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REAL WOMEN REAL VOICES: Where the People Meet the Policy

February 26, 2016 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Friday, February, 26 5PM-7PM

William & June Warren
WJW – L107
1125 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

The Real Women Real Voices symposium is a groundbreaking discussion that will highlight the issues and concerns that impact incarcerated women. The two-part panel will feature currently incarcerated women and formerly incarcerated women discussing the impact of incarceration on not only their lives, but also their children and families, and the necessity for the advancement of policy around women in incarceration.

The Ladies of Hope Ministries presents the Real Women Real Voices symposium, A precursor to the 2016 Beyond the Bars Conference, sponsored by the Center for Justice at Columbia University and the Beyond the Bars Fellows.

Speakers Include:




Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.08.49 AMTopeka K. Sam

is the founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM – whose mission is to help disenfranchised and marginalized women transition back into society through education, empowerment, spiritual development. Ms. Sam is also a member of The National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls also known as “The Council”. She is pursuing her Certificate in Christian Ministry at New York Theological Seminary and A Justice-In-Education Scholar at Columbia University.

While in federal prison, Topeka began to develop and envision the concept for the organization. Ms. Sam established the program only a few short months after her release in May of 2015 with the help of The Eleanor Moody-Shepherd Resource Center for Women in Ministry  and has gained considerable awareness for the organization. Topeka has participated in several panel discussions including #FreeHer Justice Advocacy Conference, which was held at Harvard University in Aug. 2015. As organizer of the Real Women Real Voices Symposium, she will continue to take the conference nationally to bring awareness around advancement in policy for women in incarceration.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.10.20 AMAndrea James

has worked within the criminal justice system for more than 25 years, from her days as a youth worker to her work as a criminal defense attorney. In 2009 Andrea was sentenced to serve a 24-month federal prison sentence. After a lifetime of work seeking justice on behalf of disenfranchised people, she was stunned at what she encountered upon entering the federal prison system as an incarcerated person. Currently she is the Founder and Executive Director of Families for Justice as Healing and a member of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. She is also a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow and the author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts On the Politics of Mass Incarceration.











Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.13.22 AMTeresa Y. Hodge

a passionate advocate for people with criminal connections, is committed to reducing the lasting harm caused by prison. It was an 87-month federal prison sentence that introduced her to the justice system and mass incarceration. After spending nearly 2 years in prison she won part of an appeal and her prison sentence was reduced to 70-monhts, for a white-collar, non-violent, first-time offense.

While in prison, she gained an in-depth understanding of the specific needs concerning returning citizens. Teresa’s entire focus is on creating meaningful opportunities in entrepreneurship and technology. Upon coming home, she and her daughter Laurin Hodge co-founded Mission: Launch, Inc., a non-profit focused on introducing technology and entrepreneurship to previously incarcerated individuals as a way of ensuring self-sufficiency. Additionally, the organization founded and manages the Rebuilding Re-Entry Coalition, a citizen-led movement committed to creating a more just and inclusive society for returning citizens (a person who exits prison or jail). The Coalition is expanding the boarders of reentry opportunities and best practices from Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD with a focus on making re-entry more efficient and safer for everyone.

As the Executive Vice President for Mission: Launch, Inc., Teresa plays a critical role in building strategic partnerships and identifying returning citizens with an aptitude for entrepreneurship to participate in a 4-month inclusive entrepreneurship accelerator. The accelerator, known as Mission: LaunchPad, ensures entrepreneurship is accessible and inclusive for people with an arrest and/or a conviction. Prior experience as an entrepreneur helped Teresa to maximize her time in prison – looking for best practices to not only help herself but others get back on their feet upon release. Hodge is a certified life coach with a specialty in prison re-entry. While continuing to pen her memoir, she offers private coaching to women facing incarceration; these activities bring meaning and closure to the time she spent in prison. In 2014, she was selected to be one of the initial cohort members of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization committed to ensuring formerly incarcerated people are equipped with a strong voice to advocate for prison reform.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.16.34 AMEvie Litwok

never thought anyone like her could end up in prison —much less solitary confinement. But she did, and while in prison she experienced the denial of human rights that millions of incarcerated in this country constantly suffer.

Since her release from prison, Litwok is launching two projects, Equality Justice Project, a grassroots organization supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated LGBTQ people and Witness to Mass Incarceration, a project dedicated to recording interviews of formerly incarcerated, to preserve the horrific history of Mass Incarceration in America.

