Marissa Wells



For the past 19 years A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project has provided a Thanksgiving experience for the women living in our re-entry homes. The celebration takes place the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving and the residents are encouraged to invite their family and friends.

The annual celebration is sometimes the first Thanksgiving that some of the women have ever had. The event also gives the women an opportunity to experience the holiday as a new family.

The population of incarcerated women has increased by nearly 800% since 1980. The Vera Institute of Justice reports that the majority of incarcerated women are mothers. “Unlike incarcerated men, women in jails are often primary caregivers to their young children – nearly 80 percent of women in jails are mothers, and most are single parents.”

Tiffany Johnson, Associate Director of A New Way of Life, describes the experience as meaning a lot to the women. “Family reunification is not as easy as people think it is… For me when I came home, I still pictured my kids as kids but they were young adults and it’s hard to transition to see them and treat them as if they’re young adults. And then the kids are like, ‘well you’ve never been there for me’ and so throughout the year you’re constantly trying to repair a relationship that has been severed. Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to really start on new ground,” explains Johnson.

Most of the women at this year’s celebration were experiencing their first Thanksgiving post incarceration. Some of the women had not been home for Thanksgiving in decades. For Mary who hasn’t spent Thanksgiving with her family in 35 years, the day was pretty emotional.

“It’s a humbling experience to be out and you know just be around people that care about me, genuinely love me, and [are] there for me,” explains Mary. “So you know it’s touching, I cried a little bit when I first got here. Because like I said, I never thought I would be home to witness all this because I thought I was going to be in prison for the rest of my life.”

Newest Residents, Patricia (left) and  Mary (right)

Thanksgiving with A New Way of Life has become a sacred tradition for the women. For so many years the women have had to eat Thanksgiving meals that consisted of pressed turkey and dressing that felt like cotton in their mouths. The meal and family experience at ANWOL communicates to many of them that they are cared about, loved, and thought of during the holiday season.

This Thanksgiving please remember your incarcerated loved one. If you haven’t spoken with them in a while, say a prayer for them or send a letter letting them know that you are thinking of them. Your communication could be the encouragement they need to push through another holiday season away from home.

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