In April 2008, three women bonded while volunteering with a faith based prison program for women. They shared a belief that people deserve a second chance. They also shared a realization that high recidivism (re-incarceration) rates are driven by a lack of hope and lack of tools. The plight of women was even more bleak because the vast majority landed in prison due to histories of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and drugs. Yet, prison programs to provide practical skills for women were almost non-existent. Even for the few with job skills, most employers do not hire people with a record and most landlords will not rent to them.
Gemma M. Garcia, Patricia Glover, and Norel Ruiz dreamed up the idea of a prison transition program for women that would teach them how to start their own business. This program would stand out from existing prison education programs in that it would teach essential life skills beyond employability: entrepreneurship, and comprehensive life skills classes that address cognitive behavioral and substance abuse issues. The goal was always to create an educational program based in love, forgiveness and practical skills so that the women who successfully graduated could productively rejoin their communities and families and avoid future prison sentences.
In May 2009, this shared dream became LEAP (Ladies Empowerment and Action Program). Gemma remains an active LEAP volunteer and board member and Pat continues to volunteer with LEAP at the prison.
Today, LEAP gives incarcerated women a way to transcend their past: We teach entrepreneurship and essential life and employment skills. We have graduated more than 180 women from our intense, eight-month long program, offered at both Homestead and Lowell Correctional Institutions. Our program thrives because of LEAP’s partnership with the Barry University Andreas School of Business and the dedication of a whole village of loving volunteer teachers and mentors.