Stacey Borden tells her story of untreated abuse, trauma and drug abuse led her to years in prison. She is one of the lucky ones who were able to turn their lives around and now she has dedicated herself to helping others in situation.
There are approximately 214,000 women incarcerated in the United States, representing fully one third of all women incarcerated in the world. In Massachusetts alone, women’s incarceration rates grew by almost 400% from 1977-2004, representing an average annual rate of increase of 8.7% per year. It is these troubling statistics that led Stacey Borden on a mission to reduce the number of women incarcerated and give formerly incarcerated women a second chance. As part of her mission and dream Stacey founded New Beginnings Reentry Services, Inc. in March 2016 for women who were formerly incarcerated.
New Beginnings Reentry Inc. is in its beginning stages of operation and plans to offer supportive services for up to 15 women in Boston who were formerly incarcerated. Key components of New Beginnings are to offer temporary and transitional housing, educational programming, and therapeutic counseling, among others. Participants are expected to be working with care services and towards educational or career goals. Stacey is establishing community networks and supports to be a part of lowering women’s recidivism. A unique aspect to New Beginnings Reentry Inc. is the incorporation of drama therapy as “an outlet for a woman’s creativity.” According to Stacey “It can also be used to examine and resolve their deep-seated feelings of fear, anger, hostility, resentment, weakness, depression, trauma, etc.”
Stacey’s story is not that different than so many other women who have been incarcerated. She is the eleventh of twelve children, and her father was a recovering alcoholic. She was traumatized by incest at an early age and turned to drugs and alcohol, which Stacey says “carried me into criminal activity and in and out of the prison system.” It wasn’t until she was in her 40’s that Stacey gathered the strength and understanding that she had to break this cycle.
“There’s something definitely wrong when women are doing massive amounts of time,” she mused, “and then they get out and are back in to prison in three to four months. It’s profound.”
Stacey was introduced to Wheelock’s Comparative Social Policies study abroad course through On with Living and Learning, (OWLL), and its Executive Director, Mary Driscoll, through their work with formerly incarcerated women in Boston to facilitate theater productions on prison reform. Professor Irwin Nesoff led the Comparative Social Policies course, included a two-week study abroad component in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in May 2014. Stacey remembers the recidivism rate was 2% and these countries where “they don’t invest in privatization of the prison system, there’s no gun trafficking and the crime rates are very low.” What was most impressive to Stacey was the countries’ approaches to juveniles and sentencing guidelines. She found their practice of restorative justice interesting and not at all what she expected.
The study abroad included visiting women’s prisons and a halfway house. At one of the prison visits Stacey met a young woman who left a lasting impression on her. Stacey shared “I met a young woman who said to me ‘good prisons make good people, we’re going to be neighbors one day.’” This interaction raised a feeling of humanity and connection within Stacey. She had never heard women speak in tones of hope upon getting out of prison and becoming a contributing member of their communities. That women are not the mistakes they have made in the past but are deserving to experience life for a second time. At this same prison Stacey shares almost fainting because “they use real silverware! Their knives aren’t locked up. We use plastic ware in the U.S.” Stacey observed that Scandinavian countries are approaching incarceration differently as women who are incarcerated cook meals, go shopping and are taught how to live and survive. This again reflects the countries’ approach to humanistic incarceration. The course and cultural differences she discovered were like nothing Stacey had ever heard of or imagined before.
It was when Stacey saw the guards, in regular dress interacting casually with incarcerated women, enacting punishment by reciting rules over and over and not confining them to isolation, she knew then she had to develop a re-entry program. Her re-entry program would include: expressive therapy, psychodrama, getting to the heart of trauma, therapeutic values, substance abuse treatment, G.E.D. attainment, and coping and job skills. Stacey wanted to create a program based upon cultural differences between Scandinavian countries and the United States, differences that she was not aware of before her travel abroad course through Wheelock College.
This led to Stacey’s initiative to start taking courses at Cambridge College for her bachelors, which led to her surprise, stating “wow, I have the ability to learn!” At Cambridge Stacey pursued her passion of studying why women experience such high rates of recidivism and how it centers on people’s need to understand mental health. She learned through research that 97% of women who are incarcerated suffer trauma, notably sexual assault and intimate partner violence but these are unmet issues in the prison system due to a lack of or no resources. “There are substance abuse resources yes, but not trauma focused” Stacey explained.
After completing her Bachelor’s degree, Stacey moved quickly to study for her Masters in Mental Health Counseling, which she was awarded in August, 2016. She credited the professors at Cambridge and Wheelock as “believing in me, letting me be expressive and never letting me feel ashamed.” Stacey’s growing self-worth spurred her to reach out to President Obama with appreciation for being the first president to ever go into the United States prison system. President Obama responded to Stacey with a personal letter, picture and a grant opportunity for her re-entry program.
Stacey’s current plans as a leader in women’s re-entry programs include continuing to work towards her license as a Level I Drug Counselor and facilitating two women’s re-entry support groups with partnering organizations in South Boston and Roxbury. Stacey emphasized the racial and gender disparities as motivators for her future work: “women of color don’t have the opportunities for mental health services because of the way the system is set up; there are more opportunities for white and middle class women to get treatment.” In Stacey’s view economic and educational development is needed to change society’s misinformed views on minorities as criminals as well as increase access of mental health services for minorities, like women, who are incarcerated.
Stacey experienced the scant number of resources for women while incarcerated and heard of so many resources for men.
“As a woman of color” Stacey declares, “I’m not trying to develop re-entry for women of color only, but to empower all women coming from prison.”
Stacey’s vision is to help empower women to understand where they’ve been without blaming themselves and to develop the skills and knowledge to overcome their past experiences. You can learn more about Stacey’s life changing re-entry program at:
Breeana Blalock is a Graduate Policy Fellow in Wheelock College’s Department of Leadership & Policy.