She is a 2015 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction Leader. She is an active member of NYC Jail Action Committee (JAC), whose mission is to eliminate solitary confinement in New York City jails. She serves on the Federal Criminal Justice LGBT Working Group.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.19.01 AMStarlene Patterson

was born, raised as well as educated in New York City and currently resides in the Bronx. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Lehman College and Master’s degree in Social Work from Fordham University. She is also a N.Y.S Licensed Social Worker, a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor Trainee (CASAC-T) and Author of the book, “Real Talk on a Blessed Day.” Starlene has several years’ experience in the Social Service field working with adolescents involved in the Criminal Justice System. Today Starlene is currently working on Riker’s Island through the Osborne Association as a Senior Re-Entry Specialist for the I-CAN Program teaching and equipping adult males with the necessary tools geared towards successful re-entry into society and reducing recidivism.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.22.22 AMPhyllis Grandma Hardy 

is the matriarch of Families for Justice as Healing. She was and continues to be a mother and sister to many of the women who came, went, and are still incarcerated in the federal prison system. After 23 years, 5 months of incarceration Grandma was released to her family and freedom on March 19th, 2015. She is at the forefront and taking the lead in encouraging formerly incarcerated women to use their voices to create change in the federal sentencing guidelines and end mandatory minimum sentences. Ms. Phyllis is also working to raise public awareness about the need to immediately shift away from separating women from their children, and working everyday to support the commutation of women from the federal system while raising awareness of the poor healthcare provided to sick and elderly incarcerated women. She sends a message everyday for women coming home to stay strong and to let them know that reentry takes time and a lot of prayer, but together, organized we can do it. We must stand together.









Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.23.24 AMRamona Brant

is a 52 year-old mother of two adult sons and grandmother to two young granddaughters. She has currently been released from a life sentence with no possibility of parole by clemency granted by President Barack Obama. In 1963 she was 1 of 7 children born to Anna Mae & Leon Brant in New York. After relocating to North Carolina she met a man who would not only father her two children, but abuse her mentally, physically and emotionally. She would also find herself behind bars as a first time offender on a nonviolent drug conspiracy charge thanks to false testimony provided by members of her boyfriend’s drug ring. Ramona was sentenced to life in February of 1995 and released on February 2, 2016 to start her life new.









Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.25.07 AMEbony Underwood

is a writer/filmmaker at the forefront of Criminal Justice Reform as founder of INPRISON.net and advocate working on reform initiatives against mass incarceration and supporting children of incarcerated parents. Ebony ‘s interest in this advocacy work is personal and pivotal. In 1988, her father, William Underwood, having never been convicted of a felony, was incarcerated and convicted with a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole. As a child of an incarcerated parent, Ebony was traumatized and completely devastated by her father’s incarceration. Ebony bottled up the pain, silently suffering for years. In 2013, Ebony began to speak out and share her story through film and social media advocacy. She created a website www.INPRISON.net, started a petition www.change.org/freeUnderwoodwith over 35,000 signatures, and she and her 3 siblings are working on a documentary, Hope For Father’s Day. With the surge of bipartisan support surrounding the end to mass incarceration Ebony’s story adds the human face and identifies the wounds that children face from the traumatic loss of a parent to incarceration.  In 2016, Ebony has been interviewed by WPIX 11 News and Black Entertainment Television (BET). She received a special invitation to the Champions for Change White House Initiative for the Children of Incarcerated Parents, was a guest at the #cut50 Bipartisan Summit and have written Op-Ed articles, for Huffington Post, My One Wish for Father’s Day and VIBE magazine, The Stain of Mass Incarceration. Ebony is a herald voice championing for the many children and families whose voices have long been left out of the conversation.






Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.27.03 AM

Michelle Miles

My name is Michelle Miles I am 44 years old; I have no children. I am currently serving 30 years for conspiring to sell drugs. To date I have served almost 19 years. I was born and raised in Brooklyn New York where I lived with my family.

My mom was a single parent who worked hard to provide for us. She raised six children on her own. I am the middle child of seven children. My youngest sister didn’t live with us. My mom did everything she could do to make ends meet by trying to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. Watching my mom struggle was hard for me to do. I was the only one of my mother’s children getting an education at the time. My other siblings dropped out of school very early. I told my mom I would finish school get a job and help her pay some of the bills.

When I was 18 years old I met a guy who was 30 years old. He pursued me and I would brush off his advances. He was persistent and didn’t stop until I gave in. This man was from Brooklyn he was well respected and he was a drug dealer. Once our relationship developed he asked for my help in his organization. He told me if I cooked cocaine and packaged heroin for him he would pay me $1100.00 a week. I took his offer and became a part of his drug business. That was a very poor decision for me to make. I never once thought about the consequences of my actions. Thinking I could make some fast money and nothing would happen I was wrong. The choice I made not only hurt me but those I love also.

