Beauty After the Bars (Keeping Black women out of Jail)

Tell me about yourself:

There is so much to know about me, however, I will start with this: My name is Tiawana Brown. I was a born and raised in Charlotte, NC. predominately by my hard-working, God-fearing, single mother. My father was absent by choice my entire life and is now deceased.

I am the mother of two young adult daughters Antoinette (25) and Tijema (22.5) My girls are my life and my motivation comes from both of them.

Tijema, Ms. Brown’s daughter, is now an aspiring model.

At the tender age of twenty-one, while attending Johnson C. Smith University, I made some life choices that cost me my freedom. Collectively, I did four years in federal prison for fraud charges (white collar non-violent crime). At time of my sentencing I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, Tijema.

I was raised in the church and committed my life to Christ at the age of twelve. I had a phenomenal role model in my mother who taught me that education, hard work, forgiveness and endurance were the core to being successful.

I am a survivor of domestic violence, I love God, my family, and spending quality time with my daughters whom I have amazing relationships with. I love life and live to empower others, especially girls and women. I share, promote, produce and invite positivity. I am a social entrepreneur and my goal/vision is to encourage other women and girls to do the same.

I am committed to changing the world and how society view ex-convicts and formerly incarcerated people. We are humans, and given the right opportunity we can make a positive impact and difference in the world.

I am determined to make a difference by sharing my experience with the judicial system, and how I overcame adversity. I work in leadership for a major telecommunications company. I love going to church, attending religious services, gospel music as well as rap and R&B. I am free spirited extrovert which means I love people, my hobbies are speaking , spending time with family and friends, especially my daughters. In my spare time I love to play softball, travel , read and dance.

What is Beauty after the Bars and what inspired you to form this organization?

Beauty after the bars is my organization that I started after serving my time in the federal bureau of prison system. I was originally Inspired by my daughters. I wanted to come home and make a positive difference in their lives, and ensure that they never entered a jail or prison door. I wanted to do something for the black community as well. So I made it my priority to volunteer in schools, churches, and community programs to mentor and support our youth. I wanted to do something to keep our girls and youth out of jail and prison. Further, I want to be a voice for those still suffering at the hands of a corrupt judicial system that is fueled by making money.

I especially wanted to do something to help fight for the women that are still incarcerated. Many women and girls are incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Some have life sentences up to forty plus years for conspiracy to commit non-violent crimes, with drug conspiracy being the ring leader of them all. To see so many women, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts etc., locked away behind bars is heart breaking.

Beauty After the Bars is my way of being a voice for so many that don’t have a voice.

My organization strategically educates, informs, and bring awareness of what goes on inside prison doors to the society at large. We inform everyone of he rising cost of incarcerations and the increased populations of women and girls. We provide mentoring, education, support, and advocacy for women and girls both in and out of prison. We support inmates (through our adopt an inmate program) communicating with them throughout their incarcerations.

We also assist with release preparation, job skills and leads for employment upon their release. We also assist with finding professional counseling and additional rehabilitation as needed and upon request. Our short term goal is to help reduce recidivism rate, and our long term goal is to end mass incarceration.

According the U.S. Dept of Education, the school to prison pipe line may begin as early as pre-school. According to their data, black pre-school children were 3.6 times more likely than white children to receive one or more out of school suspensions. What do you think of this statistic and what can we do to combat this disparity?

I agree with the data. Children of incarcerated parents often are placed in stereotypical categories and odds are often stacked against them on becoming successful. Courts are less concerned about the factors of how impactful incarcerations are, and what they do to children when mothers and fathers are sent to jail and prison. We must continue to work to end incarcerations of mothers and fathers that are first time, non-violent offenders and seek alternative correction instead of incarcerations.

It is more common for children of incarcerated parents to drop of out school, than children of non-incarcerated parents. It has been proven statically that black children are suspended more often than white children. The only way to break this barrier and to combat this disparity is to stay involved, be vigilant, and be a voice in the community. I encourage everyone concerned with these issues to get involved in political and community meetings, become social entrepreneurs, speak up and speak out. We have to be the change that we want to see.

There have been studies that have talked about the correlation of higher incarceration rates and harsher punishments disproportionately affecting darker skinned women. Do you believe this to be true and why?

