This takeover episode features a conversation between JBC Consultant Jennifer Sarrett and Trelise Baker, Founder of 2nd Chance Living PMI as Trelise discusses the work that her organization does to help women transitioning out of prison or jail and into communities by providing employment and housing services in and around New Orleans, Louisiana. Trelise also shares her own journey of transitioning back into the community as a justice-involved woman and the biggest challenges that people face after incarceration. Discover the complex needs that justice-involved women face when reentering their communities, and how 2nd Change Living is helping to address those needs.—
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
TRELISE BAKER: ... so, as a justice-involved woman, I understood early on the challenges anyone had faced. Then I transitioned from 2015 to 2016, and I moved to Texas. And during this transition of living back and forth from Louisiana and Texas, I noticed the economic empowerment that Texas have within this community, and they pride theirself over this 19% recidivism rate.
But then you have to dive deeper and look into, well, what is working to help reduce this recidivism rate? And it's all about economic empowerment and providing tools and resources to those individuals that are transitioning back into the community. I believe that the community should also think about putting in as just as much effort as it is to putting someone behind the bars where it should be the same effort to integrating that individual back into the community.
The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author, and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advised top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Welcome to The Will to Change a podcast by Jennifer Brown. I'm Dr. Jennifer Sarrett and I'm going to be your host for the day. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I'm a diversity equity and inclusion consultant who specializes in anti-ableism and inclusion for people with conviction histories. I do this work independently, and with Jennifer Brown as one of the senior consultants.
Today, I'm really excited to have a conversation with Trelise Baker, the founder of 2nd Chance Living PMI, an organization that helps women transitioning out of prison or jail and into communities by providing employment and housing services in and around New Orleans, Louisiana.
Before we begin our conversation, I'd like to provide a little bit of context and background. As many listeners likely know, the United States has the highest incarceration and justice-involvement rates in the world. While we have 5% of the world's population, we have 20% of the world's incarcerated population. And Louisiana itself stands out in the United States as having an incarceration rate of 1,094 per 100,000, which exceeds the US rate of 664 per 100,000. This is in comparison to, for example, the United Kingdom, which incarcerates about 129 per 100,000 people.
Further, compared to other states, Louisiana ranks first in jail population overall and in pre-trial jail detention, which is when you're kept in jail before your trial starts, and thus before you have a conviction or a not guilty verdict. And Louisiana ranks second in prison admissions and prison population. In 2018, Louisiana had around 120,000 people involved in their justice system, including jail and prison incarceration, as well as parole and probation.
Like the rest of the country, justice involvement is disproportionately affecting Black and Hispanic populations. In Jefferson parish in particular, which is where 2nd Chance Living operates, the total prison and jail population is around 27,000. 5-year recidivism rate is 43.5%, this means that 43.5% of people released from prison or jail in the parish are reincarcerated within five years. And this is really important because we know that employment is one of the best ways to reduce one's chances of becoming incarcerated again.
In 2021, Jefferson Parish released 943 people from their prisons and jails. This means that 943 people needed employment and employment services. Of Louisiana, this parish has the highest number of people on probation and parole. And people on probation and parole are at extremely high risk of recidivism because of all the restrictions placed on you. Finally, of those released in 2021, only 276 were released with identification, and only 121 were released with employment referrals. And of those that were released only 18% had actually completed any job or education programs that they had started while incarcerated.
As I noted, 2nd Chance Living focuses on women, which is critical because most reentry programs focus on men. Women comprise about 7% of state and federal prisons. But while men's incarceration rates are plateauing, women's rates are rising. Louisiana ranks seventh in the country for women's incarceration, and in 2018, the state released 1,843 women from prisons and jails around the state.
In terms of employment, Jefferson Parish's unemployment rate is a little bit higher than the rest of the country at 4 to 5% compared to the country's 3.6%. And about 15.5% of people living in the parish are living in poverty, and for almost all age groups, females have higher poverty rates than males.
