GARY, Ind.—Every year in the United States, 81,000 women are released from prison into a new and fast-paced technology-driven world. Many of these women upon the completion of their prison sentence, have very little if any support system, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and defeated.
Nicole “Coco” Davis, of Chicago, served 13.5 years in federal prison due to a drug conviction. During the time of conviction in 1999, Ms. Davis was married with two children. She is now a free citizen establishing her life and getting reacquainted with her daughters and two living grandchildren. In 2016, Ms. Davis lost her grandson to gun violence.
Ms. Davis did not have a pleasant experience at the halfway house where she temporarily stayed. Talking to women who did not have anywhere to go upon returning to society was a catalyst for opening Sisters of Support (SOS) house. The safe house is located in Gary, Indiana, and serves women recently formerly incarcerated, domestic violence survivors, human trafficking survivors, and homeless veteran women. The house also provides a warm and safe place for family reunification. The Sisters of Support house was established by Talk2mefoundation of which Ms. Davis serves as CEO/executive director. The foundation helps children whose parents are incarcerated. The house opened in 2018.
The fierce community activist recognized another urgency in the area where SOS is located in Gary, which is the lack of access to good quality food. Gary has been identified by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) as a food desert.
Ms. Davis teamed up with the Purdue University Extension Master Gardener Program to assist her in helping lessen the effects of the long-term health consequences experienced by the residents of Gary due to inaccessible wholesome food.
On May 27, the SOS house and the Purdue Gardening Program hosted a community gardening event. Residents in the area were able to learn and see what growing food actually looks and tastes like. Organic fruit and vegetables will be grown year-round in raised box beds embedded in organic soil. Participants were also given a tour of the SOS house.
“I did horticulture inside of prison and I learned I was very excited when I started seeing my cucumbers and zucchini growing, I could not believe it,” Ms. Davis said. “I really did not believe that they would grow. When I started seeing big red tomatoes, I was excited, and that’s what started my interest in gardening. I thought gardening would be nice to do it here at the SOS house, and I have all that land in back of the house, so I decided to do something with it.”
Others in the community have noticed how impactful Ms. Davis’ commitment has been.
“I am proud to be acquainted with Sister Coco because she has such a driving force, she just wants to help. After what she has gone through, coming home from prison and getting her feet firmly planted, she has been a go-getter for a long time. She is all about helping the community, same as I am. That was the predominant energy that put us together; we learn from each other. Together, all of us as a whole can make a difference,” stated Gary, Indiana Nation of Islam Study Group Protocol Director Bennie Muhammad.
“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has taught on agriculture for some time now, and to actually see it taking root, becoming a reality, is very impressive,” he added.
Erin Sherrow-Hayse, community wellness coordinator through the Purdue Extension Master Gardener Program’s Nutrition Education, stated: “Working with Nicole and the entire team at SOS has been wonderful, and I am in awe at seeing how Nicole has taken the garden to the next step. Being able to grow fresh produce and provide nutrition to your neighbors and the community, working together with growing and harvesting is amazing. This garden will produce 350 pounds of fruit and vegetables each season, and available to the community solely based on donations, and even for free.”
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Lawanda Parrett stated, “I have been working with Coco at the SOS house for a year, and I have counseled six women. I am very happy to state that four of the women are now employed and living on their own, they are doing well. It is one thing to provide a handout and it is another thing to provide a hand up. We have been blessed and fortunate to be able to provide support, because a lot of women coming out of institutions have no one.”
To learn more about the Sisters of Support House, visit www.talk2mefoundation.org.
Shawntell Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected].