Upon release, parolees often find themselves confronted by various Catch-22 scenarios. Jobs, licenses and identification, and receiving benefits all depend on having an address. Having an address sometimes depends on having some of the other items on that list.
In New Bern, North Carolina, an organization called Tried By Fire, Inc. hopes to help incarcerated women overcome such bureaucratic contradictions upon their release from prison, says an article by Todd Wetherington in The Sun Journal. Tried By Fire provides an address for three to four months at “My Sister’s House,” a temporary shelter for up to eight women.
“When someone comes out of prison the first thing they need is a photo ID,” said Deedra Durocher, the organization’s resource coordinator. “If they do not have a viable address they can’t get that, which means they can’t get a job, they can’t get a driver’s license, and they can’t apply for some of the benefits.”
Currently under construction, the two-story house has a sign that says, “My Sister’s House – Where your past doesn’t matter.” This affirmation reminds future residents that regardless of their transgressions, they have found a welcoming place for a fresh start.
The house will not charge rent. Once tenants obtain a job, they must set aside part of their pay “that will allow them to pay a first month’s rent and utility deposits when they’re out on their own,” Durocher said. Tried By Fire will also provide budgeting and financial literacy classes, according to the article.
“Living together where they’re going to share household chores and meal planning means they’re going to have to learn teamwork and be aware of leadership,” said Durocher. “I’m hoping we will have people who move on from My Sister’s House that will come back and offer peer counseling and mentoring with the whole ‘I’ve been there and done that’ experience that they can share.”
Habitat for Humanity donated the 80-year-old home that stood on the land where My Sister’s House now sits. The structure had suffered severe damage from water and by termites. Even worse, it needed a new foundation. The board of directors of Tried By Fire decided to demolish and rebuild, the article said.
Work on a new 2,760-square-foot house began Sept. 2021 and Durocher expects a certificate of occupancy at the end of February or March. She hopes My Sister’s House can start admitting tenants in April. The project cost about $347,000. Local businesses provided in-kind donations of cabinetry, appliances, and other home essentials, bringing Tried By Fire’s out-of-pocket expenses down to $275,000.
The four-bedroom house’s ground floor has a common living area and a conference room that doubles as a computer room and library for classes. The house also has a large kitchen and dining room and an office with sleeping quarters for overnight staff. The second floor has four double-occupancy bedrooms.
“They will be surrounded with a tremendous amount of support that is going to come from volunteers who have signed up for our counseling or tutoring services,” Durocher told The Sun Journal about the house’s future residents. “We’re turning something that was a blighted property into a place to call home.”