In the criminal justice system there is an ongoing debate; rehabilitation versus retribution. One Tuscaloosa woman believes in second chances. She's giving women in the Tuscaloosa County Jail an opportunity to turn their lives around.
Woman2Woman Empowerment is a faith-based organization. It works with female inmates who are despondent, fearful and angry. By the end of the program, many of these women have made a positive transition back into society.
"Them being in jail is not the final end of their story," said Roxanne Harris, founder of Woman2Woman Empowerment.
Twice a week she spends time with women who are ex-offenders, and those currently incarcerated in the Tuscaloosa county jail.
"We are about empowering women to be all that they can be," she said.
Harris didn't always have the desire to work with women in jail.
"I can't say that I've always wanted to do this. Actually, I was terrified to go into the jail because when the doors clink behind you're locked in there just like they are," she said.
A conversation with a friend back in 1998 convinced her there was need. She founded the program in Maryland, and when she moved to Tuscaloosa in 2012 she brought Woman2Woman with her.
Each Monday morning she holds an Empowering Choices class inside the jail. For 10 to 12 weeks, some 20 women gather to learn life lessons from the Bible.
"You talk about conflict resolution. You talk about the family dynamic. And so you address a lot of issues when you don't even realize that you're addressing those issues. And so when you apply it straight out of the bible into your everyday lives, you've hit a lot of different areas."
The classes don't end outside the jail house walls. When the women are released, Harris continues to meet with them once a week, for 14 weeks, at the McDonald Hubbert Center in Tuscaloosa. The goal is to build upon what she taught them behind bars.
"How to fill out a resume, how to address the component that you have a felony conviction or a misdemeanor conviction; how to address that with an employer and how to bring it up, how to be truthful about it. How to accept no we don't want to hire you because of that and how to move on," said Harris.
Of course the success of any organization is usually measured by the results it yields. Meet Deborah Abrams.
"The class was actually full and somehow my name got called that morning and I got to go to class and miss Roxanne has been wonderful," said Abrams.
Abrams did seven months behind bars for manufacturing and distributing drugs. She met Harris and her transformation began.
"I started praying and praying and god gave me what I have now," she said.
What she has now is a roof over her head, a steady job, and a renewed relationship with her three children. Abrams says the first 45 days out jail were the hardest and she would have given up if it were not for Harris.
"Every time I would talk to her she would bring me up just a little bit more. 'you've got to keep trying. You've got to get out there and do this'," she Abrams.
Harris says it's all about giving these women a second chance to prove they are not defined by their criminal records.
"If we want people to treat us a certain way we have to be more than ready to treat people with some compassion."