Benevolence Farm to serve women out of prison

By Todd Cohen

CARRBORO, N.C. — In 2012, 2,647 women were released from North Carolina prisons.

And with roughly 60 percent of women who are released from U.S. prisons rearrested, and nearly a third of them returned to prison within three years, women who get out of prison can use help to succeed on the outside.

“Typically they have very low skills, very poor employment history, a lack of education and minimal social support,” says Tanya Jisa, a social worker who lives in Carrboro and has worked at a juvenile detention center in Ohio, with addicted pregnant women in Atlanta, and on continuing medical education at Duke University.

Now, Jisa is creating Benevolence Farm, a working farm in Alamance County that will house and employ 12 women for up to two years after release from any of the state’s six prisons for women.

With 11 acres donated by an Alabama businessman who received the land in a court settlement, Jisa is trying to raise $450,000 in contributions to help secure a $600,000 no-interest loan from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to build a residence and farm buildings totaling 6,000 square feet.

She already has raised nearly $200,000, including $60,000 needed to help secure the loan, and hopes to open the farm in 2015.

Thanks to Jen Snider and her partner, Erin Kimrey, who live in Hillsborough, the Arizona-based Snider Family Charitable Fund has provided $20,000 in seed money, another $120,000 to fund Jisa’s position and develop a strategic plan, and another $50,000 this year, half of it in the form of a matching grant designed to generate other contributions.

Consultant Ruth Peebles of The INS Group in Raleigh worked with Benevolence Farm to develop the strategic plan.

Benevolence Farm also raised $10,500 in October at a Second Chance Dine and Dance at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw.

The nonprofit will work with reentry officials, chaplains and social workers at the state Department of Public Safety to identify potential candidates, then meet with them and give them the opportunity to visit the Farm and apply for admission.

The organization is targeting women with sentences of five years or more, typically for felonies, who have the “most difficulties finding success after prison,” Jisa says. “Those are the women we want to reach out to and help.”

Benevolence Farm will pay the women a wage for working on the farm, which mainly will grow vegetables, and charge them for room and board, and for programs that will focus on teaching financial literacy, job readiness, family reunification, marketing and entrepreneurship.

The Farm also will set aside some of the wages to create savings accounts for residents.

In addition to Jisa, a farm manager and possibly a case manager and house manager, the Farm expects to work with student interns from Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, Elon University in Elon and UNC-Chapel Hill.

And it will partner with nonprofits and other agencies that can provide a broad range of social and legal services, as well as educational classes.

Women leaving prison typically have what state officials characterize as a “questionable home plan,” Jisa says.

“We aim to offer them stable housing and gainful employment,” she says.

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