On September, 24th 1997 I was arrested by the FBI and I was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin and cocaine base and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base. I took my case to trial and was convicted on both charges. When I was 27 years old I stood before the judge to be sentenced. I was a first time non violent offender facing life in prison. In shock would be an understatement as to how I felt about facing so much time. I had received a 4-point enhancement for my role in the offense which I was given a leadership role. The Judge reasoned with the court for the decision he was about to make. He said he felt that I was beholden to my then boyfriend so that is why he would adjust my role by 2 points to that of a manager to avoid giving me a life sentence. So he sentenced me to 360 months which equates to 30 years. None of the things I did was worth me losing my freedom. I could have made a better choice which would have been not to get involved with dealing drugs. It was all up to me and I messed up. Here I am 19 years later saying to you that “I lost”. My message to any one who may think it’s not going to happen to me it will I am living proof of that. So make the right decision and not participate in criminal activity because all crimes have consequences.

Being away from my family is hard I don’t get to see them often. In fact I haven’t seen my mom in 9 Years and my siblings in 15 years. After not seeing my oldest niece for 15 years she recently came to see me with her 2 children and I got to meet them for the first time. When your love ones come to see you upon arrival you get on hug and a kiss and the same when they leave. That is not enough for me especially not knowing when they walk out the door they may not return and that hurts. That’s not enough contact with them, but it is the price I had to pay for braking the law. I didn’t think I would survive prison I told myself how could you do 30 years that is a lot of time it was a ruff journey, but I made it.

Since my incarceration I have taken every program the Bureau Of Prisons has to offer. Not only did I obtain my GED I went on to graduate from Culinary Arts. I also completed 3 Apprenticeships with the Department Of Labor Cook, Office Manager/Administrative Services and Material Coordinator all certifying me for that occupation. I have taken these programs and made it a choice to be productive during my prison stay. I wanted to make sure I was marketable upon my release. I have not given up hope and know that one day I will get a second chance. It is my plan upon release to speak to young adults and adults across the country. I want to deter them from making the same adverse choices I made. If there was someone I could relate to I may not have chosen the path I did. I want to be that person for someone. After serving a significant amount of time in prison I certainly learned my lesson. I wish to give back to the community and repay my debt to society by sharing my story with others.








Leyla Martinez

The daughter of Dominican immigrants, Leyla Martinez is not only first generation American in her family but is also a first generation college student. Leyla Martinez is a junior at Columbia School of General Studies pursuing a BA in Human Rights. She has successfully completed the Justice in Education Fellowship and was recently selected to be a Women’s Forum Education Fund Fellow. Ms. Martinez, interned with Welfare Rights Initiative, where she advocated on behalf of students from NYC who receive public assistance, so they could continue pursuing their education. Leyla is a research assistant in the Social Relations Lab at Columbia University Psychology Department, where they pursue a wide range of topics which allows them to discern the effects of situational factors on individuals, as well as, the effects of individuals on their environment and their immediate situation. She is also the Program Coordinator for the Beyond the Bars Fellowship, where students and community members are offered the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of mass incarceration while collaborating in planning the annual Beyond the Bars Conference. Ms. Martinez journey has been long and there have been a few bumps on the road, nonetheless she has not given up and is determined to continue pursuing a higher education. Her hopes are that her education and experiences will properly prepare her to make changes to current policies in place that hinder the possibilities of the underrepresented.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.29.49 AMIvy Woolf Turk

is a Certified Professional Life Coach in private practice and Founder of Project Liberation. Formerly Co-Creator and Director of the blackbird project at WPA, she is also a Board Member of Liberation Prison Yoga and a consultant to the Justice Advocacy Group, LLC in Alexandria, VA.

Ivy has an extremely unique perspective on incarceration, homelessness and reentry.  A former executive in the advertising and real estate businesses, she found herself caught up in a situation with criminal consequences.  After serving 4 years of a 5-year sentence in Federal prison, she not only has her own perspective and experience with the whole incarceration process, but that of the hundreds of women with whom she worked with while imprisoned as well as upon reentry.

