“There was nothing in place for the ladies,” recounts Anita Williams, MsEd when she reflects on the origins of Sisters Returning Home, a nonprofit dedicated to serving formerly-incarcerated Philadelphians.
Founded in 2009 by Peggy Sims, Sisters Returning Home initially sought to aid women’s reentry journeys. Sisters Returning Home was the first Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to serving women’s reentry needs.
In the years since, Sisters Returning Home has become a central resource hub for formerly-incarcerated people living in Philadelphia. Williams, the Operations Manager of Sisters Returning home, says that, at Sisters Returning Home, the reentry process starts before clients leave correctional facilities. “We go into the prisons, and we meet ladies who will be returning home,” says Williams. After establishing contact, Sisters Returning Home works with their clients to ensure that the reentry process is as seamless and supportive as possible.
In addition to visiting correctional facilities to start the reentry process, the organization also works with local halfway houses and other centers for the recently released. Because the criminal justice system extends beyond facility walls, Sisters Returning Home also works with those on house arrest, probation or parole.
Through SRH, recently released folks are able to access a wide range of resources. Williams says the organization focuses in three main areas: training, mentoring, and advocacy. Training focuses largely on finding employment and developing financial literacy, though Sisters Returning Home specializes in training women to work in the hospitality and service industries. Women receive assistance with their resumes, and guidance throughout the employment search process.
Although the median age of SRH’s clients is 38 years old, Williams notes that the organization also works with much younger and older women, helping them to navigate challenges that are specific to their stage of life. In recent years, for example, many Baby Boomers have been released from correctional facilities, posing a daunting task for organizations focusing on reentry. However, Sisters Returning Home is up the challenge. “We’ve worked with a lot of senior citizens, helping them to receive benefits and navigate social security,” explains Williams. Caring for senior citizens is just one example of Sisters Returning Home’s devotion to personalized care; the organization also works to provide young incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers with support for them and their children.
Williams says that women typically work closely with Sisters Returning Home for approximately a year after their release. However, the organization aims to maintain long-term connections with those it serves. As part of their mentoring program, Sisters Returning Home continues to check in on women who are no longer completing training with the organization, even sending them holiday food baskets and staying in touch via Facebook.
Support for those in the criminal justice system extends beyond SRH’s clients. Through the advocacy branch of the organization, Sisters Returning Home aims to empower formerly incarcerated women by promoting the fair treatment of all women involved in the criminal justice system.
The organization began with a focus on providing personal care packages for formerly incarcerated women. Now, a decade later, Sisters Returning Home provides a wide range of services to Philadelphians returning home. Services are no longer limited to cisgender women; the organization now frequently serves transgender and nonbinary individuals. Williams proudly notes that the organization will ultimately adopt a new name to reflect this change. Over the course of the last decade, Williams estimates that Sisters Returning Home has served more than 850 women. As the organization continues to lead the way in women’s reentry efforts, Sisters Returning Home will certainly continue to positively change the lives of hundreds of Philadelphians.