to create such amazing programs.
Jonel Beauvais is a member of Wolf Clan, Mohawk. She is the proud mother of three children and chosen auntie, sister, and friend to many. She works diligently to empower and induce healing within all Native/Indigenous communities in order to prosper in the Haudenosaunee teachings of good medicine and good minds.
Jonel’s most current endeavor is the founder of “The Welcome Home Circle” that she created out of a need to provide homes for her community members re-entering society from institutions to have reliable safe places to live and thrive while receiving cultural support from their peers. For more information about this program, you can directly contact her at [email protected] or view their work on Facebook.
Sharon Richardson is the founder and CEO of Just Soul Catering and Reentry Rocks which teaches culinary skills to formerly incarcerated women in order to help them become financially independent while learning vital skills to help them navigate their individual reentry process. She survived 20 years of incarceration for a domestic violence case and did not let it make her bitter.
Sharon’s programs are designed to help formerly incarcerated women with histories of domestic violence achieve their goals, become leaders, and rebuild their lives. Her organization provides healing tools through virtual and hands-on experiences to become financially independent, learn communication skills, entrepreneurial skills, food handling, Domestic Violence counseling, dance classes and so much more.
Evie Litwok is the founder and executive director of Witness to Mass Incarceration. Evie is a child of Holocaust survivors and an avid activist for ending mass incarceration, using her experience as a formerly incarcerated woman to bring to light the atrocities and collateral consequences of imprisonment through her research work and speaking engagements.
Evie’s program puts the voices of women and LGBTQ+ people’s experiences in the fight for alternatives to mass incarceration with initiatives designed to change the narrative about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people from invisibility and victimization to empowerment through documentation, leadership training, organizing and advocacy.
Please support these women and the phenomenal work they are doing. You can get involved by donating to their organizations and becoming a supportive partner by sharing their stories on your social media sites and connections so that the world can see that we all deserve second chances. Second chances have empowered these women to do extraordinary things in their lives and the lives of others.
1 “Incarcerated Women and Girls Fact Sheet” (The Sentencing Project, 2019)
2 “Who’s helping the 1.9 million women released from prisons and jails each year?” (Prison Policy Initiative, 19 July 2019, Wendy Sawyer)