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Contagious Hope: Tiffany's Story


Jul 18, 2023
As a formerly incarcerated person, Tiffany is used to being judged, othered, and ignored. Then she got her new job.

Now, everyone is listening to her. She has testified in front of the Vermont legislature (watch here). She has even met with key leaders of the Department of Corrections, where she commanded respect from people who once knew her under very different circumstances.

Tiffany’s new role is with FreeHer, a national organization working to end mass incarceration. A mother who spent time incarcerated in Vermont, she has a fierce drive to keep others from going through what she experienced. Her own narrative is changing, too: from shame to confidence – and hope.

Tiffany's Story

What happens when you give birth in prison? Or you are re-incarcerated as a parent of small kids? Tiffany can tell you. 

She went to prison after being convicted on a single charge brought on by a mistake in her 20s. When she was released, she had to live under supervision. This meant returning home with no job, no support system, and extra rules on top like appointments or residence requirements. Tiffany describes it as “a setup for failure.”

As a result, she was reincarcerated several times: “Do you know how many times I went to jail because I didn’t have money or an approved residence?” Per the DOC, last year in Vermont, 45% of people returned to prison due to technical violations like losing a job or housing. 

Tiffany was pregnant twice during her time at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Though traumatizing, this wasn’t unique: at any given time, there are on average two pregnant people at CRCF. She gave birth to her children while imprisoned with minimal access to healthcare. A single mother, she took care of her kids when out of prison, but lost custody when reincarcerated.

Finally, after maxing out her sentence, Tiffany was released. She found a place to stay at Lund, the only residential facility in Vermont where parents and their children can live together while receiving care. There, she was able to begin the slow process of rebuilding her life. 

This landing place was vital after all the trauma she had experienced. She points out the impossibility of starting over after losing everything: “Do you know how hard it is to get out and have no place to go, no doctor, nothing?” 

Tiffany’s involvement with the justice system had an indelible impact on her family, friends, and community. As she puts it, “We hold things together. You penalize a mother, sister, wife, a single parent goes to jail, what happens?”

Even as she tried to move on, the shadow of incarceration followed her. Housing providers refused to consider her or moved her down their lists. Employers passed her over despite her education and experience.

“I felt judged,” Tiffany says. 

Tiffany was ultimately referred to Working Fields, which specializes in addressing employment barriers like justice involvement. She worked with a dedicated account manager, Carole, who helped her search for jobs, connected her to resources, and accompanied her to meetings for support. 

Soon Tiffany landed a part-time cleaning job through Working Fields that brought her income while allowing her to care for her children. Having a job made a big difference for Tiffany: beyond adjusting to a work schedule, she also was able to “feel like part of regular society” again. Even after she moved on from the job, she stayed in touch with Carole and Working Fields.

Spreading Hope: Tiffany's New Job

Now that she’s free, Tiffany is ready to speak up.

“For a long time, I felt ashamed of my experiences in the justice system. I saw myself as a victim,” she shares. At the same time, she knew that her story was far from unique. “It happened to me; it’s happening to someone else.”

Tiffany decided to act. She found that FreeHer was actively working on decriminalization and decarceration in Vermont and joined their campaign. Her understanding of her own experiences began to shift. She identified a simple truth: “I don’t want people to needlessly go through that.”

Her determination, passion, resilience, and extensive lived experience were invaluable to FreeHer Vermont. The campaign’s Field Organizer, Jayna, pushed to give her a larger seat at the table. Ultimately, she fought to hire her directly – and succeeded. 

Now, Tiffany has her dream job: Assistant Field Organizer and Community Expert Consultant. Suddenly, people care about what she has to say rather than dismissing her experiences. She has the enthusiastic backing of a community of volunteers and organizers. Her friends look at her with hope and pride. 

“I’ve been able to change my own story a bit,” says Tiffany. She no longer feels like a victim. “All of this stuff prepared me to fight for other people and give a voice to people that don’t have one or are scared.”

Her goals for her new position are clear: no new prisons, and alternatives that would help people instead of hurt them.

From her own experiences and those of her friends, she has a clear understanding of how incarceration harms people, families, and communities. FreeHer Vermont gives her a platform and access to data that highlights the need for systemic change: for instance, per FreeHer, 95% of people in women’s prison have experienced violence during their lives. 

To make her goals a reality, Tiffany is researching and identifying alternatives to prisons, taking into consideration Vermont’s existing resources, approaches in other states, and the high cost of the existing system. For her, an ideal alternative would involve staying in your own community, seeing your own doctor and therapist, retaining your job, and remaining connected to your family via a structured housing program in every county. 

Tiffany is also organizing a community of formerly incarcerated people called the Freedom Forum and leading volunteers in the People not Prisons initiative. 

With everything Tiffany has built for herself, she is full of gratitude for the people who helped her along the way. Jayna at FreeHer, now one of her best friends, fought for her and calls her “contagious hope.” Carole at Working Fields believed in her, saying that “Tiffany has been an inspiration for me. Her resilience and courage are commendable. I am so thankful our paths have crossed. I can’t wait to see what she does next!” 

Her confidence in the workplace and in life has returned slowly but surely. After everything she has been through, she isn’t done speaking up anytime soon.

“I feel like I can make an impact,” Tiffany says, smiling.

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