Uncategorized – A New Way of Life http://www.anewwayoflife.org Reentry Project Mon, 15 Oct 2018 21:54:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Finding Hope in Earth and Sun http://www.anewwayoflife.org/finding-hope-in-earth-and-sun/ Tue, 09 Oct 2018 21:59:01 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3498 Finding Hope in Earth and Sun

On Sequarier McCoy’s vision board, where she pins her dreams as well as visual depictions of who she is and wants to become, there’s a picture of open hands holding soil.

“That goes back to my ancestry,” Sequarier explains proudly. Her great-great-great grandmother was an immigrant who saved up enough money to run away from discrimination she and her mixed-race children faced in Europe and buy some land in Oklahoma. The land is still in the family to this day.  Sequarier’s great-great grandmother picked cotton on that land, and so did her great-grandmother. Her grandmother moved west to California and bought some land of her own, where she raised fruit but also cotton, of course, which Sequarier helped her grandfather pick when she was a child.

“I am a nurturer,” Sequarier says. “I like to cultivate and bring things to life.”

It’s hardly surprising, then, that Sequarier’s connection to the land led to her work harvesting the sun. She recently completed a four-month solar installation internship with GRID Alternatives, a non-profit that provides both solar power and solar jobs to low-income communities.

The road to her work in solar energy wasn’t linear, though, even in spite of her strong sense of self. A difficult childhood, domestic violence and drugs led to several stops in prison along the way.

***

Sequarier was raised by a mother who was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and a father who struggled with alcoholism. This juxtaposition often produced mixed messages, and Sequarier learned that everything was okay as long as the family wasn’t behind on its bills. Talking about emotions or things that happened at home was frowned upon. She stuffed her feelings down deep inside and started drinking as a teenager to numb her pain. Drinking progressed to marijuana, which then led to ecstasy, codeine syrup and cocaine. But it wasn’t until she tried meth that she became addicted. From there, her life spiraled, leading to several short stints in prison. She spent a year at a mother-infant program trying to get sober. “I was trying to pull myself together so bad,” Sequarier says. “I had a little will-power but not enough.”

Watching her father struggle with alcohol and eventually gain his sobriety and change his lifestyle —including not talking to certain people or going to certain places and regularly attending AA meetings — gave Sequarier a model for how to get clean. She had the tools for sobriety at her disposal, but she didn’t yet know how to use them. Two weeks after leaving rehabilitation, she was back behind bars: she caught an 11-year arson sentence in 2008, of which she served nine years.

During the first two years of her sentence, Sequarier was depressed, and the anti-depressants she was given made her feel like a zombie. Finally, having had enough, she told the mental health specialist at the prison that she wanted to go off the medication. Life began to turn around. She began to lose weight she’d gained from the medicine. She asked for a transfer from Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) to California Institution for Women (CIW), which has more green space. She was reminded of her connection to nature.

As she tells it, “I started being stimulated by the trees and flowers and the environment. And I decided I wanted more for my life.”

Sequarier started taking classes through Chaffey College. She joined Toastmasters and a host of other clubs at the prison. “Things kept getting better and better.”

What happened next turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Sequarier failed her algebra class. As she tried to determine what to do next, she spotted a sign advertising yearlong training and a guaranteed job as a drug and alcohol counselor. The job paid $0.90 an hour, a fortune in prison wage terms.

The entire prison buzzed with excitement about the job — until the women found out that the training would take place at Valley State Prison, a now-defunct facility with a terrible reputation as a violent lockdown facility. If Sequarier got into the counseling program, she would have to spend a year there.

Interest in the program dwindled, but Sequarier was determined. Out of five applicants, she was the only woman from CIW to make it through. “I wanted to do it for me,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can better myself, and I can help somebody else. I can have a career in this after prison.’”

Despite some second thoughts, she transferred to VSP. The only passenger on the four-and-a-half-hour bus ride, she was given the nickname “Lone Ranger.”

At VSP, Sequarier joined a substance abuse program — “We actually had to be in SAP ourselves; you had to be a student in order to teach. I had to learn about myself in order to help others,” she says — and she learned about concepts like group dynamics, body language and personal development. The program was tough, with a strict code of conduct. Only two-thirds of participants made it through the year, but Sequarier prevailed. “I was reborn,” she says.

Sequarier returned to CIW after the year was up and worked as a counselor until she was released in the fall of 2017 and came to A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project. This spring, she was first introduced to GRID Alternatives. GRID installed solar panels on the roof of one of ANWOL’s homes and allowed any interested residents to help out on the job. Sequarier quickly offered to get involved.

