New Beginnings with Rockland Prison Justice Project - Mary's Pence

Women's Stories  |  Grants

New Beginnings with Rockland Prison Justice Project

After reading the story of an incarcerated mother near her home, Jen Mancuso met and befriended her and learned some hard and painful truths. That friendship began a journey that culminated with the formation of the Rockland Prison Justice Project (RPJP), which focuses on the rehabilitation and support (See here  ‘Life After Life In Prison’ photo-article by Jen Mancuso) of local justice-impacted women in Rockland and Westchester County, New York. Jen learned that criminal offenses were highly correlated to trauma stemming from poverty, neglect, and abuse. And incarceration did not address any of the underlying issues.

Initially, the Rockland Prison Justice Project focused on judicial advocacy but has transitioned to addressing the causes of trauma in women’s lives. RPJP conducts intensive workshops to help heal this trauma and works to connect women to community services.

Jen participated in a four-day healing workshop in 2019 called WellBeing Workshop at LaClinica in Medford, Oregon. The workshop helped women let go of previously conceived negative self-images and embrace those of self-love and self-respect. It also helped individuals gain clarity and effectiveness and learn to trust themselves in all they do. The experience was so great that Jen contracted with LaClinica to offer the workshop in New York for formerly incarcerated women through the Rockland Prison Justice Project.

There are two levels of the workshop offered. The first focuses on helping women heal from previous traumas, while the second helps train women to facilitate future workshops. Both types of workshops affirm women’s sense of worth and value, which is at a premium among them, many of whom have experienced little positive feedback throughout their lives.

The initial results have been highly positive and encouraging. After participating in the WellBeing workshop, women report getting out of abusive relationships, going back to school, getting their GEDs, and seeking more meaningful employment. There is currently a waitlist for the next workshop, and RPJP has enlisted the aid of specific prisons to refer women to the program while they are incarcerated.

Rockland Prison Justice Project works closely with various other organizations to support women. One of them is Interfaith Prison Partnership (IPP), a community-based, interfaith non-profit organization whose mission is to increase awareness of the inherent value of incarcerated individuals, promote and provide for their welfare, and connect local communities with their neighbors behind bars. Jen has recently accepted the role of Executive Director for IPP. This will allow Jen to work on one of the underlying issues of recidivism and trauma by growing the WellBeing program. She will also support an effort to establish safe short-term housing for women recently released from prison. Jen is very excited about providing new homes for women and looks forward to launching this exciting new venture.

Rockland Prison Justice Project also works closely with M.A.D.E. (Making a Difference Every Day) Transitional Services; they seek to reduce unemployment, recidivism, and homelessness by empowering participants to make sustainable, personal changes that positively impact their families and communities. VOLS (Volunteers of Legal Services) provides pro bono legal services for various needs.

RPJP and local faith organizations participate in IPP initiatives like collection drives to create care packages for Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving and provide suitcases for each woman when she is released from prison.

Rockland Prison Justice Project creates systemic change by breaking the cycle of recidivism by helping women successfully reenter their communities after completing prison terms. They seek to build community support to assist the women in their care.

Mary’s Pence was proud to help sponsor RPJP’s most recent WellBeing workshop in June 2024 for sixteen previously incarcerated women participating in the facilitation-level training. Each woman who goes through the program models new behaviors and actions that positively impact others with whom they interact. Facilitators have the unique role of shepherding other women through the difficult process of discarding painful attitudes and beliefs that do not serve them while creating a new sense of confidence and faith in their future.

The Rockland Prison Justice Project works primarily with two prisons – Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities. The organization works closely with corrections officials to identify and help resolve current needs and recruit women for future workshops. One of their primary future goals is to bring their programs into the prisons while women are incarcerated to begin the healing process sooner. By working with the Rockland Prison Justice Project and Interfaith Prison Project, Jen looks forward to helping women reenter and become valued members of their communities.

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