Hello, my name is Nancy DeNike and I was released from Homestead Correctional Institution on January 6, 2020.
My earlier life may have been very similar to your life. I was raised by well-meaning, hard-working parents. I earned a college degree and I had a career.
Around mid-life though everything turned upside down for me. I suffered some personal tragedy and trauma that I was not prepared for mentally, emotionally, or financially. In desperation I made some very poor choices including taking money from my employer. So at 56 years of age I was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison.
I took full responsibility for my actions. It was what it was. But prior to this I had no experience with the criminal justice system, the law, or lawyers. I think I had received 2 or 3 speeding tickets in my lifetime and that was it. So you can imagine I was scared. I was scared of who the other women were I was going to be locked up with. Shockingly, what I found in prison were not women who were hardened criminals. What I saw were women who were suffering from abuse, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. These women, many who had never had a chance in life, were not going to get better with punishment. What they needed was love and hope. Unfortunately, what the state provides is not rehabilitative on any level, it is strictly punitive.
As the end of my sentence neared I didn’t know how I was going to re-create a life for myself. I knew I was a capable person, but I was now a 60-year-old convicted felon with no home, no belongings, and no hope of a job. I couldn’t believe the prison has no system set up to help you find a place to live. Like most who are incarcerated, I had lost the support of my family and friends. There was no access to the internet or the outside world. My classification officer called me into her office, gave me a phone and a list of homeless shelters and said you need to find yourself an address. I remember being in tears making those calls and no one had a room available or would guarantee me one. I prayed each night for a solution.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me was the Ladies Empowerment & Action Program (also known as LEAP). I quickly filled out an application and was accepted. LEAP bravely comes into the prison and offers a 5-month program that first addresses the core issues of trauma and addiction. It is intensive and it works. They also incorporate an entrepreneurship program and each lady leaves the prison environment with a business plan in hand. That business plan is hope. LEAP had a transition house (the only one that I know of in Miami). I applied and thank God I was accepted. The day I was released I was picked up by my LEAP case manager who made sure I made it to my appointments, was fed, clothed, and housed. The day after, I started my new job at LEAP’S Dragonfly Thrift Boutique so I could start taking care of myself immediately.
My basic needs were met, but many womens were not. It is SO important. Those needs not being met is why the recidivism rate in the U.S. for offenders is 45%. The recidivism rates for LEAP graduates is just 6%. This program works.
The Ladies Empowerment Action Program is an organization founded and run by women serving other women by giving them hope and teaching them how to care for themselves and others. The Dragonfly Thrift Boutique and the transition house are places of love and growth where women are not just surviving, but healing and thriving. Our new tag line for LEAP is REVOLUTIONARY LOVE and what that means to me is unconditional love – they meet you where you are with non-judgmental love; life changing love. And that is REVOLUTIONARY!