Women at Indiana Women’s Prison aim to start new training program, fix blighted homes

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INDIANAPOLIS - A group of women at a state prison have been meeting each week with the hope of giving the women incarcerated a chance to learn new skills and help the city at the same time.

The women started the group, Constructing Our Future, with the hope the program could help women who often find themselves unable to break the prison cycle.

"They said, I had to go back my abusive husband, I had to go back to the neighborhood with a lot of drugs, I didn’t have much of a chance," Vanessa Thompson, a prisoner at IWP, said.

If given approval by the Indiana Department of Correction, women at the facility would be given a chance to learn about home building and construction. They'd also work with crews around the city to fix abandoned homes and could put in work to eventually own the home.

It would require at least 5,000 hours of work for each participant in the program.

“Being a drug addict most of my life, it takes an aggressive approach to rehabilitation," said Thompson, who came up with the idea while taking a class in the prison where the student has to come up with an idea to improve the prison, "You have to really really want it.”

Thompson got the idea of addressing blighted homes after seeing Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett's campaign in 2015 while he was running for the seat.

In the spring, the women behind Constructing Our Future made a video presentation to state lawmakers. After hearing their pitch, lawmakers said they supported the plan.

While the women of the program wait for a decision from the DOC, those involved in the program are working to get more done to be ready if it gets approved.

The group has raised close to $11,000 through a fundraiser on GoFundMe. The money would go to staff instructors.

"If we have obstacles we sit down and work them out, we do research, and we write grants," said Thompson.

The group said there is plenty of support for the program from outside the DOC, to allow the women to get on-the-job training at fixing up abandoned homes.

"Everything that happens outside of here is privately funded or through foundation support," said Andrew Falk, the executive director of Constructing Our Future and a senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute. "Several in the area are working with us."

Falk said women in the program would spend close to four years while incarcerated learning how to build homes and hands-on experience. They would also be required to work another year in the program after leaving prison. Each woman would build up "sweat equity" which would allow them to go on to eventually purchase the home at an affordable price.

Group leaders plan to find candidates who will take the program seriously. “This is a program where you have to be conduct-free," said Thompson. "You have to show that you have character and that you’re really willing to work towards this goal.”

Falk said a training program is already offered by the DOC at another facility in the state.

The DOC doesn't have a timeline for when the program could be reviewed, but those in Constructing Our Future hope they might get an answer in January.

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