When the witty and poignant series Orange is the New Black about a women’s prison was released in 2013, it launched a national conversation about privilege, stigma, identity and corruption. It’s one of those wickedly powerful shows that makes viewers wonder what they might do if placed in the characters’ scary situations. There’s one particular element the writers absolutely nail, and that’s the importance of family. Some imprisoned characters have regular visitors, many have kids and every woman in the series has to deal with the overwhelming sense of loneliness when behind bars. Today, we’re talking about what it’s like to make a life-changing mistake, and the power of forgiveness, family and rebirth.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 1.5 Million
Being sent to prison is a terrifying experience for anyone. But imprisonment for women has a particularly dreadful downward-spiral effect since many of these women leave behind minor-aged children. Currently, there are an estimated 1.5 million kids in the U.S. with a parent in state or federal prison. That’s increased more than 500,000 from 1991 to 2015. When moms are unable to be physically present with their kids, it can have a serious impact on children’s development. Furthermore, when these women are released from prison, re-establishing a home and regaining custody of their dependents can be particularly challenging.
WOMEN TO WATCH: Teresa Hodge and Laurin Hodge, Co-founders of Mission: Launch
Mother-and-daughter duo Teresa and Laurin Hodge know all too well the negative impact imprisonment can have on families and the importance of re-entering society with a nonjudgmental support system. Teresa and Laurin are the co-founders of the nonprofit social enterprise Mission: Launch, which works to address these concerns and bring families affected by imprisonment back together in healthy, hopeful environments.
A dedicated businesswoman, Teresa never expected to endure a prison sentence. Yet, after being convicted of a non-violent crime, she spent nearly six years in a federal prison. She was scared, really scared, but over time, she was able to make friends and develop an uncommon and supportive sisterhood with her fellow detainees. Teresa became committed to banishing the label of “inmate,” refusing to let it define her. She began studying entrepreneurship and technology while in prison and, most importantly, she found her passion. Teresa met countless women behind bars and eagerly learned their stories. What she discovered was that re-entering the world after prison can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Re-entering mainstream society involves navigating a variety of obstacles that would make anyone feel like they’ve returned to a completely different world. Take the constantly evolving aspects of modern technology, for example. When Teresa entered prison, there was no such thing as an iPhone, yet, upon her release, she was inundated with a whole new realm of smartphones, social media and continual connectedness.
Such an experience is precisely why Mission: Launch provides all-important technology training, essential skills for taking on almost any career these days. Mission: Launch is all about giving the formerly incarcerated a fresh start so they can become empowered through their accomplishments rather than diminished by their previous crimes. Much of this goal is accomplished through Teresa and Laurin’s Rebuilding Re-entry Coalition, a collective of governmental and nongovernmental agencies and grassroots, citizen-led movements that aims to improve the outcomes of those with conviction records by promoting the value of technology, advocating for empathy for the previously imprisoned and educating people about their rights and anti-discrimination laws.
Teresa and Laurin are wonderful examples that although we might not be able to undo our wrong turns in life, there’s always a right turn around the corner.
QUITE THE QUOTE
I’ll leave you today with one of my favorite quotes from writer Elizabeth Gilbert:
“Be brave. Without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, your life will remain small—far smaller than you probably wanted your life to be.”
This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.