CCWP is thrilled to introduce our new Outreach Coordinator, Phyllis Johnson. A former prisoner herself, Phyllis brings to CCWP a depth of experience in the issues that so many prisoners face — family reunification, housing and job issues, the effects of drug addiction, etc. The Fire Inside caught up with Phyllis one lunch hour to talk about the work that shes doing.
Phyllis with her family
I was raised in the Fillmore District of San Francisco. In my teenage years, school was difficult for me and I started to rebel. I entered the judicial system at the age of 19. That was in the early 1980s and my life became a process of being in and out of prison. This is not what I had planned. I planned to go to college to pursue a career in entertainment, or to become a clothes designer. But it didnt happen that way.
I didnt get a grip on my life again until 1998. I decided I had been incarcerated for the last time. I went to Safe House and got treatment. From there I could picture my life back again the way I had planned. I got a chance to pursue some of my dreams. By then I had three children…
Im still having a hard time not being able to fulfill Phyllis dreams because now Im feeling stronger and want to take responsibility for my kids. My dreams are going to the back burner again so I can care for my family like I always wanted to do. But I am fulfilling one of my dreams Im going back to school again.
Another dream was to be a savior of the world. I was always asking questions — Why are there wars? Why are people hungry? Thats what led me into the work Im doing now. I am helping people face the same things I did. I give them insight and hope they feel my words.
My job is just wonderful. I get a chance to correspond, broaden horizons and help others. It gives my life a whole lot of meaning. I used to have so much trouble just getting up in the morning. Now on days when I am unable to get to work I feel so nervous!
By having experienced the same things that other former prisoners have when coming outside of the walls, I know I can facilitate a wonderful support group. Each one teach one is my motto. In the support group we will talk about experiences we have all had in life. The experience is only meaningful if we share it. We will start out by meeting monthly and then well see. Maybe well meet more often. There will be speakers on resources formerly incarcerated women might need. We will provide dinners and childcare. I hope we can go on field trips to museums, educational institutions and resource centers. I plan for us to go to Sacramento to learn about legislative procedures. Maybe well have a Lobby Day to talk about women prisoner issues!
Some of the issues I know we will talk about in the support group are parenthood, reunification, parole, housing, jobs, and education. We will provide each other moral support for the transition out of prison. I hope we can go to some demonstrations and develop our own skills so we can be full participants. This support group is all about coming together, collaborating and coming up with strategies to keep each other out of prison. I want to help women put some meaning and substance into their lives so they dont have to go back.
For those of you not getting out I send my love and I want you to know that Im doing this in honor and tribute to you. Stay strong!
CCWPs former incarcerated womens support group meets monthly in San Francisco. Call Phyllis if you are interested in attending: 415/255-7036, Ext. 314.
You can write to Phyllis at: CCWP, 100 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102