Sad, but true. Blacks are more likely to go to jail and prison than any other race. When I was in prison, there were more of us (African Americans) than any other race. There were white women with less time for the same crimes committed as black women. Then there is the racial profiling, harassment of blacks, and the broken judicial system that seems to target darker skinned individuals. Politicians, legislatures, activists, news anchors and so many others have made this fact known, publicly, and still there seems to be no rush to fix to all the leaks in the judicial system. A system that continues to convict African Americans for crimes they have never committed. There is evidence after evidence that proves that blacks are arrested at higher rates. Blacks are arrested more in traffic stops, and the list is endless. When the research is done, it supports that there is a such thing as been white and privileged in America.

5.What is it like to give birth in prison? Mentally, Emotionally and Physically

Having my daughter in prison was the most difficult and stressful thing I have ever had to do. There is always the question of safety and the question of the appropriate medical, prenatal and nutritional needs of a pregnant inmate. There will always be the concerns of whether you can have a safe delivery and healthy baby while incarcerated. Mentally and emotionally, the stress takes its toll because of the immediate detachment after the birth of your child. The baby is released to care givers or family members to care for them. If there is no support from the outside, then women lose their babies to a system that is broken.

There is always the question of safety and the question of the appropriate medical, prenatal and nutritional needs of a pregnant inmate. There will always be the concerns of whether you can have a safe delivery and healthy baby while incarcerated.

I was blessed to have the best support group ever. My mother was the sole care-giver of my infant daughter and other family members assisted her. I was also fortunate to qualify for MINT a program for qualified inmates in which we were allowed to keep our new babies for three months after the delivery. Locations are remote and secluded away from the prison grounds. The program was implemented to provide female inmates with bonding with their infant new babies. It is a community residential program for females prisoners that are pregnant at the time of their incarceration. Still, no matter how you try to enhance it, prison is no place for pregnant women.

How should prisons handle pregnant women?

Prisons should not handle pregnant women. They (pregnant inmates) should be allowed to stay home until delivery. If the custody level and severity of the case does not allow this, then there should be alternatives such as community half-way houses or home confinements. Prisons should be the last option and there should be absolutely no handcuffs, shackling and solitary confinement of any pregnant inmates.

Can you speak on the abuse in Women Prisons?

As long as there is jail and prison there will always be abuse. From the administrative side, there is abuse of power and mistreatment of inmates including: population and over crowding in housing, solitary confinement, physical and mental abuse, violence, and sexual assault. As we know, prison abuse is defined as: the mistreatment of persons while they are under arrest or incarcerated and therefore deprived of the right to defend themselves against authorities. Inmates are made to feel inferior and powerless which is enhanced by interrogation, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, sleep deprivation, and torture in any form. These types of abuse occur all too often in our judicial, penal systems, jails and prisons.

  1. What is your Organization doing to change these realities?

My organization will continue to provide awareness and education on the judicial and prison systems. We will continue to promote the ending of mass incarceration. I will use my voice and my experience to make a difference by connecting with politicians, legislative and the community until we see the change that is needed. I am leading by example and being the change that I want to see.

How can people share who your organization’s vison help make a change.

In order for any change to happen you have to be the change that you want to see. If we are not a part of the solution we are a part of the problem. If we see something we must do something. We need to vote, get involved in community volunteering, and be vigilant and aware. The foundation starts at home, and we as parents need to connect with school teachers, administrators, and the school resource office. We have to be involved and visible. To volunteer with Beauty after the Bars visit Beautyafterthebars on my Facebook page and send a message to me or they can email me at beautyafterthebars@gmail.com

What advice can you give to young black women? Particular social entreprenuers?

My advice to young black women is to make the right choice the FIRST time. Choose the right friends and be leaders. If you have to think about it and it does not feel right, then don’t do it. Jail OR prison is a high price to pay for the wrong choice and actions. The loss of your freedom is no fun and the convictions follow you for a life time. Stay in school and get your education. Knowledge provides intelligence and intelligence is power. It is self-approval and self-love that will keep you out of trouble.

Become entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, seek to own several business. Multiple streams of incomes are always a plus. On social entrepreneurial endeavors, I offer this advice. Stay true to yourself. Be honest and be authentic. People like, support, and follow genuine testimonials. There is always someone waiting for a break through and your vision may be the one to help that person. We are all waiting on the opportunity to take our dreams and visions to the next level. My ultimate advice is: when we change our mindsets and keep God first, we can do all things.

Follow model on Instagram @richgirljema. Follow the organization on Instagram @Iambeautyafterthebars. For guest appearance or guest speaker email BeautyAftertheBars@gmail.com fastest response!