Author Discusses Oklahoma Women In Prison

Thursday, March 26th 2009, 9:02 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Oklahoma locks up more women per capita than any other state in the nation.  One acclaimed author says women's lives of crime are rooted in crimes committed against them.  She spoke to a Tulsa organization that's trying to reach out to women behind bars.

In Oklahoma for every 100,000 people there are 131 women behind bars.  That's twice the national average.  And for many women, the sentence doesn't end when prison time does.

"The world can make it to where it feels like you don't have a choice. Anything to escape.  Anything to get away from it.  Anything to alter the reality," said CertiRestore trainee Stephanie Ellis.

Not too long ago, Stephanie Ellis was a convict and a mother running out of options.

"People tell you you're not worth it long enough you begin to believe you're not worth it," said CertiRestore trainee Stephanie Ellis.

Author Jody Raphael says for many women offenders they're self-worth has been systematically stripped away.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections reports most women in prison are non-violent offenders.  And, 71% of them were victims of domestic violence; two out of three were physically or sexually abused as children.

"I think 80% of women who are incarcerated should not be there. They have issues.  They need to deal with issues, but those are best dealt with in a therapeutic setting within their community," said author Jody Raphael.

Raphael tells the story of Tammy, a woman molested as a child, addicted to heroin for nearly two decades, who served time in a maximum security Illinois prison.

"By locking people up by locking mothers up we are perpetuating the problems into the next generation," said author Jody Raphael.

Tulsa's Resonance Center for Women is trying to break the cycle.

"We have plenty of people who care about the women and want to work with them. But, it's crucial that they have a job, a purpose, something to produce," said Resonance Executive Director Penny Painter.

Resonance began a furniture restoration business.  CertiRestore trains and employs women many businesses wouldn't give a second look.  And, the women of CertiRestore who are searching for a second chance breathe new life to the broken and discarded.

"I love what I do. And, every day I learn something new. And ya know this is something I'd like to spend the rest of my life doing," said CertiRestore trainee Stephanie Ellis.  "It gave me something to believe in. I believe in myself again. It's been a lot of years since I believed in me."