Finally, I want to note that one-night counts of those experiencing homelessness in 2018 found that 1,188 people were living on the streets or in shelters throughout the parish. However, the organization that created this estimate notes that it's likely risen about 11% since the start of COVID. It's really hard to find good data on homelessness and justice involvement, particularly at the county or parish level. And this is really important to keep in mind because a lack of data just makes it difficult to create a good assessment of services and have targeted services.
The data I presented today has come from a variety of sources including the US Bureau of Labor, the US Census, the Vera Institute, the Prison Policy Initiative, and UNITY for Greater New Orleans. These sources will be listed in the show notes. Regardless of what the data tells us, we know that Jefferson Parish is an area of high need in Louisiana, which itself is a state of high need in our country. This is why organizations like 2nd Chance Living PMI are so critical.
I'd like to now introduce our guest for the day, the founder of 2nd Chance Living PMI, Trelise Baker. Trelise is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and someone who has experienced incarceration and the lasting impacts of being justice-involved. She's fought hard to break free of the continual effects of becoming justice-involved, and along the way, recognized a need in her community for women who have shared this experience.
She started 2nd Chance Living PMI, which stands for purpose, motivate, and innovate as a 501(c)(3) in 2017 to provide women with a safe transition back to society through a 12 to 16-month program focusing on job placement and assistance, entrepreneurship training, self-help social services, and housing assistance. Trelise, thank you so much for joining me today.
TRELISE BAKER: Thank you so much, Dr. Sarrett. It's an honor to be here today. We are so excited to just be a part of such an important topic within the community.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Well, we are really excited to learn from you. I think it'd be really great if we could start with you by talking a little bit more about your background and experience that led to you recognizing and addressing this need in Jefferson Parish. So can you tell us a little bit about your story?
TRELISE BAKER: Sure, thank you for the opportunity. Well, again, my name is Trelise Baker, I'm president and founder of 2nd Chance Living PMI, where our mission is to work to improve the lives of justice-involved women in underserved communities by focusing on community resources that create a measurable impact in workforce development, mental health, and reducing the probability of returning to prison.
Do you remember that one person that you went to school with or a family member with so much potential, but you didn't know what happened after 20 years? If I had a moment of your time, I would like to share a story about a girl who grew out of the juvenile system to become only a part of the adult justice system. How options were few to none when it came to real support through her transition. She searched and she realized so many options were available for men, but very few options were available for women facing the barriers she faced with having a criminal record.
How could a straight A student from elementary to high school become entwined in a system? Was it because she was a woman instead of a man and she should know better, and her needs are too complex? Shouldn't she receive the skills and resources she need to stay productive for her child and her family? The girl whose story I just shared is me.
So as a justice-involved women, I understood early on the challenges anyone had faced. Then I transitioned from 2015 to 2016, and I moved to Texas. And during this transition of living back and forth from Louisiana and Texas, I noticed the economic empowerment that Texas have within this community, and they pride theirself over this 19% recidivism rate. But then you have to dive deeper and look into, well, what is working to help reduce this recidivism rate? And it's all about economic empowerment and providing tools and resources to those individuals that are transitioning back into the community. I believe that the community should also think about putting in as just as much effort as it is to putting someone behind the bars where it should be the same effort to integrating that individual back into the community.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Yeah, that's so important. Thank you for sharing that. I'd like to ask, from your perspective, what have you seen as the biggest challenges that people experience following incarceration?
TRELISE BAKER: That's a great question. Louisiana women prison population is about 1.5% of the total female population in prison, and across the United States is about 8.1% of the total population of women in the prison. So this is a unique experience that has been particularly underserved, no resources, no services whatsoever because the numbers aren't as high as men in prison, well, the population isn't as high as men in prison.
But as you stated earlier, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, that the segment has grown by 746%. So you see the changes within the community and the economy within the last 10 years of how much of a need these are for women, and why these needs aren't addressed. But then in the same aspects, when you would ask someone from the Department of Justice, they may say, "Because their needs are so complex." But why shouldn't those needs be met?