“It felt good being able to help A New Way of Life, since they help me,” Sequarier says. “I felt accepted: the people of GRID Alternatives opened their arms to me in full camaraderie. There’s no judgment; they don’t care that I’ve been to prison. The ANWOL installation was all women, and it was very positive, lots of girl power. I wanted to have more of those kinds of interactions.”

So following the build, she began a four-month paid internship to learn to become a solar panel installer.

“I’m having a ball up there,” she says. “I enjoy that I’m the only woman on the roof. I love it. I’ve been told, ‘You kick butt, McCoy.’”

Since her internship ended, Sequarier is looking for employment, with guidance from A New Way of Life’s employment and social enterprise associate, and is leaving her options open. She wants to learn about the potential that lies within solar thermal energy (solar power that can heat and cool houses), and she’s thinking of taking solar classes to broaden her knowledge. However, she still strongly connects with her work in substance abuse counseling/mentoring.

Sequarier has also turned advocate for other incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, working in and alongside members of her community to effect change.  She is fully engrossed in Women Organizing for Justice and Opportunity, a leadership development training program run by A New Way of Life, and she is a member of All of Us or None, a community-based organization that brings together formerly incarcerated people to bring about change in the community.

“My Achilles’ heel has been limiting myself and foreseeing my own future. I’m not going to do that anymore,” she says. “I’m hoping that life will lead me somewhere better than I’ve been before.”

It’s clear that, with the determination passed down to her by her foremothers, Sequarier will go far, whatever she chooses to do.

 

 

 

 

]]>
Part 1: Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: McPherson & Wrightsville-Hawkins Units, Arkansas http://www.anewwayoflife.org/part-1-susan-burtons-prison-book-tour-mcpherson-wrightsville-hawkins-units-arkansas/ Tue, 17 Jul 2018 19:54:32 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=3460 Part 1: Susan Burton’s Prison Book Tour: McPherson & Wrightsville-Hawkins Units, Arkansas

My interest in visiting Arkansas came after a woman named Colleen wrote to me about her experience in prison and during reentry. I was saddened by the difficulties she faced during her reentry. Colleen had been released but was incarcerated again when she couldn’t find a job. That was six years ago, and she hasn’t been able to be released again. After hearing her story, I felt I needed to visit Arkansas to look at what they were doing. 

I visited Think Legacy programs at the McPherson Unit in Newport and the Wrightsville-Hawkins Women’s Unit in Wrightsville. Think Legacy is a six month program that focuses on employability, family reunification, cognitive behavior therapies, anger management, substance abuse, parenting, thinking errors, victim impact, budgeting, credit building, and other areas.

When I got there I met Nicole Smart, the Think Legacy treatment coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Nicole is different from most correctional officers I’ve met. She showed a real respect for the rules of the Department of Corrections while at the same time honoring the humanity of the women who are being held in the prison.

My conversation with the women in the McPherson Unit was really engaging; I could tell that they had all read the book. We talked about recidivism and the importance of safe places during reentry. Many of the women had experienced trauma throughout their lives, which is typical for incarcerated women, and we talked about how things could have been different if they had had resources available to them such as therapy, job opportunities, and housing.

From our conversation, it was clear that the Think Legacy program had given the women tools to do some introspection, work on healing their trauma and plan for their lives after incarceration.

While at the prison, I acknowledged Colleen as being the person who brought Arkansas to my attention and the reason why I visited.  I encouraged all of the other women to write letters to people on the outside too, such as the governor, members of Congress, or Department of Corrections officials. Colleen is an example of what a letter can do.

My experience with the women of the Wrightsville-Hawkins Unit was equally moving and it was touching to see the warden, assistant warden, and two Board of Corrections commissioners in the audience. They seemed pleased to be supporting the women in their journey to becoming better people.

The Think Legacy program has really gotten the attention of the Department of Corrections. I wish the program much success and it is my hope that they will invest in more internal programs and in reentry programs for women after they are released.

I also hope that there will be an investment in reentry so that women have somewhere safe to live after they’re released. This goes for every state but especially Arkansas, where there are not enough reentry homes to support the vast number of women who can be released into the community.

]]>
Ban the Box: What You Need to Know http://www.anewwayoflife.org/ban-the-box-what-you-need-to-know/ Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:57:33 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2774 amber-rose-and-crew

I sat down today with our Community Organizer, Amber Rose Howard, to talk about “Ban the Box,” officially known as the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance. As its name suggests, the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance is a policy that sets in place a procedure for employers to follow that would guarantee more fairness in the hiring process for people with conviction histories.

“The Box” refers to the question that is found on most job applications that inquires about conviction histories. Statistics have indicated that those who disclose conviction histories are 50% less likely to move forward for gainful employment.

“Those with conviction histories such as myself know that the application is going to be shoved to the bottom or thrown out because the past conviction is essentially an automatic disqualifier” says Amber Rose.

“Policy won’t change society. But policy forces a change in habit. A change in habit can influence attitude, and then we have an opportunity to change the hearts of people. I’m hoping that employers and people in general see that just because someone is formerly convicted does not mean that they are a bad person or that they are a risk. I hope that as society we start to welcome people with former convictions as normal human beings. We have a 60%+ recidivism rate in California, and it’s because people are not being welcomed back into the community. Not only are people being turned away from jobs, but there is a powerful stigma surrounding those with conviction histories.”

The Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance passed on November 30th, 2016. The City of Los Angeles enforces the most progressive form of the ordinance – it’s illegal to inquire about a person’s conviction unless it comes after a conditional offer of employment in Los Angeles. Statewide, it simply bans the question on an application but doesn’t prohibit any inquiries during the interview process.

“I hope there is a psycho-social benefit to the passing of the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance in addition to there being a fiscal, economic plus,” says Amber Rose. “Everybody deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

]]>
Residents Presented with Gifts from Lincoln Memorial http://www.anewwayoflife.org/residents-presented-with-gifts-from-lincoln-memorial/ Mon, 19 Dec 2016 19:59:23 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2749 As the holidays approach, we’ve had the privilege of being honored so generously by a number of great organizations. Just yesterday, representatives from the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church stopped by one of our homes on 91st street to present our residents with gifts.

lincoln-6

I spoke briefly with Jocelyn Williams, a member of the Church, and asked about their intentions, “Once a year we come out at Christmas time to give the women and anyone with children gifts. We just want to make sure that they have a good Christmas, always. Everyone deserves that.”

lincoln-1

The residents have more gifts to come, as Park Windsor Baptist Church will be coming with gifts of their own this Wednesday, December 21st – Just in time for the holidays.

 

 

]]>
ANWOL Champion: Pavithra Menon http://www.anewwayoflife.org/anwol-champion-pavithra-menon/ Thu, 15 Dec 2016 00:06:11 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2741 pavithra

Pavithra Menon first became familiar with A New Way of Life by volunteering at our legal clinics as a UCLA Law student. She loved helping out and working directly with the clients, “As a law student, you don’t get many opportunities to do that.”

Pavithra previously worked at a private law firm representing employees who faced discrimination or retaliation before joining our team. She worked with various public interest organizations in the Southern California area while in law school. These experiences made it clear to her that she eventually wanted to return to the nonprofit sector.

“I hope that we not only are able to change individual lives, but that we are able to create systemic change in such a way that our clients can move forward and seek out opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them.”

As one of our valued staff attorneys, Pavithra supervises the re-entry legal clinic, which serves as a first stop for clients in their journey to getting post-conviction relief.  She helps clients with dismissing convictions under state expungement law and reducing felonies to misdemeanors. In addition, she trains the clinic volunteers and oversees their work. Pavithra also represents clients at court hearings and files petitions on their behalf. When appropriate, she files legal motions and briefs as necessary and has worked on two appeals made to the California Court of Appeals. Finally, Pavithra prepares clients for administrative hearings in order to obtain occupational licenses or criminal record exemptions that they need for work.

When asked about her goals for the community and our society at large, Pavithra stated, “I hope that our work and advocacy will change more and more of the public’s opinion about our clients in terms of seeing them as real people who can rehabilitate and can contribute to society, and seeing them less as criminals who are beyond redemption. I hope that we not only are able to change individual lives, but that we are able to create systemic change in such a way that our clients can move forward and seek out opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them.”

Pavithra Menon holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Finance & Liberal Arts Honors. She received her J.D. from the UCLA School of Law. She’s from Austin, Texas, and enjoys Netflix, trying out new restaurants, and travelling.

]]>
Passing the Torch: 2016 Gala & Beyond http://www.anewwayoflife.org/passing-the-torch-2016-gala-beyond/ Wed, 07 Dec 2016 21:05:47 +0000 http://www.anewwayoflife.org/?p=2709 Associate Director Tiffany Johnson shares her thoughts on the 2016 Gala and the organization’s direction moving forward

 

    I sat down today with our Associate Director Tiffany Johnson to catch up on the Gala. It’s been two days since the event, and although the fatigue in organizing such an enormous event is evident as she speaks in a mellow tone, she is nevertheless warm and dedicated to her work. There are few moments during which I’ve seen Tiffany catch some rest. In fact, most would believe she never doesthe rare exceptions being her forced trips to the hospital for her neck acts up (she is in recovery for a herniated disc which she began suffering from last spring). Her eyes light up as we relive the Gala together and cover the highlights.

