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'Everyone Deserves a Second Chance': Summit Helps Recently Jailed Women

 A Summit of Hope, an expo for female ex-offenders was held May 8, 2014 at Kennedy-King College in Englewood and was sponsored by the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Expo For Female Ex-Offenders
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ENGLEWOOD — Felecia Jackson needed a new state identification card. Pamela Jones was looking for a job. Jessica Bowery was looking for a place to live. Akiya Hill was seeking to go back to college.

The four women, who all had been jailed recently, had different needs but were given help from the same source Thursday, a free summit at Kennedy-King College attended by more than 100 women.

The summit aimed to help both recently incarcerated women and those still locked up.

The free IDs were issued by the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, one of 80 vendors that participated in "A Summit of Hope" sponsored by the state's Corrections and Public Health departments.

Gladyse Taylor, an assistant director at the Corrections Department who escorted a group of women from prison to the event, said officials have hosted the summits arount the state for the last six years and "have found them to be most productive and beneficial to the women."

Jackson, a 44-year-old Auburn Gresham resident, got a free ID. She said she now plans to seek state services until she finds a job.

"I have a temporary job now, but I need something steady," said the single mother of four sons, who was released on parole in April 2013. "That's the next step for me."

Bowery, 30, said the summit brought her a step closer to finding housing for her and her children.

"This is a great way to provide benefits to women who really want to change their lives. My immediate need is housing because I need my own place so I can get custody of my three kids," said Bowery, who lives with her grandmother in Englewood. "Right now they live with their father."

Jones, a 44-year-old parolee and Chatham resident, got some leads in her job search.

"Once I find a job I will be OK," said Jones, who has three adult children. "Until then, I plan to keep looking. Sooner or later I will find something."

Hill, a single, 35-year-old mother of six, got advice on going back to college, something she said she is determined to do.

"Before I got locked up, I went to Kennedy-King College for one year, and for me, my greatest need is finishing school," said Hill. "I don't know where I will be going this fall, but I will be in somebody's school studying psychology."

Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th), whose ward includes Kennedy-King College, hosted the event. The former Cook County Sheriff's deputy shared her inspirational story with a group of incarcerated women:

"In 1993, I became homeless because I had been out there on drugs and alcohol. I lived at the Chicago Industrial League [a nonprofit in North Lawndale] for almost two years," recalled Thompson. "In 1995, I slept in a sleeping bag in front of City Hall overnight, so the next day I could get an application for the Cook County Sheriff. I ended up getting hired and was later promoted to lieutenant. And now I am alderman of the 16th Ward."

The nonprofit REAP, founded by Thompson in 2007, runs an ex-offender facility for men in West Englewood, and Thompson said she would like to see the organization offer housing for women, too.

"I think it is sad when a person is penalized for the rest of their lives. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance," added Thompson. "God gave me a second chance, and I turned my life around. These women here today can do the same if we help them."

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