JENNIFER SARRETT: That's exactly right. It's so fascinating to me that all of the efforts towards the reduction of mass incarceration, they seem to be touching on men's incarceration rates, but women's incarceration rates are just continuing to rise and people are not talking about this. The other thing that people are not talking about is, like you just said, the complex needs of women. Can you talk a little bit more about what those complex needs are?
TRELISE BAKER: Yes. Those complex needs are like childcare. 80% of the women that's in the prison system or being released from the prison system are mothers. I mean, all of us come from mothers, from a woman, so we ultimately understand as a woman we have, one, healthcare priorities that we must maintain. And then also we have children, we have expenses, and then on top of that, you have probation fees and any type of other obligations. And what if that mother, she's a single parent?
JENNIFER SARRETT: Which most often is the case, more likely to be the case.
TRELISE BAKER: Yep.
JENNIFER SARRETT: And I think also, we forget about the other caretaking needs that women often face, those of their parents, other people's children, the neighborhood. Women are really the village that's taking care of our community.
TRELISE BAKER: Yep.
JENNIFER SARRETT: So can you talk a little bit more about the ways that 2nd Chance Living is addressing these particular complex needs?
TRELISE BAKER: Yeah. According to the vocational educational and recidivism at the Louisiana correctional Institute, the findings of Saunders Research support that claimed that the presence of proper resources for justice-involved women played a major role in cutting down the recidivism rate in Louisiana. As 2nd Chance Living PMI, we support justice-involved women 18 through 80 years old to find that purpose through dignity of finding a career. We look beyond just an individual finding a job, we try our best to make sure that the individual focus on career aspects. Throughout a combination on-the-job training, life skill classes, career service assistance, transitional housing, and case management, we are excited to provide these women with viable resources that can provide them with a real second chance.
JENNIFER SARRETT: I love that you also provide housing resources because it is so difficult to get a job when you are struggling to find stable housing. So your organization does a lot to prepare women to enter the workforce, but really that's sort of half of the equation. We also need to think about how to motivate and prepare organizations to hire people with conviction histories, so I want to shift a little bit to talk about that. In terms of employment, of those who experience incarceration, who in your experience do you think is more likely to get hired than who is not likely to get hired?
TRELISE BAKER: In my experience, it depends on the employer. With little education and fewer employment opportunities than male ex-offenders, many female ex-offenders will accept any position, typically non-permanent or entry-level positions. At Louisiana minimum wage of 7.25, the average cost is over a $1,000 per month for rent. And the basic needs of childcare, post-incarceration fines, minimal wage is just insufficient.
JENNIFER SARRETT: That's really interesting that you talked about women being more likely to kind of take whatever comes along, even if those jobs are not reflective of a woman's particular skills and expertise. Why do you think that that's a difference between women and men who have recently been released from prison or jail?
TRELISE BAKER: The difference is because, again, that community has been particularly underserved, and maybe there's a stigma or judgment out there. But then also as women, outside of being justice-involved women, we still are equally fighting for the equal pay and the equal rights as men in the workforce. So that places another barrier on justice-involved women as well. So you have to think about... I like to tell individuals like, "Hey, if you and I are in a race to this next milestone, which is probably a finish line, if you and I were in this race to this finish line and your route was clear, you had no criminal record, you had a two-family household, you didn't have families that come from substance abuse issues, you were born with money, you have a straight route to the next milestone."
But when you talk about justice-involved individuals, these individuals oftentimes have bumps and barriers that they have to overcome to be able to get to that milestone. And eventually, they may not even make it to that milestone because they're so worn out from jumping over these barriers and going different directions just to get to the same point of success. So we've got to think about it as how can we level the playing fields?
JENNIFER SARRETT: Yeah, that's a great metaphor. And I think it's really important to note the compounding effects of the already existing disparities between women and men in terms of employment and pay. And then you compound that with an incarceration history, and it becomes, like you noted, just this really complex and ongoing struggle that's exhausting, really hard to navigate.
