DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. - 2.7 million children under the age of 18 have a parent in jail, and women held in local jails are the fastest growing incarcerated population. Shawna Reynolds has seen some of those women up close while working in the corrections system for 17 years, and she was inspired to try something different.
"Just sitting there, listening to their stories, what their backgrounds were," she told FOX 2. "Why they were there and why they kept coming back."
After seven years of education and scraping together as much money as she could, Shawna created About Face Course Correction-- a 1-year rehabilitation program that offers a more personal approach to assist non-violent female offenders. The program includes classes for women to complete their education, find a job, and complete community service requirements through their partnerships with other non-profits.
"You can't expect people who have been behind bars to stay behind bars," Shawna says. "If you don't allow them to be restored into the community and society. You want them to be productive citizens but if you are not going to help them, it's not going to happen."
The women live rent free for a year in a house in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Women like 20-year-old Jennifer Douglas, who dropped out of school, became addicted to heroin, and has spent years in and out of jail.
"I have been trying since I was 17 to be sober," she says. "I was doing stuff I never would have thought I would do in my whole life. Like tricking, ways to get my drugs, you know?"
Thanks to About Face, Jennifer’s life is changing. "Everyone is starting to trust me again and be proud of me and what I'm doing," she says. "It's helped me a lot. It has kept me on the right track for sure with staying sober. I am definitely going to successfully complete my probation and all of that."
Karen Ridge also turned to drugs and alcohol, and much like Jennifer, spent years in and out of jail and rehab programs. She found herself living on the streets at 60-years-old. Although rehabilitation programs aren’t new to her, Karen sees firsthand how Reynolds’ approach is different.
"All the women (are) there for each other," Karen says. "Plus our classes are great. I am going for my diploma now, high school diploma."
Every woman’s story is different, but each woman matters. And Shawna is determined to break the cycle and help them turn their lives around.
"If I get one person out of this who succeeds, then that is what I am supposed to do," she says. "Everyone likes to look at numbers and to look at statistics but this is life. We are dealing with lives."
Watch the video to see how these women are making an About-Face in life.
Shawna Reynolds is using her own money and donations to pay for the house and this program. If you would like to donate, please visit their GoFundMe account here.