Life After Prison Blog: Women and Reentry
Date:  01-26-2015

What happens when a woman who is not rich and famous is released from prison
When I was approached as Managing Editor of Reentry Central for an interview by Lashonia Etheridge-Bey I did not hesitate to accept. I have known Lashonia for about 20 years, having met her when we were both serving long sentences at the Danbury, Connecticut Federal Correctional Institution (FCI). Lashonia and I belonged to the Danbury AIDS Awareness Group (DAAG), a group formed by women serving time during the early 1990’s to educate other women about HIV/AIDS, and hopefully reduce the stigma surrounding HIV positive women on the compound. We both taught an eight-week course on HIV/AIDS prevention and were active in providing movies, poetry slams and other events relating to HIV/AIDS during a period when there was tremendous ignorance and fear about the disease and HIV positive people were treated as pariahs.

While Lashonia looks to me as a woman who successfully reintegrated back into the community, I look at her in the same light. She overcame many of the same barriers as I did after being released from prison. Lashonia is now the Community Service Program Specialist for the Mayor of Washington, D.C. at the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs. Lashonia is also writes Life After Prison blogs for the Jail Exchange, a website with the most comprehensive information on every jail and prison in America.

When I spoke to Lashonia I told her about my frustration with the mainstream media who interviewed me about life at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp where I was sent during the last six years of my incarceration. The media wanted to focus on Teresa Guidice, (see What the Tabloids Did NotTell You About Prison and Teresa Guidice, January 7, 2015) but I was hoping to shed light on facts concerning women when they are incarcerated and also when they are released.

The following are highlights from my interview with Lashonia concerning women and reentry:

Women need to be more diligent when seeking employment. Finding a job is difficult for anyone, but for a woman who has a criminal record and is the primary caregiver of her children, it is particularly challenging. Not only do women returning from incarceration face the challenge of reconnecting with their children emotionally, but also in many cases they have to fight to regain custody of them. That is almost a full-time job in itself.

Historically, the gender pay-gap for women vs. men is so extensive that the average living wage job may not suffice for a woman returning from incarceration. Oftentimes a woman is forced to take a second job to support herself and her children.

Most people who have never been to prison think that when someone is released they are overcome with joy, but that isn’t always the case. The stress level can be through the roof. Studies have shown that women with a criminal record are judged more harshly and stigmatized more by society than their male counterparts. Studies have also shown that the majority of women in prison have been victims of sexual and other types of physical abuse.

The emotional and physical scars don’t disappear when women are released. Most reentry programs are geared toward men and fail to recognize the needs of women such as mental health counseling and job training for employment in nontraditional fields. Many do not consider the need for childcare provisions, either. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the growing number of elderly women being released from prison after serving numerous years. Again, most reentry programs are geared toward the needs of men, as men make up a large part of the reentering population, but ignoring the particular needs of women, whether young, or old, can have a disastrous effect on these women and their communities.

Read the full blog here.