When we think about the business side of things, of trying to get corporations and industries to hire more people with conviction histories, we have to think about what's getting in the way. What do you think that hiring managers and employers see as the biggest barriers? What's getting in the way?
TRELISE BAKER: And this is a great topic because we talk about this all the time when it comes down to our career-readiness placement program. And I'll dive a little bit deeper in this segment about that, the workforce development field within the community. Everyone deserves a second chance, first and foremost. Employees should look beyond a simple box within an application or a background check, and value the hard work and experience someone has. I recently, even as executive director, I've easily had to understood early on that, "Hey, even though this person," and this is in general, "even though this person may have ample years of experience to help navigate the organization, but if no one wants to work with that person, then it kind of makes it hard for everyone to work collaboratively."
Same thing as far as a justice-involved individual, it makes it hard for an individual to even feel welcomed or really taken seriously based on their backgrounds and experiences because you're always living with the stigma. It's dreadful even for myself to this day, if I was to go and apply for a job, that check mark box, will I be judged or will I be given an equal opportunity? And then at the bottom of the application we often see, "Hey, this is an equal opportunity employer based off of gender religious," and so forth and so on.
But then you think about it, "Well, is it really, really equally if I've already paid my debt to society? And then when I submit this application, will I be judged? Will I be granted the right opportunity? Will I be able to have the opportunity of growth?" Because sometimes you can even get through the door, but would that company allow you to expand and grow within a company?
JENNIFER SARRETT: That's really powerful, Trelise, is thinking about that equal-opportunity hiring and the limitations of that in a situation involving a conviction history even, like you said, when you're like, "I did my time. I paid my debt to society. I am done with that part of my life and I'm trying to move on." But that stigma just seems to follow people forever. And I think that's why it's important to ban the box. Can you talk a little bit about the Ban the Box movement?
TRELISE BAKER: Yes, I can talk about it a little bit from my experience and what's going on within the community. First up, let me back up and say this, employers hold a greater responsibility to provide economic empowerment to the communities.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Yes.
TRELISE BAKER: Companies have a choice to help reduce crime and recidivism rate as well as bridge gaps within communities, by fostering social responsibilities. So instead of us just, "Hey, we're looking at the background of that person," let's really look at that resume, let's really look at that personality, and let's look at our company culture and our needs because sometimes we, as executives and CEOs, you possibly maybe passing up on opportunity of a candidate that can do stellar.
Like right now within the workforce as far as the great resignation. We often talk about this all the time without our students, and we are preparing them for this because I promise you, if you was to give some of these justice-involved women that have human resources experience, programmatic experience, products, inventory, if you was to give them some of the manager and executive-level positions, they would kill it because they never were granted that opportunity.
And then you have other individuals that, hey, may have that level of experience and knowledge, and don't have a background. And then guess what? During the great resignation they felt as though they were invaluable, which not to say that they're not, but at the same time you have these individuals that's ready and they're willing, but then that check mark box right there, it boots them out of that opportunity.
So the check mark box movement is bigger than just looking beyond a person's background because once a person, again, has paid their debt to society, how can this person be a viable citizen for their community without making the proper steps to make ends meet financially? Now, of course, we have to look at their background, and of course you wouldn't want to mix certain individuals into certain aspects if that's what they're... that's understandable. You wouldn't want to have someone that basically had an offense in a certain area around children and then working around children. Understandable. But there's something that person still can do within the community that still can be as impactful.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely. I'm over here shaking my head, agreeing with every word you're saying, I'm on board. And I just want to clarify that the Ban the Box movement is to remove questions on applications about whether or not you have a conviction history. And like Trelise has been saying, it's already putting upfront something that has attached so much stigma to it that it often just makes people throw that application away. And so the Ban the Box movement is to get rid of that box.
And a lot of organizations have started to Ban the Box, which I think is a really good step forward. But it's not all the way, there's still so much that businesses can do to address these barriers. So in terms of addressing the barriers that people with conviction histories face, what would you like to see more of?
