Invest in Women Behind Bars: A Bold Move for Inclusion This International Women’s Day

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, underscored by the theme “Inspire Inclusion,” I feel compelled to share my story—a journey of resilience, transformation, and the relentless pursuit of gender equality and social inclusion. While unique in its contours, my narrative is a testament to the transformative power of investing in women, especially those of us navigating the complex journey back into society after incarceration. It’s both my personal triumph and a call to action to recognize and support the untapped potential of women who, against all odds, strive to rebuild their lives and contribute meaningfully to our communities.

My life took a pivotal turn while serving a 10-year sentence inside Arizona’s Perryville prison. It was within those confining walls that I first encountered Televerde, a for-profit company that gave hope to incarcerated women like me. By teaching us vital business skills, Televerde opened a gateway for me to envision a future beyond bars and then provided the opportunity, tools, and support for me to build it. It was a life-changing moment when I secured a position with this company, marking the beginning of my journey to finding my true purpose.

From For-Proft to Non-Profit

Despite Televerde’s commendable work, it became clear that the company could only reach a finite number of women. That’s how business works. Opportunities are created as companies grow. I wanted more. Seeking inspiration and guidance, I reached out to Michelle Cirocco. Michelle, who had started her journey with Televerde from within the same prison walls decades earlier, was a role model to me and many others. When Televerde launched Televerde Foundation in 2020 and named Michelle executive director in addition to her role as Chief Impact Officer with Televerde, I waited and watched.

Under Michelle’s leadership, the mission of Televerde Foundation offered a more comprehensive form of support, effectively bridging the gap left by Televerde’s business operations. Initially focusing on Televerde women approaching reentry, the foundation provided vital life skills training, including financial literacy, resume writing, dressing for success, career readiness, and job placement. Recognizing the need for a broader impact, Michelle expanded the foundation’s reach by launching the Career PATHS program. This initiative provides opportunities to women who don’t work for Televerde by offering them training and certifications for careers in customer service, inside sales, and computer technology, thus broadening the scope of support and empowerment for women on their journey back into society.

Finding My True Calling

I loved Televerde Foundation’s expanded mission. With it, I had found a profound alignment with my own purpose. Eager to extend the same opportunities that transformed my life to others, I pursued (and got) a position within the foundation. My role today as a program specialist empowers me to engage in and spearhead initiatives aimed at forging real, sustainable opportunities for women reentering society. It has granted me the platform and resources necessary to underscore the urgent need for targeted interventions. These interventions are crucial in addressing the distinctive challenges encountered by incarcerated women, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the prison population.

Recognizing the challenges ahead, it’s important to consider the broader context that frames our mission. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated women face unemployment one year after release, with a significant portion returning to prison within three years. These signify real lives trapped in a cycle of reconviction—a cycle that affects the women themselves and their families. With around 80 percent of these women being mothers to school-age children, the ripple effects of incarceration reach deep, threatening to entrench future generations in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. This reality emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive support and intervention. It also highlights the importance of investing in this often-overlooked population.

Shining a Light on a Forgotten Population of Women

For my part, I want to shine a light on the transformative potential of second-chance employment and the broader benefits it brings to society. By sharing my journey and the impactful work of Televerde Foundation, I strive not only to educate the business community about the economic and human benefits of investing in the post-incarcerated but also to inspire action toward creating more inclusive environments.

On this International Women’s Day, as we come together to celebrate the theme of “Inspire Inclusion,” I am reminded of my journey alongside countless women who are striving for equity and inclusion after being incarcerated. This commitment to uplift a community of often overlooked talent is deeply personal to me. For this reason, I want to ensure these women are seen, heard, and valued. I want to acknowledge their worth, potential, and undeniable right to opportunities and a brighter future. Investing in them is a cornerstone for nurturing inclusive societies, strengthening families, and bringing about economic growth. I know…firsthand! I hope you’ll join me in embracing the potential within these forgotten voices, ensuring they, too, have a stake in our shared future. Discover a few of the remarkable women I admire and advocate for.

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