What women want


Do women have a harder time rebuilding their lives after incarceration?  I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately.  Although I’ve taught both men and women, for the past several months I’ve been working primarily  with females — and the myriad  issues these women face upon release is daunting.  Now before all you guys get on me for being sexist, I’m not saying male ex-offenders don’t have it tough too.  Everybody who takes the course I teach  wants and needs to find a job, which isn’t easy. But in my women’s classes I’ve also had three students give birth while serving out their terms. Female offenders are more apt  to be single parents or sole-caregivers for children under 18.  They’re also more likely than their male counterparts to have been abused, have problems with drug or  alchohol and suffer from mental illness, according to a National Justice Institute study.  On top of that women felons typically have fewer job skills and less work experience. 

Over at Prisontalk.com,  one of the best online communities out there for ex-offenders in terms of real life feedback,  there’s a even a running discussion that addresses this topic.  As one poster put it: “Since men can do labor intensive jobs and most of these jobs are a little more forgiving when it comes to having a criminal history, they get more jobs. Most women work in a more structured environment, this tends to mean more corporate jobs, and they are much less forgiving of a criminal history. Unfortunately women are judged much harsher then men. It’s almost like a macho thing, real men are supposed to be bad get into trouble but not women. There are double standards.”

So what does all this mean if you’re a women trying to turn your life around?  Basically, that you’re going to need to be even better prepared than a man  might be.  A 2002 report by the Safer Foundation came up with recommendations to improve the reentry process for women, but in the meantime there is still plenty you can do on your own, including:

  1. Get  help early.   Ideally start when you’re inside.  Take advantage of whatever educational opportunities you’re offered.  Complete your GED.  Take classes. As strange as it sounds, a prison or jail-term often represents the first time some women have been  forced to focus just on themselves.  Use your lack of other responsibilities to work on improving  you.
  2. Start building or rebuilding your support network now.  Keep in touch with people who offer positive reinforcement.  For one woman I worked with this was an old  friend who sent her inspirational sayings and a cellmate equally determined to change her life.  Get a mentor to help you get on track to realize future goals, or seek out someone from the prison ministry.  After your release be similarly selective in the company you keep.
  3. Get your documents in order.  If you have family/attorney might be able to help you get started.  If not,  reentry and other community organizations are there to help you complete the process of gettting back licenses or helping start the paperwork to regain custody of your children once you’ve been released.
  4. Get the treatment you need.  If you have substance abuse or mental health issues now is the time to deal with them.  As one former offender who got a job and went on to start her own business put it: ” This should be your first priority. Period! If you have an addiction, get help. Nothing will screw up your future success faster than dope. If you go to work stoned, drunk or flying someone will notice. Bank on it!”
  5. Take advantage of re-entry resources right away.  Many of these organizations require you to report within 24 hours of getting out in order to qualify for benefits such as job assistance and housing assistance, and other types of transitional help.
  6. Be patient with yourself.  Women ex-offenders often must contend with everything from reestablishing a home and family life and ending destructive relationships to finding affordable housing, a job and a way to live.  And they must often do this while resisting falling back into addiction or bad habits and making sure they meet the obligations of their parole.  It’s a tall order and there will be good and bad days.  Give yourself time as well a  permission not to be perfect.

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Filed under starting over, women ex-offenders

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