A Reentry Project Helping Woman Heal and Grow Into LeadersBy Geana Sieburger |
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From January 1 - March 31, 3% of your online purchases will be redistributed to A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles, CA. A New Way of Life provides housing, case management, pro bono legal services, advocacy and leadership development for women rebuilding their lives after prison.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Pamela recently and am honored to share our conversation with you during Women’s History Month.
Geana: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at A New Way of Life?
Pamela: Definitely. My name is Pamela Marshall. I’m one of the Co-Directors here at A New Way of Life. I’ve been with the organization for eight years now. I actually came to A New Way of Life through a second chance work program. It was a 6 month temporary subsidized employment position and I had the opportunity to meet Susan, A New Way of Life’s founder, and work in one of the homes and just really fell in love with the organization, with the mission, and the women. And I have been here ever since. We were a small group then. It was about five of us working in this one office and over the years I’ve been able to grow with the organization to where we are now.
Geana: That’s amazing! That’s so cool to hear your story from a second chance program to administrative assistant, and now you are leading it. That’s so cool.
Jumping into talking about A New Way of Life services, can you share with us the work that the organization does?
One of the biggest barriers that women face after coming home is reuniting with their families. So, we’ve been able to make that possible.
Pamela: A New Way of Life is a grassroots nonprofit organization. It was founded back in 1998 by our Founder & President Susan Burton. After cycling in and out of the criminal justice system for over two decades, she opened up her home to other women being released from incarceration.
We provide them with a safe place where they can begin to heal from the trauma of being incarcerated. We provide housing, job placement, 12 step recovery workshops, and workforce development and education training. We also provide pro bono legal assistance. Our reentry legal clinic help individuals with cleaning up their background and educating them on their employment rights, really removing barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated and convicted people.
We meet the women where they are and really try to meet their needs. We also advocate for the restoration of formerly incarcerated human and civil rights, leadership development and family reunification. Reuniting children with their mothers has been a core services of A New Way of Life. One of the biggest barriers that women face after coming home is reuniting with their families. So, we’ve been able to make that possible.
Geana: I can’t even imagine that. Of course a lot of men, post incarceration, must want to connect with their children as well, but it’s different for women. It hurts to think about that.
Pamela: It does. I’m a mother myself with two young children. I couldn’t imagine having my kids taken away from me and having to really fight. And these women they have to fight to get their kids back and they fight and we support them.
So, instead of sending someone to jail or prison for a substance abuse issue, we can provide them the support that they need–help them maintain their sobriety, help them gain employment, get them back in school, reunite them with their family, and get them in permanent housing–at a third of the cost of sending them to prison.
Geana: Amazing. So, changing the subject a little bit here, talking about a matter of money. I read on your website that you are able to provide these services at less than a third of the cost of incarceration? I thought that was incredible. I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about that.
Pamela: What it means is that when you look at the fact that it costs anywhere between $69,000- $75,000 a year to house one person in jail or state prison and run that against our numbers, there’s a big difference. We have 10 safe homes in LA County, 7 in South LA, 2 in Long Beach, and just recently we opened our 10th home in August of last year in Montebello during the Covid19 pandemic. So, for cost we look at the housing cost and financial responsibility of really caring for and supporting that women through this transitional period of her life. That cost is about $15,000 per year which is a huge gap, it’s a huge difference from $69,000. So, instead of sending someone to jail or prison for a substance abuse issue, we can provide them the support that they need–help them maintain their sobriety, help them gain employment, get them back in school, reunite them with their family, and get them in permanent housing–at a third of the cost of sending them to prison.
A New Way of Life, currently operates ten safe homes, with the capacity to serve 78 women at a time and 99% of our women do not go back jail or prison.
Geana: And I would imagine that women tend to back to prison less often after this program.
Pamela: You house someone in prison for a year then they get out and they don’t have the tools nor resources they need to make it into the community. So, a lot of times they go back. With our program, we are addressing their needs, providing the tools, the resources, and support to take accountability for their lives and move themselves forward in a meaningful way. Forever changing their lives and their families. In some cases, breaking generational curses that past traumas, abuse, and incarceration caused. A New Way of Life, currently operates ten safe homes, with the capacity to serve 78 women at a time and 99% of our women do not go back jail or prison.
Geana: That is incredible. That’s such huge evidence that A New Way of Life is doing amazing work.
Pamela: It is a successful model. We build communities in our homes. We provide a safe, drug and alcohol free environment. It’s a community of women who have gone through and experienced the same pain and trauma and they start to heal together in our homes
We have evidence that our approach works. Susan has been able to expand our services through the S.A.F.E House Network. S.A.F.E stands for Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom and Equality. The Safe House Network is an international network of 17 safe homes that are a replication of the A New Way of Life successful reentry model.
Geana: So, these houses are in addition to the ten?
Pamela: Women are the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system. The need is so great. A New Way of Life is only able to do so much. So, Susan has been able to build an alliance of safe homes for women across the world. These homes are run by partners of the S.A.F.E House Network. Currently there are homes in Chicago, New York, Texas, Uganda, Kenya, that all follow A New Way of Life philosophy of creating a safe space for women to come home after incarceration and be able to just heal and thrive.
Geana: I’m going to go a little off script here with a question because it seems like Susan an amazing leader and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to learn about her. She really created something quite powerful. So, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about her and the model she created that allows the women to go from maybe a place of fear or anxiety to becoming leaders in their own communities.
I remember when I first started with the organization, she took herself off payroll to make sure her staff was getting paid. She slept in the dining room of the house so that the women could sleep in beds.
Pamela: It’s been amazing and I’ve worked closely with Susan throughout my time here at A New Way of Life–before transitioning into the Co-Director role, I was actually her executive assistant. So, I got to work with her and really learn a lot from her just throughout the years. And one of the things that I can say is that Susan is as authentic and real as they come. She is welcoming and caring and she really gives everyone an opportunity. That’s all you need sometimes, someone to give you the opportunity to do something different. And I feel like that’s what she does everyday for the women that come through A New Way of Life and for her staff. She doesn’t do it in a way that feels like she’s giving folks a handout. She gives you the tools and resources to really take control and be accountable to yourself. She is not there to punish or judge. She is there to support and to see folks through.
I was just saying to someone, she’s done this by herself. She is very humble. She would say she couldn’t have done it without her team. But the fact is that she’s built this successful reentry model that works, by opening her home. I remember when I first started with the organization, she took herself off payroll to make sure her staff was getting paid. She slept in the dining room of the house so that the women could sleep in beds.
Geana: That’s commitment.
Pamela: That’s her passion and her commitment to each and every last one of the women that comes through the organization. I think that’s what makes the difference, for our women to feel that support and not judged and punished.
Geana: That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
Pamela: I encourage readers to give folks an opportunity regarding their past. And if anyone is interested in supporting our work and/or getting involved they can visit our website and follow us on social media.
That’s all you need sometimes, someone to give you the opportunity to do something different.
Pamela Marshall, Co-Director at A New Way of Life
Header image credit: Susan talking with resident - Photo by Dario
Illustration by Deena Hashem