By Zoe Redfield
There’s no shortage of social problems that need to be addressed in our country – with issues like early childhood education, access to health care and the availability of living wage jobs just a few needs that come to mind. With that, it’s easy to disregard the needs women in prison might have upon being released. But that gap in service is exactly the thing our Woman to Watch – Tanya Jisa – is working to address.
Tanya Jisa’s work in helping others began long before she moved to North Carolina. Born and raised in Ohio, Ms. Jisa began working in a juvenile detention center after college. Inspired by the work, she returned to school and attained a masters in social work. From there she worked at women’s crisis centers and social working agencies, following her passion of making a positive impact on people’s lives. Ms. Jisa’s drive to help others, especially women, was clear from the start.
After moving to North Carolina, Ms. Jisa began looking to help women in our community. The idea for Benevolence Farm came from a visit to a farming conference, “I really felt a connection with the farmers… and I thought, is there some kind or social work I could do that was food and farming related?” The idea further formed when Ms. Jisa read an article in the New York Times, “[it] talked about how 1 in 100 people in the US is behind bars. And that really touched something with me, I felt I needed to do something with this and be part of a solution … I had always worked with women my whole career, it was who I was most familiar with and comfortable with…and I realized that there weren’t as many programs for [women who have just been released from prison].” The programs that existed at the time were mainly focused on making sure that women just getting out of prison were paying their bills, as opposed to forming a career. Brainstorming ideas for an effective and sustainable solution, Jisa formed the idea for Benevolence Farm.
Benevolence farm houses and employs women directly out of prison, giving them a stable job, home and training for the future. Incarcerated women opt to join Benevolence Farm before they are released, and know up to 6 months in advance if they will go. This gives the women a sense of security, that they have a place to go after prison. Upon their release, women come directly to the farm, as the first 72 hours after release are often the most traumatic and stressful. The farm provides the women with training, and experience in running a small business. Many of the women who come out of prison do not have the experience or resources needed to successfully integrate back into society. This much needed service is crucial to helping women effectively thrive and become contributing members of society.
Jisa is passionate about making a change, “We all make mistakes… and the [prison] system is so broken, and breaking so many lives. And I thought, I want to fight that system.” Though she is no longer the executive director, Jisa is still actively involved in Benevolence Farm, as well as pursuing other ventures in helping her community.
Benevolence Farm will host its first group of women in the Fall of 2016. For more information, visit their website here.