Benevolence Farm Gives Women a Place to Live and Work After Prison

By Lisa Dzera

After being in prison for many years, assimilating back to your old life and finding a job upon release is anything but easy.

There’s the stigma with hiring ex-cons. There’s the difficult task of talking about your relevant skills in an interview when you haven’t worked in the past few years. There’s the fact that, after being treated poorly and dehumanized in prison, it’s difficult to transition to life outside of prison. There’s the reality that many of these people went to prison because they were in an environment where breaking the law was necessary to put food on the table­—and this environment will not be any different when they are released from prison.

That’s why Tanya Jisa started Benevolence Farm in Graham, North Carolina. Benevolence Farm hopes to help previously incarcerated women adjust to life outside of prison in an environment that encourages personal and career growth. These women live and work on a farm and learn the basics of running a business. Depending on their interests, they can focus on and explore different career paths, such as marketing, finance and customer relations.

“They’re not criminals,” Tanya explains. “They’re women who have had really hard choices and done the best they could.”

Tanya originally got the idea for starting Benevolence Farm when she read an article in the New York Times stating that 1 in 100 US citizens are incarcerated in our country. Because there are many more programs that work with men who were once in prison than women, Tanya wanted to create a program focusing on women.

“I went to the farmers market,” she said, “and thought, ‘What if I started up a farm for women who were coming out of prison to help them get back on their feet?’”

Tanya brought her idea to the community and received overwhelming support. She explained that there is a huge need for any services for women coming out of prison, especially housing and jobs. When women are released from prison, many are not able to find jobs, and those that do mostly find low-skill, minimum wage jobs that are not sustainable.

“We need to enable success for these women,” Tanya said.

In November 2013, 11 acres of land was donated for Benevolence Farm to use. With the financial support of the Snider Family Charitable Fund, the organization purchased a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house on 2 acres directly adjacent to the original 11 acres. This summer, Tanya and her team partnered with the NCSU College of Design to design and build a 985 square foot pole barn where residents will wash and prepare harvests for the farmers markets. The barn was completed on July 30.

Benevolence Farm’s first residents will arrive later this year. To decide which women will live and work at the farm, Tanya will consult with the Department of Public Safety, conduct interviews with interested candidates, and then bring currently incarcerated women who have been determined to be a good fit for the program to Benevolence Farm on a day pass to ensure that the women fully understand what will be required of them to reside on the farm. Then, on their release date, these women will be transported to Benevolence Farm, where they will stay for at least six months and up to two years. This program is targeted at women who have been in prison for 3+ years and thus need a longer period of time to get re-established.

“These are women who really want to turn it around,” Tanya explains. “They want to make a difference. They want to contribute in positive ways. They just don’t have the opportunity to do that. And so, we’re giving them that chance.”

Benevolence Farm hosts farm work days on the third Saturday of every month to get the farm ready to begin growing vegetables. To find ways to get involved, visit the Benevolence Farm Facebook page or website. And don’t miss the 2nd Annual Second Chance Dine & Dance on October 23.

Why I Joined Students of the World-Clayton

By: Clayton Johnson

I joined Students of the World because of its dedication to telling stories that matter. But that wasn’t what got me interested in the beginning.

When I transferred to UNC and became a Tar Heel, I immediately began looking for experiences. Experiences that would benefit my future and my time here as a student. Experiences that would expand my horizons beyond classwork and lectures.

A friend of mine told me about Students of the World. As I began to work with the organization, I was worried about what I could contribute. Starting out with SOW, I spent time getting acquainted with our theme for the semester – education, specifically education in the prison system.

It was during that time that I realized how I could experience Students of the World. SOW isn’t a group for un-invested members. It’s a group for those dedicated to social change and who are willing to take charge. SOW equips you to pave the way to your passions. Now, it’s just a matter of finding enough time in the hectic free-for-all that is “college” to put all that I’ve learned to good use.

The Education Effect

PAPER Infographic

Check out this infographic we designed to kick off the start of our new campaign PAPER (Promoting Access to Prison Educational Resources). The piece helps visualize some of the big numbers that relate to the current reality of incarceration and the importance of prison education. For example, inmates who participated in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison, which is a big deal since one half of the people released from prison return within three years.

Read more about our research every Monday keep looking forward to our Friday media-related posts.

Why I joined Students of the World-Daleah

By Daleah Wilkerson

“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything” – Albert Einstein

One day a friend of mine was leaving. She did this frequently on Wednesdays and I asked her where she was going. She quickly and enthusiastically told me “to STUDENTS OF THE WORLD!” I had not heard of the group on campus and wanted to know more, but before I could ask she was out the door straight on to her meeting.