TRELISE BAKER: That's a great question. I would like to see more support within the workforce of, again, accepting these individuals with great employment opportunity. I would like to see them grow within the company, it sets a great example and a tone within the company. Many companies probably have faced litigations theirselves, and they get to continue thriving within the community. So having an individual to have the same respect as well is something that we want to see within the community.
Another aspect is also including housing opportunities within the community for individuals that are having a second chance because ultimately what we are doing is we are segregating individuals that have a criminal record to live in a certain area or a certain part of the neighborhood, of the community, of the state, and that's not right. Everyone should have the right to live equally and free, especially if you work for it, you pay for it.
JENNIFER SARRETT: That note about modern-day housing segregation, I think, is so important. And if corporations and businesses could somehow connect with housing resources and ensure that their employees have stable housing, what a great inclusion feature, what a great belonging feature to have of your workforce. And how much of an impact that would have on somebody's lives and how dedicated that person would then be to ensure that they keep that job and are reliable and there for that company and for that role? I think it's really, really important.
TRELISE BAKER: Mm-hmm. I agree.
JENNIFER SARRETT: So we talked about some of the barriers, what you would like to see more of. Do you have a sense of what sort of companies seem to be more ready to hire people who were formerly incarcerated? So are there particular industries, or sizes of companies, or maybe even thinking about particular departments, I know you talked about human resources and marketing? When you think about organizations that seem to already be ready, what does that profile look like?
TRELISE BAKER: Currently, from the outside looking in, and then also through my experience, and then also working with these individuals, they're lower-paying job opportunities with no room to grow within the community. And oftentimes, technology is taking over these opportunities. So that's why you're starting to see the increase in crime. You have to think about how this individual is able to sustain and pay their bills. It's natural human instincts, with or without a criminal record, if you are in need, or if you're hungry, it's natural for some humans to go that level to be able to make sure that food is put on the table.
So how can these companies show more of and share more of social responsibility, is the bigger question, is being able to provide these opportunity to the justice-involved communities.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Yeah, that's so important because a lot of this goes back to basic survival instinct. And this is, I think, one of the reasons why women's incarceration rates are increasing, why men's are not because women are often the caretakers. So they're not just thinking about how to feed themselves and house themselves, but often children, elders, cousins, all kinds of people that women are responsible for. And so if, for example, you have the opportunity to move some drugs from here to there for $5,000, or you have the opportunity to work 60 hours a week at 7.25 in a no-growth opportunity, it'd be hard to turn down that $5,000 opportunity, for any of us.
TRELISE BAKER: So let's think about the incident that happened on January 6th, right?
JENNIFER SARRETT: Mm-hmm.
TRELISE BAKER: That time, a certain group felt as though, hey, this country was at risk being taken over from them. So it was their fight of flight mode mechanism. Everyone has a way of trying to revive their territory, trying to survive. Everyone. It doesn't matter what race, what gender, it doesn't matter, we all have that natural instinct of survival. And for years, Black people, in general, were placed behind. And then now you have individuals that are justice-involved that are constantly going back and forth to the system, and some people's response is, "Hey, lock them up."
Locking anyone up has never been the answer or the resolution since the beginning. It has not worked. There's no evidence, there's no facts, there's no research that proves that this works. When we all saw peace within the community, this was the first time I even saw peace within my community, is when we had the pandemic. Unemployment was out, everyone had to quarantine in, everyone was able to kind of get some type of benefits or assistance, or employers stepped up to the plate and they were even able to assist individuals. And you saw, ultimately, what happened, crime dropped.
Then you saw a need from the federal government saying, "Hey, we need to release some more people out of prison." Why did it take that much for us to open up our eyes and realize, "Well, hey, together as a community, this is not working"? Because at one point we were at peace, and then now we open up this chaos and you look at things now today, crime is high, but then you see rent increase, you see the cost of living has increased, but minimum wage has not increased.
JENNIFER SARRETT: That's so powerful and so important. And it reminds us that this isn't just about individual people's employment, or even individual companies' preparedness to hire people with conviction histories. This is a bigger systemic issue. So when we think about that larger issue, it gets into politics. So how do you see that overlap between the larger politics? We have elections coming up, people are tuning in and trying to figure out what strategies are going to work for their communities? How do you think about that as somebody with this organization and somebody with your background? What's your approach?