     “We had expected anywhere from 300-350 people tops. The day before and the day of the gala our numbers went up significantly, to about 450.”

She’s excited to see the actual count which is roughly estimated to be around 500.

     “Given that there were that many people there, the program went so smoothly. We were able to get our residents engaged by getting their photos on the red carpet which was phenomenal. The silent auction area was beautiful, elegant and very tempting to the eye, and I believe we sold the majority of the baskets.”

     Indeed our Gala did run very smoothly given the remarkably high attendance this year. Furthermore, our 2016 Gala saw a number of high-profile celebrities and personalities visit and speak, making this year’s gala one of our most star-studded events yet.

     “Kym Whitley, LisaRaye, Christine Devine (just to name a few) are very well-known, so for them to come and support the Gala and to celebrate our residents and to present them with awardsI think that was an inspiration to the women. To be presented this special award for the hard work that they’ve been doing was surely a proud moment for them, one that would encourage them to move further in their journey.”

     Our honored 2016 Gala guests were active participants. They were not just supportive, but engaged. These relationships are helpful to an organization like ours. Tiffany briefly reflects on this:

     “You never know how the relationships might unfold. Christine Devine — we know that she is this very prominent newscaster, but for her to share her personal story and the struggles that her family went through, the connection that brought her to ANWOL’s Gala is the same connection we have in the work that we’re doing. Seeing how her own family has faced incarceration, that shows me that it’s not just within the communities of color and the low-income communities… mass incarceration touches every sector of our society, and now that it’s being brought out, spoken on and fought against, I think more people will stand up alongside us.”

“…mass incarceration touches every sector of our society, and now that it’s being brought out, spoken on and fought against, I think more people will stand up alongside us.”

     Carolyn Robinson and Vasanté Bailey were both presented with the Flozelle Woodmore Memorial Award, introduced by LisaRaye McCoy and Kym Whitley respectively. Lennie James was also at the event to receive the Industry Impact Award on behalf of Emma Hewitt. Tessa Blake shared some words on her behalf.

     Rhyon Nicole Brown introduced our Community Champion Award, received by Dr. Cheryl Grills. Additionally, KPFK’s Margaret Prescod was present to give a moving and well-deserved introduction to Michelle Alexander.

     “I think Margaret Prescod said it all when she introduced Michelle Alexander. I think she is one of our modern day civil rights movement builders. Having her was greatlooking at her and hearing her, she presents herself in such a humble fashion and to me that speaks volumes about her as a person, and you see this in her work as well. Her book The New Jim Crow is crucial because it informs the public of our struggle against mass incarceration and discrimination against people of color. It’s a wake-up call and a call to action.”

“[The New Jim Crow] is a wake-up call and a call to action.”

     Finally, Tiffany and I talk about the future of A New Way of Life, our direction and her selection as Susan’s successor.

     “I am deeply humbled that Susan has chosen me to be her successor. As I said during the Gala, she has seen a promise in me and has given me the opportunity to become who I am and who I am destined to be. The transition in my eyes is going to be continuous, and I say that because I will always go to her as my mentor to help lead and guide me. In addition, we have a dedicated team at A New Way of Lifethese are the champions who are doing the everyday work that needs to get done for our cause. I’m thankful and honored to be working with such a dynamic group of people and to stand side by side with them as we continue to make changes and elevate the quality of people’s lives.”

     That’s the key herethat our work is constantly changing people’s lives and elevating their quality of life. Tiffany reflects on a moment during which she saw the fruits of our labor during a serendipitous encounter with a former client of A New Way of Life:

     “This guy came up to me the other day when I was on my way to a meeting with the Board of Supervisors in downtown, and he came up to me and he said ‘thank you. You guys helped me with my expungment and that has meant the world to me.’ We spoke for a bit, and I learned that he works now with another nonprofit doing the same kind of workgiving back, and that’s what it’s all about. People just want an opportunity, a new chance to start fresh. And that’s what we do, we assist people in their new way of living.”

Lastly, Tiffany shed some light on the future and the direction our organization will take in the coming years.

     “The core passion that has guided us up until now will continue strong into next year. That isn’t changing. We’re a passionate group of people. This is who we are and what we do, and that’s not going to change.”

 

Eric Villalpando

ANWOL Communications Dept.

]]>