It’s May, which means it’s time to introduce you to this year’s Hope & Grace Initiative Grant Recipients! This illustrative list of community leaders and initiatives are making great strides in the field of mental health, shining a light and improving lives every single day. We’re proud to assist them in their goals, and to that end are proud to announce that this round of grant recipients brings us to over 3 million dollars granted in just three short years. It’s our honor to help these initiatives pave the way to a brighter future for mental health.
We’d like to introduce you to our grant recipients, starting with today’s feature on Ride and Rebuild, a program born and based in Philadelphia, PA. Crystal Wyatt, the Owner, took some time to tell everyone a bit more about this amazing program:
“Ride and Rebuild is a Philadelphia-based transportation service that takes families to visit an incarcerated loved one in state prisons.
I first got the idea for this program from a place of love. More specifically, I was in love. I fell in love with a man in 1999 who had some run-ins with the law and ended up getting arrested. I made the decision to stick by him. I know there are a lot of times when people ask how a woman can be with a man who goes to jail, and I always say, “You don’t stop love.” If you’re in love and something bad happens, it doesn’t stop you from loving them. So, I continued to love him and when he went away, he went far away — three hours, to be exact — which means I had to travel to visit him. I rented a car twice and then another time I drove with a “van service.” I’m putting that in quotes because it was actually a car with six of us piled in (one was pregnant) for a very uncomfortable 3 ½ hour ride upstate. It was from that experience that I realized I needed to start my own service because, let’s face it: women who are experiencing this kind of hardship are going through enough already, the least we need is to have an uncomfortable ride. I was in that situation from 1999-2003, and I started Ride and Rebuild in 2011.
Overall, I’ve served over 900 families (meaning women) since I started. I have a 15-passenger van, and I average about 13 riders per trip. I do about 8 trips a month, which averages about 104 women a month. Some women are repeat riders. All of them are important to me.
Having a loved one incarcerated places incredible mental strain on women and their families; it’s hard. They experience bee so much trauma. A lot of times men are arrested at their homes, so there’s a disruption in the household and they may have been there when it happened. Then there’s the court, which means finding a lawyer and undergoing a court process which could last years while their loved one is in the county prison (which is a whole other beast.) By the time I’m serving them they’re in a weary state: mentally burnt out with a small sense of relief that at least they know the length of the sentence. The entire process wears on them. A lot of the women suffer from isolation because incarceration is one of these dirty secrets we don’t talk about in our families. It happens to so many of us. So many women just want to get in the van and rest because so much responsibility rests on their shoulders.
Also, I want to make sure that we focus on the fact that it’s not just wives and mothers that are part of this community. The women I serve, the population of women who are supporting an incarcerated loved on, is vast and varied: grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters, nieces, etc. In my early days, I had a 25-year-old young woman who was going to see her father for the first time. It’s not just wives and mothers; but regardless of who they are, they struggle. It’s a hardship.
I’m so excited to receive a grant from the Hope & Grace Foundation! The funds will support a new program that’s part of my service I’m calling Real Resilience. These women are so incredibly resilient, so strong and so powerful, but I need to do more for them than just give them a ride. A lot of the struggle they face is trauma-based, which is the underlying determinant of health for these women helping an incarcerated loved one. I ideated Real Resilience as a program that would introduce the concept of trauma and help them realize that their situation has been traumatizing, that it’s okay for them to feel what they feel along with providing tools and language to move through the experience in a healthy, supported way. The program helps them develop social networks of support, and will include workshops for health, diet, and exercise — all of which are very important because a lot of these women aren’t eating or sleeping well due to their stress levels. They need to take care of themselves. Also, we’ll talk about financial health to help them manage their finances while supporting a loved one that’s incarcerated. The financial burden of a man in prison weighs heavily on the woman. Finally, we’ll offer tools for better relationship health to help them maintain a healthy relationship while supporting an incarcerated loved one. These women are resilient, and I want to honor that by giving them the tools they need to be strong during this process because this situation is hard.
I want to speak a bit more about how women who support incarcerated loved ones are often forgotten when we talk about the prison system. If you’re familiar with the Kalief Browder story, you may know that he was a 16-year-old who was arrested in New York, sent to Rikers Island for three years for allegedly stealing a backpack without a trial, and spent most of his days in solitary confinement. Two years after he was released, he committed suicide. We speak a lot about this young man and his case when it comes to criminal justice reform, and there’s a lot said about the incredible hardships he endured. What people don’t talk about is Venita Browder, his mother, was the one sole supporter of Kalief, and when he committed suicide she was the one who found him. A year after he died, about the time when they were going to start the documentary, she died of a heart attack. People also say she died of a broken heart, but I’m sure it was both; the physical and emotional strain eventually ended her life. That’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. Women are not acknowledged for the support they give in this journey. Everything you hear about incarceration is about the man and the children, but it’s never about the women. It’s time for that to change because we bear the brunt.
I’m incredibly grateful for Ride and Rebuild to have the support of my community and the support of my sponsor, The Village, which is a residential treatment service that provides behavioral health support for so many who need it. I grew up in this community, and having community support along with having a good partner to do this work is essential.
If you’re a woman who is supporting an incarcerated man, my first advice would be to build a network; surround yourself with like-minded individuals, people are going to support you in this journey. It could be a friend, a family member, your child — find someone who’s going to support you and listen. Like I said, you can’t stop love. You can’t stop loving your boyfriend, your son, your husband if they go to prison, so surround yourself with people who will understand your situation and support you. Also, if this becomes too much, get therapy. This whole situation is traumatic. It’s okay to talk to a professional. I know part of the hesitancy around this with black women is that we’re inherently strong. When we put on that superhero cape we consistently wear, it’s hard for us to think that maybe we need to talk to someone. We don’t realize that we need support, so when we do, it’s important to get the help we need. I’m a proponent of therapy. This situation is hard enough, so don’t make it harder by suffering alone. If you need to talk to someone, you should.