TRELISE BAKER: My approach is we stick and we focus to the mission. We don't entwine ourself into politics, but we know that politics impacts us. Even as an organization, it impacts us the world that we live in, the people that we serve. We've just seen Roe v. Wade was overturned. And ultimately that affects the women that we have in the transitional housing program. We even had one individual that was incarcerated for a while, I believe... I think it was close to five years, and when she was released she was pregnant, and I was trying to figure out how.
And ultimately, when that happened, I could think about this young lady, I'm like, "Well, Jesus Christ, how is this going to turn out for her?" And then on top of that you know out of all people, Dr. Sarrett, we've been dealing with this barrier of equal housing opportunity for justice-involved women in Jefferson Parish. So if we can't house them, and they can't get an abortion, what are we to do?
JENNIFER SARRETT: Yeah. And it, again, sets up that survival instinct that makes one more likely to try to find some sort of opportunity, legal or not, to get resources.
TRELISE BAKER: Yep.
JENNIFER SARRETT: It's really important. It's really important.
TRELISE BAKER: Yep. So, looking at those...
JENNIFER SARRETT: Go ahead.
TRELISE BAKER: I was going to just say, looking at those individuals that are running for different offices, it's very vital to see if they are in line with the priorities and the needs of the communities, not just the needs of some big businesses or to line up their own pockets, or whatever the case may be, but making sure that you're seeing that they are in support of the major needs within this community and underserved communities.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely. I'm thinking things like raising the minimum wage, like we've talked about funneling more resources into better education for low income neighborhoods. Making sure that there are ample housing opportunities for people who need transitional housing or need more stable housing. All of this is going to feed back into communities and improve communities overall. It's not about just bolstering up one individual, although that is important, but it's bolstering up many individuals in order to improve the entire community.
TRELISE BAKER: Yep.
JENNIFER SARRETT: So we've talked a lot about companies kind of being afraid or having a stigma related to people with conviction histories and that leading to a lack of motivation to hire people with conviction histories. How can we motivate companies to purposely reach out to this community and provide opportunities?
TRELISE BAKER: How can we motivate them is, one, by first and foremost, giving these individuals a second chance. One thing is we can deliver data to them that proves that this individual can not only make a difference within the community, but within their company as well. Companies like to see how it could be beneficial to the company as well. That's the biggest thing is showing that how it can benefit the community. It's saving taxpayers dollars, that money can be allocated to better education systems, to public schools, to activities for the summer, for children activities throughout the school year, after care, childcare, food and disparities, health and disparities.
It's so much that that funding can be allocated to if employers step up and say, "Hey. Do you know what? I'm going to take this opportunity and I'm going to hire this individual and I'm going to give them a real second chance," not just the bottom to where that they're working 12 hours in a mass production, and we are wearing on their body. No, I'm talking about really giving this individual a chance in leadership, management. It's so many opportunities within the company, it would be amazing to see these individuals thrive within these companies.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely. I think that you keep talking about it, I think it's really important, there has to be growth opportunities. And when I think about this issue, of course we want businesses and companies to act on social good, and a lot of times they don't because it's all about the business case and making a more productive enterprise or industry. And to me, when I think about the business case of hiring people with conviction histories, I think of diversity, equity, and inclusion work because people with conviction histories are an incredibly diverse community.
So if you are looking to increase diversity in your organization, it makes sense to specifically look for these transitional and employment services that are focused on helping people who have recently been released from prison or jail. That is a rich source of talent and of diversity. And I think that when you are hiring somebody who is so eager to get a good stable position with growth opportunity, the loyalty you're going to get from that employee is going to be unmatched in a lot of ways.
TRELISE BAKER: Exactly. Exactly. I agree.
