Human connection and solidarity among women have always been evident in the partnership between Hour Children and Trinity Church Wall Street, a partnership that has focused on support of women, and especially mothers, upon their release from incarceration. And this summer’s workshops provide a particularly graphic demonstration of that: a friendship forged behind prison walls now being celebrated in freedom.
Karen Thomas spent 35 years behind bars; Vanessa Fields was incarcerated for more than 16, both following homicide convictions. The two women twice crossed paths, at the Albion Correctional Facility in western New York near Lake Ontario, and again at the Taconic Correctional Facility, about 45 miles north of New York City.
“Our cells were right across from each other,” Fields recalled. “She was like a mother figure to me.”
“We used to see each other in the yard, and we became friends,” Thomas said.
Eventually, the women lost track of each other.
Last year, 2017, proved to be significant for both---Thomas was released April 18 and Fields on November 20. Thomas, who describes herself as a lifelong Episcopalian, started looking for a church and she recalls the warm welcome at Trinity from Father Mark Bozzuti-Jones when she mentioned to him, following a service, that she was formerly incarcerated.
“He reached out his arms and hugged me,” Thomas remembered. “And he said I was welcome.”
Thomas joined the congregation soon after and has been anxious to volunteer her time as a counselor in the series of four job readiness workshops for formerly incarcerated women, which have been organized by Hour Children and Trinity each summer.
Meanwhile, Vanessa Fields had connected with Hour Children, whose mission is dedicated to assisting the re-entry of women as well as helping them care for their children. The two longtime friends had no idea they’d be seeing each other when they entered the Parish Center for the June 22 workshop.
“It was a surprise,” Fields admitted. “It was nice to see her.”
As they enjoyed their unexpected reunion, both women reflected on what they share.
“We both had a son and we both had parents that stuck with us,” Thomas pointed out. “Even in prison, I think women do more for each other.”
“We both knew where we went wrong,” Fields said. “We were not going down that road again.”
Vanessa Fields is studying Public Health at York College and expects to receive her bachelor’s degree in December.
“Hour Children has been very instrumental in helping me get myself together,” Fields said.
Hour Children and Trinity Church Wall Street began their Mission & Service partnership in 2011. Both partners have found over the years that they share core values such as compassion and inclusiveness, and that Hour Children’s dedication to formerly incarcerated women is consistent with Trinity’s advocacy for prison reform and support of those re-entering society.
As for Karen Thomas, she’s working three days a week as a paralegal, and looking forward to more opportunities to share her experience and her wisdom, especially among women with similar challenges.
“I feel like it’s closing a circle, because people were good to me when I got home,” Thomas said. “Now I want to live each day with an attitude of atonement and humility.”
Both Vanessa Fields and Karen Thomas plan to participate in the remaining summer workshops with the Trinity community. Program leaders say volunteers are needed for the two remaining sessions.
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Hour Children Workshops
Friday, July 13 – Financial Literacy
Friday, July 20 – Team Building Activities