After spending 13 years in a Louisiana prison, 6 of which were in solitary confinement, Maryam Henderson-Uloho was free (so to speak).
She found herself struggling immediately. As a felon, she was unable to rent an apartment, find work or get a credit card. As she puts it, “You’re not allowing me the tools that I need to sustain myself out here in society.”
Realizing that safety was of paramount importance for women in particular, she started Sister Hearts, a thrift store and “re-entry” program “focused on providing ex-offenders with a safe environment to achieve their goals with dignity.”
Incarceration in the U.S. does little to actually rehabilitate inmates, nor does it adequately prepare them for the uphill process of putting their lives back together outside prison walls. Meeting deadlines with probation officers is non-negotiable and include finding employment, a place to live, money to pay fees, and reliable transportation to accomplish these tasks.
The imminent threat of going back to prison adds additional pressure, and many do just that: a 9-year (2005-2014) Bureau of Justice study shows 43-55% of ex-offenders end up back inside. More than 30% of those who re-offend do so within the first 12 months of release, with the first three years showing the peak arrest rates.
Extended time in solitary is particularly traumatic. Studies have been able to measure DNA rewiring and physical changes in the brain occurring within the first 24 hours. Mental trauma akin to having suffered a head injury and PTSD make assimilation back into to daily life painfully difficult.
And I don’t have a study to quote but I’ve personally observed what I will call an unsympathetic, rather unforgiving public sentiment toward felons in general. It seems “time served” for some people means nothing and felons are not to be afforded the benefit of a second chance. I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, I’m not the one who went to jail.” Or my personal favorite, “They shouldn’t have broken the law in the first place.”
It’s beyond the scope of this post for me to get into the particulars on the failings of the justice system, but at the very least consider that a prison term was served, and ex-offenders are not escapees. Supposedly people serve time so they could pay their “debt to society” for whatever wrongdoing was done.
I think it only makes sense support those coming back into our communities by allowing them the rights that other people have. Otherwise, why let them out in the first place?
Anyway, do check out the film short I posted. Henderson-Uloho’s compassion for others in similar circumstances is a gorgeously moving thing to behold. If you are able, I encourage you to donate. She has lots of options for directing funds to help out in specific ways, like with basic toiletries or a fresh bed. Or just a straight-up digital cash gift works too.