Thursday, April 13, 2017

Life After Prison: Lashonia Thompson-El

My Whole Life’s Purpose is to Give Back and
Make a Difference in the Lives of Other People

I was paroled in December of 2011 after spending 18 ½ years in prison.

When I got home to Washington, D.C., I thought I would finish my education, be with my family, and establish a career.  But what I found was that women like me who were going through the reentry process were not connected to one another.  This surprised me because while in prison, I spent a lot of time with the same women and we formed a strong family bond.  But although there were a lot of men doing reentry and civic engagement work, I saw that women were not as involved.  So while working as the Female Reentry Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA) I decided to start an organization called The W.I.R.E. (Women Involved in Reentry Efforts). 

The women of The W.I.R.E. have successfully reintegrated into the community after release from prison.  We do a lot of speaking, writing, mentoring, and organizing around criminal justice concerns especially as it relates to gender responsiveness. We try to enlighten the community about the differences between how women do time and how men do time and how women reintegrate versus how men reintegrate. We strive to make sure that women are ‘at the table’ when policies, services, and programs are being discussed. A lot of our focus is on raising awareness around family reunification. Getting jobs and an education are important, but one of the biggest concerns for many women is how to reunify their family.  A woman might come home to a three-year-old and need child care while she’s trying to find housing and employment and complete her education. We want to help criminal justice professionals recognize what outcomes to seek. As they say, ‘everything that is important can’t be measured and everything you measure is not important.’ Our goal is to make sure that we don’t duck the conversation about family reunification and what mass incarceration has done to children as a result of separating them from their mothers. This conversation can get messy and emotional, but we have to be brave and broach the topic.

Washington, D.C. isn’t a state so our local politics are really important to us. We don’t have a state prison; so people who are serving a year or more go into the Federal Bureau of Prison (FBOP) system to serve time in facilities very far away from their families. One of The W.I.R.E.’s goals is to encourage the FBOP to house all D.C. women in the closest federal facility, which is in Hazelton, West Virginia. We advocate before the City Council and speak to service providers, and criminal justice professionals in our effort to help shape the gender-responsive narrative and inform the public about the impact of mass incarceration on women and families.

We have gone back into FBOP facilities and the local jail and halfway houses to speak directly to incarcerated women who are preparing for release.  I do this work because I have both an obligation to my community and a debt to pay to society.  Because I have the lived experience of incarceration, I can’t leave it up to the academics and intellects to make the decisions when I know they have a limited perspective.  I can’t sit back and allow that to happen.  That’s my obligation.  But the debt is more about things I’ve done that have been unjust and that caused other people pain.  My whole life’s purpose is to give back and make a difference in the lives of other people.

When I came home from the first Leading with Conviction training forum, I felt like somebody opened up my soul and showed it to me.  I felt like I came full circle.  It was the affirmation that I needed, almost like a stamp of approval from God. When Glenn Martin said, “We didn’t select you to make you leaders, we selected you because you are leaders,” I knew I it was going to be an amazing journey. 

Source: JustLeadershipUSA

No comments: