“People don’t realize all it takes to come back into society after you’ve been incarcerated,” Shontell says. “It’s really hard.”
She knows the harsh reality of this struggle all too well. Two years ago, after a period of substance use, homelessness, and finally jail time, she found herself at a crossroad without a place to turn.
It was through an innovative partnership between Heartland Alliance and Grace House, a housing program of St. Leonard’s Ministries that helps formerly incarcerated women reintegrate into society, that Shontell found the opportunity she needed. After completing her sentence she moved into Grace House and after regaining some stability, case managers connected her to Heartland Alliance’s Harvest Commons housing development, where one floor of the building is reserved for women transitioning out of Grace House and into the next phase of their lives.
Dramatically redeveloped in 2013 from what had been a deteriorating Art Deco hotel, Harvest Commons has quickly come to house a vibrant community that fosters renewal and independence for those who live there. Shontell has been so successful in finding the fresh start she so longed for there that she’s now giving back by working at Grace House as a building monitor, ensuring the security of the women there, mentoring them and reminding them that they too can achieve what she has.
One look in her apartment however, and it’s clear that her plans don’t stop with her employment. She’s taking the next step, planning for her future after Harvest Commons and Heartland Alliance, and the future looks bright. She’s enrolled in Malcolm X College, is pursuing culinary arts, and is improving her health by taking advantage of the abundant fruits and vegetables grown at the on-site urban farm. Most importantly though, she’s reconnecting with her family.
“My whole family comes over on the weekends, my siblings, kids, grandkids, all of them,” she says smiling. “I love cooking for them, they can spend the night, I even had my grandkids for the summer. I can take them to the park right across the street, where they can play. My family lets me know every day how proud they are of me. I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing.”