Female Ex-Offenders Band Together

Paul Bass photoJackie Lucibello was serving a three-year sentence at the York Correctional Institution when she found out that her mother was dying from complications related to AIDS.

If Lucibello wanted to visit her mother in the hospital, she first had to be “blackboxed.”

A high-strength plastic box was placed over the key hole to her handcuffs to keep her from trying to pick the lock.

Chains running from her ankles to her waist to her wrists all intersected in that black box, rendering her practically immobile.

At the hospital, she was pushed in a wheelchair through the corridors, was not allowed to see any other visiting family members, and was watched by two guards with the hospital bedroom door open as she spent her final moments with her mother.

“I can’t even explain to you how dehumanizing [that was],” Lucibello said on a recent episode of WNHH radio’s “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant.” “You literally feel like you’re an animal. … That was a changing moment in my life.”

Released from prison in December 2013, Lucibello is now one of the leaders of the Women’s Resettlement Working Group (WRWG), a new organization that focuses on providing support and community for formerly incarcerated women in New Haven.

WRWG started in 2015 as a group of people involved with Project Fresh Start, the city’s prison reentry program, who were specifically dedicated to women’s issues.

The group now has around 20 members and meets once a month at Project M.O.R.E. headquarters at 830 Grand Ave., where participants discuss and strategize around challenges that formerly incarcerated women face in finding adequate housing, healthcare, employment, nutrition and childcare.

The group also provides an outlet for women like Jackie to share their stories with people who have experienced similar traumas while serving time in prison, and to work through some of the shame and stigma that sticks with female inmates even after they have been released.

“When I came home, I was thrust into motherhood,” Lucibello said.

She had given birth to her son while in prison, but immediately had to give him up to her mother and stepfather until she finished her sentence at York. Her stepfather took full responsibility for raising her son after her mother passed away.

“Now before that,” she continued, “I was a heroin addict running the streets. I came home to a 3-year-old running around who wants a mother. It was overwhelming for me, because I hadn’t known how to be a mother. I wasn’t a mother. I was a drug addict back then. Just finding a job and having support and getting my license [were challenges]. If you don’t have someone in your corner fighting along with you, picking you up when you’re feeling down, it’s very easy to slip back into the bucket saying, go back to what you know.”

Lucibello was able to find that kind of support in her family and in a women’s discussion group at Project Fresh Start.

She and Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) social work assistant professor Amy Smoyer are trying to build WRWG into a one-stop shop for conversation, support and social service coordination for women like Lucibello who may not know how to get their lives back on track after getting out of prison.

One of WRWG’s newest initiatives is the Welcome Home Project, in which members make sure that there is always someone waiting at the police department to greet women when they are first dropped off in New Haven after being released from prison. Smoyer said that women are often dropped off by themselves at five or six in the morning, and do not know where to turn once they find themselves no longer behind bars.

Smoyer also said that formerly incarcerated women face unique challenges in finding housing upon returning to New Haven. She said that 75 percent of women returning from prison to New Haven experience homelessness at one point in their lives.

“The number-one place where people live when they come home from prison is with their mom or girlfriend,” Smoyer said. “So a woman coming home, often her mom’s home is not available to her because her kids are living there. When men go to prison, their children stay with the maternal family. Their mom is still available to them. For women, the housing opportunities are narrowed because the women in their life are caring for their kids and some women are not ready to be reunited with their kids.”

Smoyer said that this tension between homelessness and being thrust right back into familial responsibilities often results in women living with unfamiliar men, which can in turn result in exchanging sex for housing and increasing one’s risk for contracting HIV.

With initiatives like the Welcome Home Project, Smoyer and Lucibello are looking to reduce the likelihood that formerly incarcerated women will end up out on the streets, further isolated from family, or falling back into bad habits.

Some of the other topics discussed at WRWG meetings include the Yale School of Medicine’s Transitions Clinic, which provides medical care to women returning to New Haven from prison, the Children with Incarcerated Parents initiative, and a working group dedicated to decreasing the number of women at York Correctional Institution.

“We know that the people who are going to solve the problem are the people who are closest related to that problem,” Smoyer said about the WRWG’s mission to empower formerly incarcerated women to take leadership roles in pushing for criminal justice reform. “And that’s what we saw with HIV. We have a new world in terms of HIV because people living with HIV stood up and fought for it. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the Women Resettlement Working Group right now.”

Learn more about the WRWG at the group’s website: http://nhwrwg.blogspot.com/.

Previous “Criminal Justice Insider” articles:

“Criminal Justice Insider” airs every first and third Friday of the month on WNHH FM at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Listen to the full interview with Jackie Lucibello and Amy Smoyer by clicking on the audio player or Facebook Live video below.

 

 

“Criminal Justice Insider” is sponsored by Family ReEntry and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

 

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posted by: challenge on December 8, 2017  10:06pm

So much needs to change in society in relation to formerly incarcerated people beginning with labeling them with words that dehumanize the person. Words are powerful. It’s great that after centuries of criminalizing and caging people we are now recognizing the human costs associated with it.

posted by: wendy1 on December 9, 2017  9:16am

God bless beautiful Jackie and her adorable son,whom I have met.  Jackie is brave, educated, articulate and I am grateful for her new organization, much needed.  I only wish I could do more for them.

