When Lisa* was first incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, her 5-year-old daughter was afraid to come visit her. Struggling to convince her that the visitation area was nothing like the scary prisons she saw on TV, Lisa grew afraid, too—afraid that without visits, she would lose her relationship with her daughter. That’s when Hour Children stepped in. The Hour Children advocates sent Lisa’s family brochures with pictures of the visitation area, so Lisa’s daughter could know what to expect. Finally, after several weeks of waiting, Lisa’s daughter came to visit—and kept coming for the duration of Lisa’s sentence.

Over the years she served at Bedford Hills, Hour Children’s involvement in the lives of Lisa and her daughter only grew. Once old enough to visit on her own, Hour Children even sent transportation for Lisa’s daughter to travel to and from her home in Pennsylvania to the prison in upstate New York. Lisa says that to this day, over 15 years later, her daughter still keeps in touch with the advocates that helped her visit her mom.

“I wouldn’t have the relationship with my daughter that I have now if it weren’t for Hour Children,” Lisa said. “They arranged everything for us, and it made all the difference.”

Hour Children is a leading provider of services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State. The non-profit supports women and their children during a mother’s incarceration and helps families get back on their feet upon release. Women who receive support from Hour Children are a staggering five times less likely to return to prison. Hour Children’s historical recidivism rate for participants in their community-based programs is less than 5%, compared with state-wide rates for women of 29% within three years of release.

While incarcerated, Lisa’s gratitude for Hour Children as a recipient of its services motivated her. She soon began working for the organization from within Bedford Hills, both in the parenting center and the children’s center. Lisa facilitated groups with other incarcerated women on a wide range of topics, including how to better communicate with their children. She wanted to share the knowledge, support, and advice that the Hour Children advocates had given her with others, in hopes that it might help them as it helped her. “I experienced true care,” Lisa explained. “The Hour Children employees didn’t treat me any differently because I was incarcerated,” she continued. “We were—are—a family.”

After 15 years, Lisa was released from prison in June of 2021. In New York City, 52% of formerly incarcerated people are released to a shelter, and Lisa would have likely joined those ranks. Instead, Lisa went to Astoria House, one of five Queens-based Hour Children communal residences.

“They helped so much when I was on the inside, and that didn’t stop when I got to the outside,” Lisa said. “Without them, I would’ve had nowhere to go.”

Six months later, Lisa is embarking on a new part of her journey. She is starting not one, but two jobs: one with The Fortune Society, and the second with Hour Children working with recently released women living in Hour community housing. In these roles, Lisa will be using many of the skills that she honed while working for Hour Children during her incarceration and at Hour Children’s employment services program, Hour Working Women Program (HWWP). She will oversee tasks such as requisitioning, supply budget management, and move-in and out logistics, but is most excited to be using her people skills to mediate and resolve conflicts, help women reach out to city entities for assistance, and offer parenting support and advice. Each day will be different, and Lisa feels committed to helping as many women turn their lives around as she can. “Hour Children advocates were friends and mentors to me,” explained Lisa, “and now I can take what I learned from them and be that mentor for other women.”

The vast majority of women in New York State’s prisons and jails will come home one day. When these women have a supportive place to go when they are released, a place that provides services that strengthens and challenges them to succeed, then they can—and will—be able to change their lives for the better, and for the betterment of their family. They can become fully employed and contributing members of the workforce and their community. Re-arrest is much less likely to happen when we journey with the women and help them utilize their gifts and talents and encourage them to develop new skills to be successful. In this way, together, we break the cycle, create new opportunities and foster healing, one family at a time.

*name has been changed

Dr. Alethea Taylor is the executive director of Hour Children, a leading provider of services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State. She is a member of The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.

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