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  • Writer's pictureStacey Borden

Formerly Incarcerated Women Allow Themselves to Dream

By Seiji Yamashita on March 14, 2021

As Laquita Brooks presented her business pitch about a catering company for low-income communities to her online classmates, the chat was suddenly filled with emojis; hearts, clapping, party streamers, anything. In bursts, the instructor, Sharon Richardson, and her students unmuted their microphones, interjecting to encourage their friend and classmate.

“You can do this,” said one.

“Take a deep breath,” another piped in.

“I have faith in you,” a classmate added.

Brooks, a formerly incarcerated woman, fought back tears. “I’m sorry, there’s just a lot going on,” said Brooks, as she pushed through her pitch.

After returning home in 2014 from a 13-month sentence for drinking and driving, Brooks envisioned becoming a business owner, but she wasn’t sure how to proceed. Her drunk driving incident drastically affected her life and her career. The former nursing assistant lost custody of her two children. Her aspiring career in healthcare dimmed too; due to her time behind bars, she now has to be re-certified by the state. So she turned to the idea of running her own business.

“When I first got home from jail I didn’t know how to navigate or what I would do next,” she said. “I noticed a lot of stipulations when you have a criminal background, so the best thing to do is to be creative and start something of your own.”

Since being released, Brooks joined several training programs for formerly incarcerated women. One of her instructors introduced her to Richardson, founder of Reentry Rocks, which offers a paid fellowship geared to teach formerly incarcerated women entrepreneurship in the food industry. For Brooks, this was the opportunity to follow her dream, so she signed up.

A week after her presentation on a Friday afternoon, Brooks and seven of her classmates gathered in person for the first time to celebrate their graduation. Richardson, the teacher, a former inmate herself, looked around the room as, one by one, her students arrived and embraced one another in celebration. No one could contain their excitement. Masks hid smiles, but the eyes and giddy body language gave away everyone’s jubilation. Voices were octaves higher than usual, and the chatter between friends was endless. This was the first time many of these women, who had bonded over their common experience, had met, in person. Read more HERE

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