ST. LOUIS — “Coming from a prison, where we are seen as a number, we are not seen as human beings anymore,” says Austin Marie Shutt.
“It was not until I was 33 I got in trouble hanging out with the wrong crowd, after some time with drug use and homelessness, I ended up in the justice system,” says Sandra Barfield.
In 1997, four women volunteering in prison ministry noticed a cycle for women in the justice system.
“Because when you are in it, it is hard to see a way out of it,” says Sandra.
A cycle of incarceration. A system that these prison ministers found consistently resulted in failure. So, they decided to dive deeper and see what is at the center of the challenges that these women face.
“I was an addict for 25 years,” says Austin. “I spent a lot of years hating myself.”
Substance use treatment, job placement, food, transportation assistance, lack of social support are all factors that led those 4 women in 1997 to create Keyway.
Keyway advocates for and assists women in the criminal justice system to support their successful transition to both family and the community. The local nonprofit offers supportive housing, case management, life skills education, behavioral health services, peer support, and of course, basic needs.
Because of that mission started 25 years ago, Austin and Sandra have broken the cycle, giving them that second chance.
Keyway helps women beyond their everyday needs, too, also focusing on emotional wellness and unhealed trauma.
“Keyway puts women in the front seat, everything the women decides is self identified, so we empower them to that point where they feel like they have reached their success goal,” says Cherrish Powell, Staff member.
“Being able to say I was where you were at, and now look where I am at, you can do this too,” says Sandra.
After going through the program herself, Sandra is now a staff member at Keyway. Hoping to inspire and support the women who are living through her similar experiences and show them that the cycle can be broken.
“Places like Keyway, they provide you with the ability to see all of the open doors that you did not see before.”
Now, Sandra and Austin's message to those looking for that second chance?
“You are worth it, you deserve the best, and any struggle you experience is a struggle that will make you the amazing person that you have the potential to be,” says Austin.
“You are not your past, forgive yourself, know yourself, your value and accept nothing less,” says Sandra.
Learn how to help at https://www.cwitstl.org/store/c1/Home.