JENNIFER SARRETT: So I want to transition a little bit back to the work of 2nd Chance PMI, and particularly employment preparedness type of work. And one of the things that we hear a lot about with people who struggle trying to find jobs, so I'm thinking of historically-marginalized communities, Black and Brown communities, people with disabilities, people with incarceration histories, often what we hear is, "Well, there's a sense of professionalism that is lacking, or perhaps it's not a culture fit." And these are coded words which have a lot of weight into it.
So a lot of the times it seems like organizations are saying that people need to act or look a certain way in order to be hired, or have a particular background. And a lot of people talk about how these guidelines are classist and racist, and could really serve to diminish people's sense of safety and people's sense of self in the workplace. Do you address this at 2nd Chance Living PMI, and if so, how? And how can we prepare people for the workforce without forcing them into this particular professionalism mold?
TRELISE BAKER: Oh, that's a great question. First and foremost, I have been through discrimination and I felt as though my character was being diminished due to a hairstyle that was... and actually this was the last place of employment as I transitioned into becoming executive director here at 2nd Chance. And I could always remember walking away in tears from that day, and it always catapults me every time that I'm having a rough day at 2nd Chance, I'm like, "Okay, it beats that day."
I never in my life felt so humiliated and ashamed about what was naturally growing from my body. I can't help that my hair it grows a certain way, and I shouldn't be put in a box because my hair is too short or it's too long. I mean, men don't go through that.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely.
TRELISE BAKER: For the most part, as long as it is well groomed... Sorry, getting tongue-tied here. As long as it's well groomed and neat, it's fine. But as a woman, I went through this, and what even hurt me the most was this was coming from within the same culture. I felt as though I was the smallest person within that room, and I wouldn't want anyone to go through that. So I encourage any individual be who you are, be exactly who you are and what you want to present to these companies because at the end of the day, it's a thin line between professionalism and conforming to someone else's culture or being so restrictive. I often give the example of individuals that have to wear the Hindu...
JENNIFER SARRETT: Oh, the Bindi.
TRELISE BAKER: The Bindi. And when they come into these places of employment, it's already understood that based off of their culture, their religion, hey, that they have to wear this at all times, right?
JENNIFER SARRETT: Mm-hmm.
TRELISE BAKER: I can't change my hair at all times, as long as it's professional, I can see if I'm coming into work and my hair's purple one day, it's red one day, I can get that. But I can't help the way that my hair grows out of my body, and that should be acceptable because I'm not asking you to change your natural features, so you shouldn't ask me to change my natural features. Be who you are, be bold, be strong, stand on your experience and the impact that you've made to the community. And hey, if you are a justice-involved woman, share with them how you turned it around.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely.
TRELISE BAKER: Everyone loves a good comeback story because it's real. It is so real. This day and age, don't nobody want to deal with a Perfect Patty because we all have some mistakes.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Absolutely. So do you, do you talk about this with the women that you work with about, "Listen, there's this conversation about professionalism. It's a particular narrow vision of what people say that they want and here is how you deal with it"?
TRELISE BAKER: Yes, we do. We focus on this heavily in our career-readiness training class because individuals have probably been incarcerated for five, 10 years, or even if it's six months, getting back into the workforce is a strategy, it's hard. To be able to, one, sell yourself, the individuals don't realize that, hey, you have to be able to sell yourself when you get to that interview. So how do you do that and stay true to yourself, is the biggest conversation that we have with these individuals.
JENNIFER SARRETT: So it's so important.
TRELISE BAKER: Yeah.
JENNIFER SARRETT: It's really critical because, again, and this is what we talk about in the world of diversity, equity, inclusion all the time, is that one of the main reasons of this work is that, so when you show up to work, you are not constantly vigilant about how you're presenting yourself, about how other people are thinking about you, about what you can get away with saying, and what you're going to maybe get in hot water if you speak up about. And that amount of emotional attention focused on your behavior, your appearance, all of this other stuff because you have a different background or a different social identity than other people in your workplace is distracting, it's exhausting, and it's demotivating.
