There is hope for women when they end up in Alabama prisons. This hope is present in a nonprofit called the Deeper House, which started with the love in Jena Forehand’s heart: love for these women, and hope they will overcome adversity and leave prison as changed and productive members of society.
“The Deeper House started when I began writing books as a pathway for helping people grow. Out of that, I got the opportunity to go to the prisons and share the same material with the women who were there,” Forehand said. “For me, as I got to know these women inmates and learn about their lives, it made me thankful for my life. We should all be thankful, always.”
The statistics show what a challenge Deeper House faces. Alabama ranks third in the country for the highest recidivism rates. Almost 9 in 10 women are back in prison within eight months. Reasons for the high rate abound, but Forehand is determined to beat the system from within.
“Right now, we are looking to partner with Gov. Kay Ivey, who is seeking to bring some new businesses to Birmingham, which would in turn bring jobs. We are working to help these women while they are in prison, so that they can get on a pathway and develop character,” Forehand said. “That way, when they are released, they are picked up by one of our mentors and taken to the Deeper House. There they will receive an education and end up getting a job.”
The Deeper House partners with Jefferson State Community College to help these women develop basic skills they might have missed out on. This includes things like how to answer the phone or use the internet.
“We feel the Deeper House could serve as a template for other states. Where Alabama is usually last to come along in these areas, we could now be the first,” Forehand said.
The Deeper House is part of Living Deeper Ministries, where women help women. Forehand founded the ministry for the sole reason of helping other women reach, reform, restore and reintegrate.
Forehand plans to open the Deeper House residential home soon. This home will take recent inmates and teach them skills so they can be productive citizens. The residency will cost these women nothing, and will help the recently released inmates get back on their feet. Christian counseling will assist these women with a multitude of disorders such as self-harm, depression and unplanned pregnancy, as well as restoring relationships with family members, spouses and children.
“While we primarily work in prisons because that’s how it all started, we are really a home for all at-risk women,” Forehand said.
Forehand’s face lit up when asked why she has chosen such a challenging job. She smiled and said, “As a child, I was asked what I would do with a million dollars. I said that I wanted to help people. When I saw the women in these prisons and saw the need, I just felt like I had to do something because it could be anybody in there, it could be me,” Forehand said. “I truly love these women and want them to get out and live a decent life.”
Two things will help Forehand succeed in her Deeper House ministry: hope, and love. Hope that these women find the other side of life, and love that will sustain them for the rest of their days.
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected]mail.com.