Riddled with homework, and other events found in a typical student’s life, I didn’t search more into the group, but the name stuck with me. It sounded interesting and I later went to meeting to see what it was about. The group is initially as the name states, a group of students focused around making change in the world. But as I have spent more time in Students of World, or SOW, it has become so much more than that.We are not just some people located in a common place attempting to do what many other globally conscious groups do. We are people from different backgrounds and cultures that share a common bond; to ignite social change using the ever present medium of social media.

Yes social media.

The social media being anything from photography, journalism, video and even this blog! Media surrounds us day to day, from the apps we download to the films and TV shows we stream online, and in most cases is where we get our news. As the world continues to connect on a global scale it has become more apparent what social problems exist and the potential to solve these problems with positive change. SOW operates from this global standpoint, not in a way where our focus is on massive global change but instead seeking to ignite positive change at a local level. For example, here in Chapel Hill, our present focus is education on a communal scale.

We are currently backing projects that benefit education for prisoners and immigrants that are in the area. Not only does out current project seek to educate those considered separate from society, but also to highlight the problem and spur change in the opinion of the public. From SOW’s hashtag #mediaforgood it is apparent what this group stands for. It is people trying to help other people to create a better world one film, tweet, photo, communal event, etc. at a time. We use the media we love and that is ever present to incite social change, and this is why I joined this group.

February 2014 Update

By: Wynton Wong

Spring Break is officially upon us, fellow Tar Heels, not that you would know it by the weather forecasts (currently 36 degrees and raining with a “wintery mix” on the way). Fortunately, SOW-UNC is hard at work and ready to hit the ground running when the reprieve from midterms ends and classes resume.

In the past month SOW has hosted a movie screening, released its promotional video, visited the Prison Collective, and contacted some amazing people involved with prison education.

We screened The House I Live In, a documentary about the American criminal justice system that I highly recommend to anyone interested in human rights, especially if you are interested in the American justice system (it’s on Netflix Instant Streaming.) At the screening we also premiered our Whiteboard Promotional video, we hope that it clarifies what we do and inspires you all to join us. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here, along with some behind-the-scenes photos.

Earlier in the month, we sent a crew out to Carrboro to visit the Prison Books Collective, where we interviewed the folks who spend their time bringing books to incarcerated individuals in North Carolina and other states throughout the South. Lisa wrote a post about our time there, so check that out too if you haven’t. We learned a lot and had a great time meeting people dedicated to improving conditions for prisoners. We are continuing to connect with experts and people involved with education and incarcerated individuals including Gabrielle with Black and Pink.

Black and Pink is an organization that supports LGBTQ individuals in the prison system. It runs programs that work to fight against violence and injustices in the prison system. They also run a pen pal program to help incarcerated people connect to the world. We are excited to work with Gabrielle as well as many others who work in this field.

We are excited to share everything we make and raise awareness about this cause.

Continue to check the blog for updates and sneak peeks.

The Prison Books Collective

By Lisa Dzera

Students of the World (SOW) is a national organization of university students producing multimedia stories to inspire social action. Each college chapter creates portfolios focused on the social issues its members care about. These portfolios include photography, videography, writing, and graphic design. This semester, Students of the World-UNC is focusing on education in the prison system. As its first project, Promoting Access to Prison Educational Resources (PAPER), SOW-UNC contacted the Internationalist Prison Books Collective, a nonprofit organization in Carrboro dedicated to providing books to incarcerated people.

On Sunday, February 9, 2014, students documented an average day at the Collective through photos, film and interviews with volunteers. During the workday, volunteers read letters from incarcerated people requesting particular books. They then search the Collective’s bookshelves to fill the order as completely as possible and package and send the books to prisons. SOW talked to volunteers about what got them involved with the Collective, what books were requested the most and their favorite parts about the work. Based on the interviews and information it collected, SOW-UNC will produce a video and several written pieces explaining the importance of the Collective and ways for people to get involved.

SOW-UNC Whiteboard Promo Video

At our screening event last night we premiered our very first promotional video for the Carolina community.

We hope that it gives you some more information about us and what we do. We also hope that it inspires you to join us!

It was a lot of fun to create this video here are some photos of the process. Check out our Instagram for more behind-the-scenes fun.

Guess what Josh is drawing

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Working deep in the stacks of Davis

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