Local tradeswoman promoting building trades careers to women in prison to break cycle of incarceration


Lisa Porter also organizing non-profit to provide support system for children of parents serving time


PAYING IT FORWARD: Lisa Porter, a Laborers Local 42 journeywoman, is using her personal experience to help female inmates break the cycle of incarceration by promoting careers in the building trades and organizing a non-profit to provide a support system for children of parents serving time. – Photo courtesy of Lisa Porter

In 2004, Lisa Porter was convicted of a felony and sentenced to five years in prison. She was released after two years at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center in Vandalia, Mo.

Today, the Laborers Local 42 journeywoman is using her personal experience to help female inmates break the cycle of incarceration by promoting careers in the building trades.

Last month, Porter, a 24-year union laborer, and a group of local tradeswomen visited the Vandalia prison to share benefits of union building trades careers with about 50 female inmates. Having served time herself, Porter says she understands the anxiety and fear the women have.

“Many of the women were surprised that they could land a career where they could make $30 plus an hour and still have a record,” she said. “You simply have to change your ways and the people you are around.”

Porter was a member of Laborers Local 110 when she went to prison. Knowing she would be able to go back to work once she was released because unions believe in second chances, she continued paying her union dues.

“But for many women serving time, the thing that brought them to prison is still out there and they think, ‘This time, I’m going to get a job,’” she said. “The problem is that the jobs they are able to get don’t pay well, and they end up reoffending and go back to prison.”

By contrast, she said the union building trades offer meaningful careers that offer high wages, benefits and drug testing – a path to deter women from returning to previous behavior patterns.

Last month’s visit to the Vandalia prison wasn’t Porter’s first in assisting those serving time. In 2011, she became a prison minister, visiting prisons around the state to share her story and to provide hope.

And now, the 49-year-old is taking it one step forward by organizing a new non-profit called Beyond These Four Walls to help provide a support system for children with incarcerated parents.

“When I was in prison, I had a young daughter, but I had the support of my family to help her,” Porter said. “But many who are in prison and have children don’t have that type of support.”

She said often times, the kids get split up, they don’t get to visit their parents, miss out on normal childhood activities like football and prom and end up in a cycle of poverty and life of crime themselves.

“But if those kids have some kind of support system, I think we could break that cycle,” Porter said. “You’d be surprised at the number of mothers and daughters serving time concurrently.”

Porter said she envisions the non-profit providing funding for school clothing and supplies, extra-curricular activities and cell phones for the children so can stay connected with their parents. Additionally, the non-profit would provide volunteers to take the children to visit their parents in prison.



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