Years ago when I read Orange Is The New Black, I then mailed it to the head of the CT women’s prison.

posted by: Mike Lawlor on December 9, 2017  9:42am

“Ex-cons”?  Seriously?

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on December 10, 2017  5:34pm

The premise of this series is the need to fight against the stigma faced by the formerly incarcerated. The stigma that limits employment opportunities and shames them into silence. The stigma that makes reentry elusive when headlines brand them as “ex cons” forever seeing them as the crimes they committed. Perhaps it’s time for the NHI to stop using the term ex cons/felons if it is truly committed to the heart of this series.

[Ed.:Thank you. Headline changed.]

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on December 11, 2017  12:03pm

The term “Ex-Con” was not birthed at NHI or by Tom Breen. It is an easy mistake of current popular language. And while we are all doing our best to change the narrative of formerly incarcerated folks, it will take time for the language to catch up.

Thank you for the change Tom Breen, I didn’t catch it either and I am a formerly incarcerated person… The host even, of this show!  Ha ha ha ha!

I am glad to see that folks are reading and following this work and are about that Formely-incacerated-folks-matter-too life!

Stay tuned in!

posted by: JCFremont on December 12, 2017  11:33am

Good Luck to Jennifer and the group, first thing is stay clean. In our ever changing lexicon, shall we be changing the term Career Criminal to Career Offenders? Or Repeat Offenders?

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on December 12, 2017  12:20pm

JCFremont,

History shows us that language changes as the times change. Changing language reflects the feelings and raised awareness of the folks of the times.  We no longer call women Dames…  We rarely hear Negro in reference to Black and African American people. We use language to capture what is the true representation of what we are trying to say.

In the criminal justice universe, we are seeing the language change as well. I suspect it will keep changing to reflect a population of people more accurately. That is the beauty of language. I’m here for it!

posted by: Chrisssy on December 12, 2017  11:10pm

Awesome Jackie. You should be very proud of yourself.

posted by: JCFremont on December 13, 2017  11:09am

@Babz Yes, I understand that. Polish, Italian, and Irish where once Pollacks, Dagos and Mick’s now there just White. We once had Asylums for the Criminal Insane. Come to think of it I think the change in lexicon is not because of the original term’s intent but the because of the “slang.” these terms morph into. Con’s where convicts. What new term will they come up with ex-offs or hey he’s a ‘fender, or ex-fender? Offender seems to be a rather ambiguous term. While the “Offender” levels are going down statistically. I have noticed in Universities, Colleges and Politics there seems to be a growing “Offender” problem.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on December 13, 2017  11:41am

JCFremont, Well then, you also understand that people are called by what they answer to not what we feel like calling folks. So if “offender” is more agreeable than “ex-convict” then so be it. Convict is equally ambiguous. People get to add or subtract labels from their stories as they see fit. I am not going to argue the point of what labels folks choose to use for themselves.

posted by: challenge on December 13, 2017  12:46pm

How about we call them “formerly incarcerated people” because that’s the topic of this article. People is the operative word that erased from “convict”. There are man offenders” of our rule of law whom never see the inside of a cell and since this article is talking about PEOPLE who have been formerly incarcerated we should simply call them that.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on December 13, 2017  1:13pm

Challenge,

The titled was changed for this piece,  this is why we are talking about labels. So whatever we decide to call ourselves as folks who have been incarcerated, can absolutely change as folks who were formerly incarcerated deem acceptable.

We know we are people first. And for some formerly incarcerated people this label is acceptable. For others it may not. I appreciate Tom Breen’s sensitivity around the use of acceptable labels. We should simply inquire what is acceptable labels before we label people…Formerly incarcerated or not.

posted by: challenge on December 14, 2017  2:18pm

Babz,I’m in total agreement. Please know my comment was not directed at author. My comment was simply to speak to how we frequently use words that dehumanize people such as slaves, inmates, convicts,  Although individuals know they are people sometimes in the context of conversations labels can diminish that fact. My comment was directed at our society at large.

posted by: jeffgrantjdmdiv on December 16, 2017  7:14am

I’ve learned a lot in the past few days about the power of language. It clearly does make a huge difference in the way we speak about and address each other. I think the term “ex-cons” is derogatory and I’m glad the title of this article was changed. I’m not sure how I feel about the term “ex-offenders?” In Connecticut there is an organization called the “Ex-Offenders Alumni Association” that proudly refers to its members as ex-offenders (I am a card-carrying member), led by such well-respected men as Kenny Jackson and Fred Hodges. Both were on a panel at the recent Connecticut Chapter of the NAACP’s annual conference at which conference over fifty individuals back from prison for over five years were honored. The real point. for me, is that I am grateful that our society has advanced to the point where we are having this conversation, and in the open.