The mission of her current work, Project Liberation is to provide a paradigm shifting, ongoing, safe and supportive environment that delivers powerful life-enhancing tools across all three stages of reentry. Designed for demographically and culturally diverse women who are homeless or with criminal justice system involvement, these workshops offer a flexible and sustainable model. They assist in building a new foundation for these women’s lives as they reenter families, communities and society with increased social and emotional skills, enhanced family ties, reduced emotional barriers to goal achievement and holistically healthy living.  In tandem with community partners, already providing core stabilization services, Project Liberation will create an opportunity for all women in reentry to reduce their risk of recidivism and create stable lives for themselves and the lives they impact as women in society.

Ivy has a Bachelor of Science Degree from Boston University and earned her CPC from Coaching for Transformation.  She lives in New York City and is the mother of four inspiring adult children.






Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.32.31 AMMiquelle West

is the daughter of Michelle West who is listed in the top 10 of the Can-Do justice clemency list. Michelle walked her then 10-year-old daughter Miquelle to school on May 3, 1993, just as she did every morning. They blew each other kisses just before Miquelle entered the front door. West planned to pick her up after school and supervise her homework, just like on any other school day. But she never made it back. That morning, federal agents arrested West and ultimately, West was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences plus 50 years.

Miquelle West is an accomplished fashion designer and celebrity stylist.  She is determined to use her voice to bring her mother home and her story to empower young people that are faced with similar challenges to never give up on their dreams.







Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.38.38 AMKayla Gerdes

Kayla is currently a Justice-in-Education Scholar at Columbia University, and is also a Public Health major at CUNY York College. While serving a 5 1/2-year sentence in NY state prison, Kayla earned her Associates Degree through Bard College’s, Bard Prison Initiative. Through Bard, Kayla became affiliated with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health’s Dean and professor, Dr. Robert Fullilove, who introduced her to the field of Public Health. Kayla plans on pursuing a Masters degree and then a doctorate in Public Health, and intends to affect change on a policy level. Kayla is most interested in changing the way society deals with mental health, criminal justice and drug addiction.

Kayla has been out of prison for four months and since she’s been out she’s been involved in public speaking engagements where she has spoken about how mental health, criminal justice and drug addiction have personally affected her life. She is on a mission to share her story all over America, and hopes that her story of redemption and recovery will inspire and empower others to take their pain and struggles and use it as their strength, purpose and mission in life.

Kayla is a firm believer in the notion that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, which is ultimately her reason and purpose for pursuing a career in public health. She feels that her life experiences qualify her to address what needs to be changed, explain in detail why the old and current ways aren’t working and implement solutions that will breed successful results.







10300045_10201935865267524_1239745990263499942_nRhonda Turpin

is currently serving a 15 year sentence at Danbury Federal Prison Camp for non-violent federal bank fraud and tax fraud violations.  She has served 11 years, and 4 months, since Oct. 18, 2004.  She has two daughters, with the youngest living in Cleveland Ohio, where she will return. She has six unique, wonderful grandkids that she will be raising in the near future.

She entered prison with a Master’s Degree in Urban Studies and non-profit management and compliance, and all of her doctorate course work completed.

She works to create public awareness about the creation of Amendment 13 of the U.S. Constitution, and the need to place term limits on federal prosecutors and judges.

Rhonda is the author and publisher of numerous books available on her website http://www.worldbooksetc.com







FullSizeRender (5)Syrita Steib-Martin

is a nationally certified and licensed Clinical Laboratory Scientist in the state of Louisiana. Mrs. Steib-Martin also has unrelenting passion to help women successfully reenter into society after incarceration through access to basic fundamentals. In 2000, at the age of 19 she was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison.

She was released after serving 110 months and since that time she has earned a B.S. from Louisiana State University and is currently applying to Medical School. Mrs. Steib-Martin is married and has a four year old son. She is also member of The National Council of Incarcerated and Formally Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Mrs. Steib-Martin is in the infancy stages of starting her organization called Life Restoration. The Life Restoration Spa will be a one stop center to assist women upon release with the monumental task of restoring themselves through the fundamentals needed to transition back into society. Fundamentals include identification, social security cards, job interviews, and interview

attire, obtaining medical benefits, psychological services, banking information, credit counseling and most importantly services that give women the confidence, faith and wherewithal to endure. The only thing required of the women who utilize Project Restoration will be that they attend monthly sessions with at risk teen girls, so that the girls can listen to their stories and hopefully be inspired to change.




For more information visit:

Organized by the Ladies of Hope Ministries and sponsored by the Center for Justice at Columbia University, the Beyond the Bars Fellowship, The Heyman Center for Humanities, Center for the Study of Law and Culture, AMPLIFI, Families for Justice as Healing and Women Who Never Give Up



February 26, 2016
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


The Ladies of Hope Ministries


William & June Warren WJW – L107
1125 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027 United States
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