Time To Transform

I would like to thank everyone who donated to After Orange: Halfway Home.  Unfortunately, we were unable to keep our doors open due to funding, zoning and life.  Jamie’s interstate compact was successful (thank you Parole and Probations) and she is now back in California getting her life together after ten years of incarceration.  

With that said, I am so thankful to everyone who has participated, donated and inspired this incredible journey.  Many lessons have emerged throughout this ‘After Orange’ experience and it all started with the concept of documenting people as they left prison in Las Vegas.  As I followed a woman into Hope For Prisoners about 4 years ago, I fell in love with this program.  Inspiring and authentic, I continued to document the program along with the women coming out of FMWCC (Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center).  

As I observed the housing problem in Las Vegas, after seeing first hand the backup of women up for parole who were not being released, After Orange transformed into a housing project – After Orange: Halfway Home.  Passionate and anxious to help solve the problem, I opened the home for women to parole to once released from prison.  I built the program from scratch and took a leap of faith that it would all work out.  With the help of friends, family and the community, I was able to keep the home and program running for 8 months.  

Was the program successful?

There were many times I felt like a failure throughout this process.  Many sleepless nights wondering how I was going to cover the rent.  Many moments of uncertainty – was I breaking the law?  The licensing process seemed so overwhelming that I wanted to showcase first hand what it would take to open and run a home…thinking that somehow we would be able to make it work.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I would soon find out that no one really knew what was happening, let alone why it was happening.  As I discovered each barrier, I documented and shared.  I soon found myself at the center of what felt like a political pandemonium.

The problem seemed to be a culmination of bureaucratic bewilderment, indigence and societal apathy hiding safely under a dark rock that I inadvertently uncovered.  After Orange: Halfway Home became a catalyst for change in that broken system, calling attention to the problem.  In that way, I believe the program was successful.  

We were not able to fill up the home completely at any given time.  The law prevented us from having more than 5 ex-offenders living in the home at once without a license, which I was conveniently unaware of when opening the home.  The program, on the other hand, seemed to keep the women on track and focused on their goals.  This included daily meetings, life planning, emotional wellness tools, in a safe and sober living environment, which did prove to be effective in assisting the women towards independence.  However, the inconsistency of funding, along with trying to remain open, also served as a source of stress for everyone involved.  Especially me.

Jamie was a huge source of security and strength for me as I was running and operating the home.  Her being in prison somehow gave me the confidence that I was capable of this endeavor.  She was there in Las Vegas referring women she personally knew to live at the home and we figured it would be a great place for these women to go and get the support they so desperately needed upon release.  Our family friend who owned the home supported us in our endeavor.  She had the house, while we built the program.  Ambitious, naive and compassionate, I opened the doors November 1st, 2016.

I do take accountability and responsibility for my naivety, lack of planning and overall ignorance to this uncharted territory.  Ten years ago I never had a sister going into prison and ten years later I never had a sister coming out of prison.  She was my partner from prison but was this really what she would want to do when she got out?  Seems like a lot of pressure on someone who has been institutionalized for the past 10 years.

So…we closed the doors of the home almost immediately after her release.  Jamie could see how stressed out I was and she compelled me to pull the plug.  

Thanks to our house manager Danielle, we had been working with the specialty courts to get women into the home.  We were also working with the N.D.O.C (Nevada Department of Corrections) to bring women who were expiring (or not on parole) into the home.  The reality though, was that we would need a license in order to bring more than 5 women into the home and we were not in a ‘city zone’ that would even allow us to have that permit.  Had I known this from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have opened the home, however, being a catalyst for change was worth it.

As someone who truly believes in transformation, I have turned this experience into a lesson.  Between the politics, personalities and overall disorder I cannon balled into, we were able to help some women transform their lives and I believe we participated in helping transform a system in need of a face lift.  Now, After Orange can transform into its next phase.  

My passion for transforming the prison culture and mass incarceration into a more healthy system is shared by many.  One major issue that has been contributing to this strife is the tension between law enforcement and urban communities.  Last year, Hope For Prisoners hosted a summit called ‘Repairing The Breach’.  The summit focused on grassroots organizations from around the country that are transforming poverty, violence, crime, despair and recidivism from within the communities that those tensions exist.

Now, After Orange is continuing to follow the efforts of those community leaders and grassroots organizations.  What is working?  My goal is to cover how law enforcement and communities across the country are working together to ‘bridge the gap’.  If you are interested in the cause, please watch and share this video.  

Thanks again for all of your love and support!

Jamie is FREE

And we’ve had an amazing couple of weeks catching up with loved ones and moving our project forward!! Jamie was able to go back to San Francisco to acquire her medication. She is now back in Las Vegas to begin the process of her interstate compact, which will ultimately get her back to Cali. In the meantime, we are committed to keeping our home and project going!

We met with the Nevada Department of Corrections yesterday and we are WORKING TOGETHER to keep After Orange: Halfway Home going. Partnering with the local and state government is a key solution to transforming the prison culture in our country and we are SO EXCITED to partner with the state and create solutions together!! It will still take time to submit contracts and take the next steps to get funding for our home…that’s where you come in!! If you’ve thought about sharing or contributing to our campaign, now is the time!! We are so close to being self sufficient and any help we get right now will help us stay afloat until we can solidify this partnership. Please help spread the word and keep After Orange: Halfway Home alive and thriving!! THANK YOU for all of your support!! We couldn’t do this without you!!

https://www.gofundme.com/after-orange-halfway-home

Reaching for the Horizon…

In a speech to a group of Hope for Prisoners graduates, Attorney General Adam Laxalt discussed the value of partnerships between government agencies and transitional service providers. Hope for Prisoners has successfully followed this approach for many years. They inspired me to do the same when I created After Orange: Halfway Home.

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself questioning whether this approach is realistic for our facility. With all the obstacles we’ve encountered, I couldn’t help but wonder if the state of Nevada even cared about transitional housing. I’m now pleasantly surprised to say that, throughout the course of the past week, some of my faith in the government has been restored.  Continue reading “Reaching for the Horizon…”

Should We Go Big Or Go Home?

After CBS – Action News 8 Las Vegas – aired their story last week about our halfway home, we’ve been experiencing some major push-back from the state of Nevada.

The night this story aired, Nevada Department of Parole and Probations emailed their parole officers stating that all ex-offenders on paper MUST be in a Licensed Transitional Facility (LTF).

Now, if we do not get a state license, the women will be forced to leave our home by July 1st, 2017. Continue reading “Should We Go Big Or Go Home?”

CBS Investigates: Bureaucratic Red Tape

Vanessa Murphy with CBS Action News 8 investigates our home and the parole problem in Las Vegas.  Continue reading “CBS Investigates: Bureaucratic Red Tape”

Finding Forgiveness

By Samantha Elwell

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
– Colossians 3:13 NIV

As District Attorney Steven B. Wolfson said at my graduation from HOPE for Prisoners, “we all make mistakes”. I have definitely made a few in my life and by the grace of God I was saved by Reno Police department and sent to prison at FMWCC. Continue reading “Finding Forgiveness”

What Do Female Prisoners Want Most?

By Cassandra Hein

To celebrate International Women’s Day, my sister Jamie and I partnered with Holliday Health Group to conduct a survey at Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center (FMWCC).  We wanted to see what was most important to female prisoners, as they are often ignored by our society.  Continue reading “What Do Female Prisoners Want Most?”