My name is Amy. I founded and run a prisoner reentry nonprofit in Charleston, SC, called Turning Leaf. I love it. I have the best job in the world.  I spend my free time learning everything I can about reducing recidivism and then put it into practice.
I get asked all the time why I do what I do. Why recidivism? Why reentry? I admit, It’s a good question.
Prisoner reentry is an unlikely passion for a girl like me. Growing up, no one I knew went to prison.
My dad was a doctor. My mom stayed home to raise me and my three sisters. We sat down to eat dinner as a family seven nights a week. We went to church every Sunday. My dad took us camping. My mom handmade all of my Halloween costumes. I took horseback riding lessons. And we liked each other to boot. (Still do, actually.)
In 2005 I was a junior at the University of Washington. One of my classes required an internship and I chose the local jail. It seemed the most interesting. Edgy. I imagined stories about lock downs and prison food. I ended up tutoring GED. That experience changed my life.

 

Graduation day for one of my CBT classes at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Columbia, SC in 2012
I got up close and personal with the realization that I started my life out on third base. I wasn’t winning because I had it all together. I had won the genetic lottery. Sure, I worked hard and made good decisions. But I worked hard because I saw my parents work hard. I made good decisions because my family, neighbors and friends made good decisions. In that jail I realized I wasn’t good, and they weren’t bad. I was traveling down the road the genetic lottery had paved for me, and they for them.I’ve spent every day of my professional career for the last 14 years trying to even that playing field, if only by an inch, if only for a few.

I’ve covered a lot of miles in the trenches of prisoner reentry and made a lot of mistakes along the way. I thought I knew what I was doing when I started Turning Leaf, but I was completely unprepared for the reality of running a nonprofit helping men transition out of prison. It’s hard to even explain what my staff and I went through in that first year. Getting cursed out, drug use on the job, in our reentry center and at our volunteer sites, being lied to and threatened and middle of the night calls. My secret hope was that program funding would run out so that I could quit without quitting. It was awful.

Me, my staff and students outside of the Turning Leaf reentry center in Charleston, SC in October, 2019.

But instead of quitting we started over. Literally. We didn’t serve a single person for six months. We redesigned the program, raised more money and hired an additional staff member before re-launching.

For the last five years, I’ve been researching, creating, implementing, tracking and adjusting. The saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is 100% true in my case. Experiencing and overcoming those start-up problems has been my biggest advantage. I was forced to quit or get better, and now I believe I run one of the best reentry organizations in the country.

Check out my work to find out what I’ve been doing and who I’ve been doing it with. Or contact me and let’s have a conversation about reentry and recidivism.