Incarcerated women returning to society find little support, and life is especially difficult for returning mothers, said a story by KQED.
Available help is usually fragmented among various nonprofits and governmental agencies, and is difficult to find, the June 11 story reported.
The report included interviews with a number of women who encountered such difficulties.
“A lot of us who leave our children and go to prison come from broken cycles. We don’t know how to put the pieces together and so we really need support before coming out of prison,” said formerly-incarcerated interviewee, Lisa Wood.
When Wood left prison in 1988 she had a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter that she cared for while struggling with drug addiction, reported the article.
Wood has been in and out of prison for 12 years. Her son was incarcerated at age 14 and released when he was 25.
“My son kind of followed me in that pattern that I was in with gangs and drugs,” said Wood.
Her daughter was in the same struggle during the years Wood was absent. Today her daughter resents Wood’s struggles with mental health and substance use disorder, KQED reported.
“I had my daughter in prison; she went home three days later,” said Wood.
Each year, an estimated 58,000 women are pregnant when they enter prison, and they are faced with rekindling family relationships after they’re released, according to a Prison Policy Initiative report.
Separation of a parent and their child puts a strain on their relationship, and it can be difficult to repair.
Studies have shown that there can be a strong negative effect on children when their parents are incarcerated, and that such children are more likely to become involved with the justice system themselves, said the report.
For children of women who give birth while incarcerated, the generational impacts can start when they are separated shortly after birth. Prison policies dictate how much time new mothers spend with their children after giving birth, according to the story.
Wood was arrested a third time and faced an 18-year prison sentence, under the California’s Three Strikes Law, reported the article.
“So I said to the judge, you know I’ve actually been a junkie my whole life and no one’s ever asked me, ‘Can I give you any treatment or help?’” said Wood.
The judge gave Wood a choice to complete a drug program with the Delancey Street foundation in San Francisco or return to prison.
“I was thinking of leaving and going back to hustling and the whole drug scene,” said Wood.
Wood committed to stay in the program for six years, and eventually started working in the intake department mentoring other residents.
Seeking Safety, a group facilitated by Lisa Wood, is a San Francisco Bayview project that provides support for women in recovery from substance use disorder and for the formerly incarcerated. In the group, most women Wood sees are from the Black and Latinx communities. She is trying to make connections with women whose needs are like hers, knowing that success is not guaranteed, reported KQED.
“We can see the potential in them, but they can’t see it themselves, until they’re able to see it, it doesn’t matter,” said Wood.
The success of formerly incarcerated people reentering society depends on the networks available to them, and how many obstacles they have to overcome, said the article.