SisterHearts: An Organization Using Heart to Assist Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

By Farzad Wahid, AGE 9

Maryam Henderson-Uloho describes her experience in prison as “dehumanizing,” noting, “You see, in prison, you’re broken—mentally, emotionally, and physically.” Maryam spent 13 years in prison with more than half of that time spent in solitary confinement. When she was released from prison, she encountered numerous barriers, including difficulty opening a bank account, obtaining a credit card, finding a job and securing housing. 

Motivated by her own struggles, Maryam founded SisterHearts to support others who face similar challenges after being incarcerated. Through the SisterHearts organization, Maryam has established a thrift store as a way of generating income upon reentry, because it was the only way she could make money when she first left prison. The organization provides other services such as therapy, shelter and employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals. SisterHearts helps Maryam feel empowered about her own experiences by helping other incarcerated women to have hope and build new lives.

Located in St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans, La., the SisterHearts thrift store has, to date, helped over 300 participants reenter society by offering personal development training, transportation, bank account support, driver’s license support and other resources. SisterHearts says that their decarceration program “focuses on reversing negative behaviors and habits that lead up to and were built during incarceration.” One concern is that ex-offenders may end up returning to prison because they have committed another crime. This is called recidivism. SisterHearts hopes to help rebuild the lives of formerly incarcerated people so they will not commit crimes again. 

There has been a push to end mass incarceration in the United States because of high incarceration rates and the challenges faced by individuals upon their release. In the last 30 years, the U.S. prison population increased by 500%, far surpassing other countries like England and Japan. The United States’ approach to dealing with crimes has changed as states adopted “tough on crime” laws that punish people instead of helping them. Other countries have more effective ways to hold people accountable to their actions and not put them in prison for long periods of time. 

Tough-on-crime laws have contributed to a significant growth of the U.S. prison population and have raised concerns about potential drug addictions that alter brain capacity . Our prisons do not help people become better people. As Pamela Rodriguez, the president at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, states, “this tough on crime approach means a whole lot of people are returning to their neighborhoods with little options or education or training.” This is where programs like SisterHearts can make a big difference in supporting incarcerated people to start new lives and combat the narrative they are any less human just because they committed a crime. 

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