For the majority of women at Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, they only receive five days of medication after discharge from prison. She probably doesn’t have health insurance or any form of identification. Kriya Patel, a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate and one of three 2016 President’s Engagement Prize (PEP) winners, hopes to change that by spending a year working with incarcerated women on their reentry into society, specifically getting them IDs and access to health care.
Turning a passion into a successful means of implementing social healthcare change was no easy task. Kriya joined us to reflect upon the following 5 skills she utilized to turn her plan into a reality.
Upon taking a class called “Women and Incarceration” taught by Dr. Kathleen Brown and visiting Riverside Correctional Facility once a week to teach different interactive health seminars, Patel was surprised by the significant disparity in health education. “We had a week on intimate partner violence and the stories were harrowing. Abuse that started early led many of the women down paths that landed them in jail. It felt so wrong that as a society we weren’t stepping in and giving the appropriate help and convinced me that this was where I needed to be.” Wanting to do more to help, Kriya started tutoring at a juvenile detention facility and interned with the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition. When she learned about the PEP grant, which provides graduating seniors with $150,000 to develop projects that have the potential to change the world, Kriya knew she wanted to work with incarcerated women. She called Dr. Brown since she would know best about the challenges facing women upon reentry to get started on this project.
Kriya’s new relationships with the Department of Prisons, health centers in the community, and reentry organizations were key in making the program a success. Financial and social support are linked together since getting social support leads to more funding opportunities. “Right now is an important time as we see criminal justice reform becoming a topic of national conversation.”
3. Problem solving
Having an organization centered around incarcerated people’s reentry into society, Patel must overcome an inherent bias supporters (both financial and social) have against lending out a helping hand for those who stereotypically are assumed undeserving. “I explain to people that, unfortunately, we do not start life out on an even playing field and therefore the assumption that if you are in jail you must be a bad person or have done something bad is just not true. 80% of the women at the jail are there pre-trial which means they are innocent until proven guilty and are simply there because they are poor and cannot afford to pay bail. I also explain that people of color and people of low socioeconomic status are more likely to be stopped by police and arrested. A lot of the women experienced trauma early on in life and suffer from mental illness, which can lead to drug addiction and other behavior which can land them in jail and without adequate support or treatment they cannot break the cycle.” Patel finds the strength of her persuasion in storytelling. “Conveying to people some of the truly heartbreaking stories I hear really drives home my point.”
Kriya’s model is a lifelong program. “After release we attempt to call each [woman’s] number three times as well as send out emails to contact all the women. We try to encourage the women to call in by being respectful and kind when we meet with them and explaining that we are here to help with whatever we can. A lot of them remember us are, remember we were genuine, and are often excited we called or call in themselves first.” Patel realizes that an incarcerated woman’s reentry into society is complex and has multiple barriers and, therefore, needs constant support post-release.
5. Customer Service
“Even though our business isn’t really selling a product we have clients and it is important to me that my team is effective at customer service and help the women effectively and positively.” When asked if the incarcerated women were well receptive of her help and workshops, Patel cites that “the women were very enthusiastic about the health education workshops because they have many questions about various health topics that no one has ever answered for them.”
Kriya Patel’s model is specifically useful for efficiently helping the incarcerated population become enrolled in Medicaid prior to release and could be expanded to other jails and prisons. She is currently expanding her program to the men’s jails in Philly. GenHERation wishes her the best of luck in her endeavors to put her knowledge to work for the betterment of society.
Contributor: Sima Parekh