Every day, people are released from prison and return to communities across the state to rebuild their lives. Wisconsin has an incarceration rate of 676 per 100,000 people and, notably, imprisons Black men at a higher rate than any other state in America. The barriers people face when they are released can be overwhelming and are considered partially responsible for high rates of re-arrest. In this series, we are featuring people who have been incarcerated or who work within the prison system. Their stories focus on the transition from prison and illustrate the value to both individuals and communities that comes with investing in their re-entry. Carmella Glenn is one of the five people featured in this series.
Carmella Glenn | Madison, WI
When the crack cocaine era hit both of them were highly addicted. It took them years to separate; I was fifteen. We moved down to Florida and to Northern Wisconsin. My mom was always trying to geographically relocate, but the trauma comes with you.
My mom eventually went to prison for drugs in the 1990s. I was twenty-two when she was sent to prison. She left me her house and her younger children, but at this point I was a pretty stone cold alcoholic. I was in my own domestic violence relationship with my child’s father. I kind of spiraled. I eventually got arrested for drunk driving in my 20s.
My mom came home in 2001, and that’s when my healing started. She was working with Asha Family Service, a domestic violence program that led workshops in women’s prisons. She took me to Milwaukee to meet Antonia, the founder of Asha, and I fell in love with this work. Since then I have worked for Antonia in any possible way, going inside the women’s prisons and doing Sister Circles. Any time there was a gap in my life of needing employment and re-centering myself, I always reached back out to her. I’ve been sober now for 18 years. And since my mother came home, for the last 15 years, she has been a chaplain within the prison system.
I’m the coordinator of a program called Just Bakery, a twelve-week educational and vocational training program. I have a culinary degree and a criminal justice degree. Who would have thought these two would go together? It’s just been my sweet spot. I got my culinary degree first. I’m great with food, and everyone always thought that’s what I should do. So I took on this program to train people in culinary and baking once they leave prison and help them get a job. But for most of the people I work with, it’s not just about not getting a job. It’s all the stuff they’ve been through and all the stuff they are going through. I call Just Bakery a healing hub. Baking is a big piece of it, but just a piece. Every student that comes to us, I ask them for a 90-day interruption of their life. Let me interrupt everything you thought you knew for 90 days and just heal.
They all get a circle of support. We have an intensive resource specialist for every piece of their life—employment, housing, credit, taxes, and schooling. During the twelve weeks we are going to teach you a skill. Once you graduate, we still reach out for the next year because the evidence shows it takes about 18 months after incarceration for someone to really reset back into the community.
My first moment when I thought, ‘I’m good at this and I can make this program work’ was getting our contract with UW Hospital for our cookies. It was for 3,000 cookies a week, a $60,000 contract, which is a good amount of money for us. I didn’t realize I had this entrepreneur brain. My business mind grew, and I developed this business to support this program to keep it free. It’s growing. We just got a grant to do hospitality restaurant training so we’ll be able to train people for those managerial positions.
The biggest thing for me is educating people about who is actually in our prisons. Many people in prison are nonviolent offenders struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Wisconsin also loves to lock people up for crimeless revocation, sending people back to prison for violating a technical rule of probation—not a new crime. More than ninety-five percent of people who are going into prison are coming home, and our communities aren’t prepared with treatment and community-based services for them.
I used to go with my mom to do Sister Circles in the women’s prison and talk about domestic violence. I could identify with the women who were telling their stories. I’ve been there. They’re not alone. When you are in jail and you are sitting in a room full of women in a trauma class who have been through severe domestic violence and sexual abuse, you realize ‘me too’. That’s why I love peer work and became a certified peer specialist. I can say, ‘I actually have walked in your shoes, or if not your shoes, then shoes that look a lot like yours. I know that road.’
I’m a firm believer—which is what I love about food—that when you sit across from the table from somebody and hear their story of how they got to where they are, that’s it: You are changed forever.
Carmella’s story was produced by Wisconsin Poet Laurette Dasha Kelly Hamilton and Jen Rubin. It is part of Love Wisconsin’s series on community re-entry after incarceration.
This series was funded by the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Just Bakery is a program of JustDane. JustDane’s many programs inspire hope for individuals returning to the Dane County community after incarceration by breaking down the barriers that can prevent them from fully participating in the community and in the lives of their families. Their two-year recidivism rate ranges from 9-15% compared to the state average of 67%.
Carmella was featured in the PBS program, ‘Women and Barriers After Incarceration’.
The U.S locks up more people per capita than any other nation. This chart was taken from Prison Policy Initiative report, ‘Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020’.
Wisconsin has an incarceration rate of 676 per 100,000 people, meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than many wealthy democracies do. You can find the complete Wisconsin profile here.
Prison education is worth the investment. People who complete college coursework while incarcerated are more likely to be self-sufficient upon re-entry and less likely to return to prison. A 2014 study by the Rand Corporation found that inmates participating in prison education programs had a 43 percent lower chance of going back to prison after being released. It also found that the odds of getting a job after being released was 13 percent higher for those that took classes while incarcerated.
(Photo of Carl Lewis taken by Chris Bacarella during the Odyssey Beyond Bars writing class at Oak Hill Correctional Facility.)
Just Bakery was featured in this Wisconsin Watch article, examining how convictions bar many people from jobs. Since people of color in Wisconsin have higher incarceration rates than whites, many jobs and opportunities remain out of reach for them. (Photo of Carmella and Just Bakery student Zackary Michael Wisniewski taken by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch.)
The Brookings Institution report on Work and Opportunity Before and After Incarceration provides a more in-depth look at this issue