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Causes of Incarceration

The Abuse-Incarceration Connection

A victim of domestic violence for over 20 years, more often than not, Lisa Rappa turned to drugs for relief, rather than to police.

“I become comfortably numb,” says 42-year-old Rappa. “The whole idea of doing drugs is that you don’t feel. You don’t want to cry.”

Those years of abusive relationships left Rappa with one deaf ear and several scars on her face, and what’s more, a history in jail. She was arrested over 15 times, mostly due to drug-related offenses. And for the past 19 years, she was either in jail, in a drug treatment programs, or homeless in the streets.

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Formerly Incarcerated Women Unite


Elizabeth Leslie finishes her work in the Licensing Unit of the NYC Department of Buildings at 4 o’clock. She then takes a No. 4 train uptown to the Bronx, not to go home, but to go to her other jobs. She is an advocate for alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs, which offer women facing drug charges various types of long-term correctional programs instead of prison. She also does volunteer work at Greenhope Services for Women, the drug treatment program she graduated from in 2006. Every week, she makes about 20 phone calls to encourage women who are still fighting their way back from addiction.

“I use my experience, strength, and hope to show others like me that change is possible,” says Leslie on her way back home one Tuesday, the only day of the week she enjoys her own time after work.

Nowadays, more and more women like Leslie, who successfully stepped out of the shadow of their former lives in prison—including their histories of trauma, abuse, drug addiction and homelessness that are often connected with it—are trying their best to build a community among formerly incarcerated women.

“You fight for them, change the law, open the door that wasn’t open before,” says Leslie.

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