By Founder, Francine LeFrak
I have had this dream to provide incarcerated women a "second chance" and offering them a "hand up, not a hand out" by training them to create jewelry. From this incremental experience, women would then know they could be trained to undertake other positive initiatives. Perhaps, the women would begin to change their sense of self-awareness and begin to develop healthy self-esteem. Thru Jim McGreevey, I was fortunate to meet women of The Most Excellent Way transitional home, all of whom had served time at Hudson County jail.
With my passionate and committed Same Sky team, we met the formerly incarcerated women and provided them with the training to make decorative stretch bracelets. The women relished working with the beads, using their hands, and creating something beautiful to share. They felt reconnected to their own individual dynamism, creativity and talent. Today, I experienced a real thrill working with several women inmates from Hudson County Jail, who were now selling the jewelry they had created under the auspices of Same Sky.
The women artisans, now living in Jersey City, were selling their wares at a lovely kiosk we rented at the Newport Mall in Jersey City. Selling the bracelets they had made, they were filled with a sense of pride, worth, and dignity that they had not known for several years. Big smiles and warm tears all around, it was an extraordinary experience.
One of the women, Barbara, confidently took charge as "chief of security" for the kiosk. Ironically, she was recently released from Hudson County for shoplifting at that very mall. It was overwhelming to see her on the other side of her offense. I subsequently observed Barbara confidently encouraging buyers to design their own bracelet patterns, which she would personally craft for them.
And, Shanika saying “hello Miss” to a passerby,“May I show you the jewelry? Don't miss it, you will regret it” Shanika was our most ebullient salesperson with a big friendly smile and a helpful warm attitude. She felt unprecedented pride in her work product, selling her own jewelry creations. Shanika, who had once sold guns to gang members and kingpins, was now selling her artisan wares.
An interviewer asked if there was ever a program in the US that helped ex-cons navigate a path from crime to creation to capital planning featuring a local shopping mall? I have no idea, but this process has been immeasurably rewarding for us all. The joy we all collectively experienced in our own efforts (and one another) more than justified the labor. The women, ex-offenders all, were beaming as they summoned prospective patrons to purchase their wares. This was their moment. Indeed, it came to me as described in a recent NYT story as to Haiti that it is not the far flung capital donation to a cause, but the individual changing of a life, which has the most substantial promise for us all.
So, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12-8, please visit us at the Newport Mall. Shop and feel good about changing someone's life; meet some amazing women, who live under the same sky.
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