Jacqueline Polverari is a Team Member of our Ministry, Member of our weekly online White Collar/Economy Exiled Support Group, a past prisonist.org guest blogger, and a past Criminal Justice Insider guest. Jacquie’s organization, Evolution Reentry Services, helps returning women and their families rebuild their lives. Oct. 5th – 7th, she will be hosting a retreat in for returning women. Oct. 30th, Jacquie and I will be speaking at Western Connecticut State University. – Jeff
Reprinted from Forbes.com, Sept. 21, 2019.
According to my friends over at The Sentencing Project, “Between 1980 and 2017, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 750%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 225,060 in 2017.” More than 60% of women in state prison have a child under the age of 18. While there are challenges that differ for women while they are incarcerated, there are also different challenges when they get home. One of them was Jacqueline Polverari and now she’s seeking to make that transition home easier.
Polverari, MSW a Connecticut Social Worker has been working with women who have experienced incarceration, particularly white-collar crime for the past four years. She spent seven months in the Danbury (Connecticut) Federal Prison for Women for charges related to a mortgage fraud case from 2015. Her experience in prison and her transition back home led her to researching women who commit white-collar crime and correlations to underlying mental health issues.
After working with several different criminal justice organizations, she founded Evolution Reentry Services out of Branford, CT. In an interview, I asked Polverari what her goals for Evolution were, “To help women returning from prison put their broken lives back together.” Polverari said many of these women were once pillars of their communities, bread winners of the family, who are dealing with isolation, embarrassment and shame when they return home. At the same time, they are trying to keep their families together.
The women she has seen over the past several years displayed very similar characteristics of “low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, being the caretaker or “fixer” with the inability to say ‘no’.” Realizing that there were few resources for women returning from prison, she started helping as many people as she could.
“People have little empathy or sympathy for this group of women,” Polverari said, “typically seeing them as privileged women who were greedy or taking advantage of others but in reality, that is rarely the case. One can see that with the ‘Varsity Blues’ cases that involve Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Women are currently being incarcerated at a higher than ever before, yet there is little statistical information and resources dedicated to guiding these women to a productive life beyond prison.
Polverari decided that there needed to be more focus on these women in order to help change the stigma related to their crime and why they committed those crimes in the first place. Jacqueline has been speaking all over the country creating some noise as to the lack of resources available for this group. “These are women who are very educated, had been in positions of upper management and made some poor choices within the workplace,” Polverari said. “In fact, I have found that their actions that led to criminal acts initiated as a result of trying to fix a problem, which created a new problem, and so on.” Now, even though they served their time for the mistake, they are labeled a felon for life.
Of the 120+ federal prison camps, only 27 are for women, usually creating situations where they are far from home (financial burden of family travel and fewer visits). In Danbury, Polverari said there were about 157 inmates but she rarely saw more than two guards at the prison. “For the most part, women live a life of isolation in prison that carries over when they are home,” Polverari said. Like many male white collar offenders who go to prison, they are allowed to self-surrender. There were no locks or bars and most women have never even been handcuffed. However, the real issues are when they come home where they have lost their husbands, homes, and respect from their communities.
One powerful therapy for these women, according to Polverari, is to talk with other women who have gone through it. But there is a problem, conditions of supervised release post prison prohibit speaking with another felon whether that other person is on supervised release or not. “It poses a problem because how can these women find someone who can relate to their situation?” Polverari said. She’s trying to change this.
Polverari and her group at Evolution are hosting a mental health retreat where women who have been convicted of a non-violent crime can gather under the guidance of a social worker. The retreat is available to all women regardless of ability to pay. It is the weekend of October 4-6th for a day of bonding, communicating about employment opportunities, housing solutions, finances and gratitude. It is a mental health retreat to help women understand that one poor choice does not define the rest of their lives, even with a felony that follows them their entire lives.
At a time when our society has focused on issues regarding mental health, it is good to see that there is help for this group of unique individuals who in the past have led a life of isolation.