I would love to shift over to a positive feature of your work. And I was hoping you could share with us a success story or two of 2nd Chance Living PMI.
TRELISE BAKER: Yes, of course. Over 69% of our participants in 2021 are currently employed or either run small businesses. They have also increased their credit scores by 33%. 98% of our participants have completed their high school diploma. Last year, during Hurricane Ida, we were able to help an individual transition all the way to Atlanta with stable housing and employment, and we were excited to be able to watch her grow and move out of Louisiana and just move on to future endeavors.
We keep in touch with her all the time because we definitely keep a great communication process between the participant for a five-year period because that is how a recidivism rate is calculated, it's based on a five-year period. So we try our best to make sure that these individuals not only have the support that they need, but tools and the resources that they need.
We also had a young lady who had a baby at the time when she came into our program, she was homeless, she was pregnant, she was just released out of the jail system, and then on top of that, she had mental health barriers and other resources that she would need. Now, today she has her own apartment, she had the baby, and she has a place of employment, and she is doing well. We are so excited that now she even has the mental health support that she needs so she can be a phenomenal mother. And that baby is so happy because we know for a fact that that impact is changing that story for that young baby so she can have a positive future for herself.
So we're excited to be able to have these tools and resources for these justice-involved women because every day they share with us. I mean, "Ms, Trelise, it's been some years. We've looked and we've researched for other organizations that provide these services, and there are none. There are none that address primarily justice-involved women's needs and barriers." So we're excited to be able to have those tools and resources to those women.
JENNIFER SARRETT: I'm grinning ear to ear with that story. That's amazing. 2nd Chance Living PMI and you, personally, have had such a positive impact on so many women's lives. I am so grateful for you and your work. Can you talk to us about what your vision for the organization is? What do you want to accomplish in the near future and in the far future?
TRELISE BAKER: The vision is to provide all justice-involved women with resources and support to become independent and viable citizens for their families and communities in the communities. The future of 2nd Chance Living PMI is to continue growing and expanding because everyone deserves a second chance.
JENNIFER SARRETT: I love that. Is there anything else you wanted to note for this conversation that maybe we missed or anything you'd like to reemphasize, any stories you'd like to tell, anything else you'd like to add?
TRELISE BAKER: I just want to say thank you to you and thank you to the team for allowing us to be here to share our story. We could not have been able to be an advocate of the community without having conversations like this with the community to help them better understand the need of the community, the need to serve, and the need to making sure that we provide these resources to women and children.
So I want to say thank you so much, and then also to the incredible volunteers because it's just not me alone. We are a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that depends heavily on the support of volunteers within the community to keep our mission going and thriving within the community. So thank you to all of the volunteers and all of the support over the years. Those who donated and followed us and liked us and kept up with us over the last four years, it hasn't been easy, but at the same time, we have been persistent and we have made a true phenomenal awareness about our programs and the need in the community over the last years. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
The next thing is, hey, if you want to learn more about our organization and keeping up to date with recent news and initiatives that we have going on within the community, visit our website at www.2ndchancelivingpmi.org. So that's the 2nd as in the number 2, and then the letters N-D, that's the initial form. So www.2ndchancelivingpmi.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @2ndchancepmi.
And then you're also more than welcome to text to give if this is something that you are intrigued to help support these individuals sustain a viable second chance. You can text to give at 44321 and the code is SCLPMI. Or you can call us to learn more information in order to schedule some time to do a virtual tour at 1-855-487-0477. Thank you so much.
JENNIFER SARRETT: Oh, thank you so much, Trelise, this has been an amazing conversation. We'll have all that information of how you can learn more about 2nd Chance Living PMI and support the organization in the show notes, we'll have links to all of that, including... we'll have the phone numbers and everything.
I want to thank Jennifer Brown for allowing me to take over the podcast for today, I appreciate it, and I hope that all the listeners have learned something today that they can then take with them forward in their lives to help improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion in your personal organizations. Thank you everybody.
JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
You've been listening to The Will to Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com.
Thank you for listening, and we'll be back next time with a new episode.
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