A former lifer now offers hope and direction to hundreds of abused women in California with a sole purpose – help incarcerated women gain a renewed sense of self.
“A woman with a vision empowers an empire of women to do more, see more, and be more,” said Dana Chea-tum, founder of Total Women Empowerment Life Coaching Inc. (TWELC), via telephone.
TWELC, launched in 2017, provides workshops for women to avoid the pathways to self-destruction and how to reclaim their lives post-incarceration.
“Many women are trapped in dysfunctional relationships, suffer from low self-esteem, and feel unloved and unwanted, which after time, can feel normal. I want to help them shed the old image of themselves and see the beauty and strength within,” said Cheatum. “The function of freedom is to free someone else – This quote by author Toni Morrison is my daily call to action.”
TWELC, Cheatum said, was founded on the principles of 4 E’s: Expose, Educate, Encourage and Empower.
“Image makeover is important. It is all about understanding why you create the image you created in the first place. Whether it was due to physical, emotional, relational or financial traumas, each individual will walk away with an understanding based upon their own tangible experience of where they are, and how they got there,” said Cheatum.
Pre-COVID, TWELC held monthly healing workshops for women incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Facility (FCI) in Dublin, CA, and worked closely with the S.F Probation Department for women on probation.
“After serving 25 years and 330 days of incarceration, I left prison spiritually grounded, emotionally stable, and academically equipped. I knew God’s plan for me and I went and did what He set before me to do,” Cheatum said.
Cheatum, formerly known as Dana Robinson, legally changed her last name after being paroled, which she said was the first step of reclaiming herself after obtaining her freedom.
“When I went to prison, I realized that I was academically inadequate. I began to understand that I chose dysfunctional relationships because I did not feel worthy of love. But the most profound realization was this – That when you don’t know where or who you are in life, you don’t realize that you need to get through something.”
“And that is why I founded TWELC. I wanted to help women, especially lifers, learn the fundamentals of establishing and preparing for their future. To relearn to live in a world where the systems have changed since the time they went in.”
The workshops, said Cheatum, are designed to create a different mindset in the women than the destructive one that put them on the path to a life sentence.
“My faith led me to get involved in self-help groups while inside, and in them, I began to learn who Dana was. I began to understand how I got to such a place. With that, God’s plan for me became clear,” Cheatum said. Adding, she wants to provide an outline of direction for women. The direction she didn’t have prior to her becoming incarcerated at the age of 18 for murder.
Under her TWELC umbrella, Cheatum created the Living Life On Purpose Academy (LLOPA) and is actively pursuing sponsorship and donations for her most recent endeavor.
“LLOPA’s mission is to provide former female lifers with 6-12 months of cost-free living in an environment that is conducive to what someone who has spent a lifetime behind bars needs.ˮ Which, she says, isn’t provided in those other homes.
Cheatum said there are two types of homes: Transformational, and a word she does not like to use, Transitional.
“The difference in the two,” said Cheatum, “is that my ‘transformational home’ does not call for women to go through 30 hours of groups after spending years in groups. ‘Transformational’ addresses the essential needs that are not met at those ‘other’ houses.”
“Basic life skills, such as learning how to bank, open checking and savings accounts and how to build credit responsibly. To learn to type, gain computer operation skills, and how to navigate the complexity of these new cell phones. It’s the little things that help build a person up. Which takes care, time, personal attention,” she added.
TWELC and LLOPA function on guiding principles that were created to uplift, empower, and inspire current and former women lifers.
“Our services are designed to meet the women where they are,” said the San Francisco native who earned an Associate’s Degree in Social and Behavioral Science. Cheatum also earned a Drug and Alcohol Certification through the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) while incarcerated.
At 52, Cheatum says she’s just getting started, and that her biggest project to date, is acquiring funding for an LLOPA home for the women she represents who need the support.
“I met the lady who has been mentoring me in 2007. Her name is Geanine Hobbs. I was a program mentor for the Substance Abuse Program (SAP) while inside, and she was at the time regional director for the Phoenix House.
“Geanine was someone I could talk to about my fears and about succeeding. She believed in me and helped me see things about myself that I could not see. She still mentors me today,” said Cheatum.