Former inmate finds a fresh start helping others start over
PHOENIX — As we celebrate Black History Month, we not only look back on the trailblazers but also spotlight the changemakers of today. Among them is a Valley woman who went from being behind bars to the board room, helping give other inmates a second chance with a first-of-its-kind facility in the state.
"Help inmates to reintegrate back into the community," reads Kimberly Stewart as she looks at a letter she wrote to herself while in prison, outlining her goals for life on the outside.
"It must have been God, I don't know, but a higher power definitely," said Stewart who was released one month after writing that vision. She then spent the next four years bringing EMS Workforce Center to life.
"For the first time, I saw this picture and I knew coming out I had to do something different," she said.
Stewart says while seeking counseling to deal with trauma dating back to childhood, she was given a prescription that led to a pill addiction. Her drug habit led to the downfall of an accounting business she ran at the time and landed her a two-year prison sentence for tax crimes. But behind bars, she got the therapy sessions she really needed and met other first-time offenders terrified of never getting to start over.
That's been the driving force behind EMS Workforce Center.
Clients spend anywhere from 90 days to one year with them. Stewart operates a fully funded halfway house. Inside EMS, they have a GED teacher and test site, help connecting to social services, new housing, licensed therapists, and life skills classes. They also provide clothing and assist with job placement, which can be a major hurdle for someone with a criminal record.
It also creates a safe space that doesn't just focus on where they've been but allows them to create their own vision boards to move forward.
"The difference is they're talking to someone who's been in prison, that had a substance issue, so they trust the process and say, 'OK, you know, you've been there,'" said Stewart.
In a final act before leaving office, former Governor Doug Ducey awarded EMS Workforce a $250,000 grant that will allow them to expand programs, hire more counselors and provide more opportunities not only for former inmates but also the unhoused, looking to start over.
You can learn more about connecting to services or becoming a service partner on their website.
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