Houston resident Trelise Baker is one of 10 new recipients of the Strayer University Fellows for Justice Program Scholarship, an initiative designed to help students build leadership skills they can use to make positive impacts in their communities.
Baker is the founder, president and CEO of 2nd Chance Living – Purpose, Motivate, Innovate. Her organization helps women transition out of prison or jail and into communities by providing employment and housing services in the Gulf Coast area.
Fellows will confront issues and enact societal change around equity, diversity and inclusion.
At the age of 17, she was in and out of the juvenile system until her 20s. Her struggle to navigate life after reentry was her driving force behind the launch of her non-profit.
She has a passion to reduce crime and recidivism rates and is motivating community members and employers to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with the “2nd chance” to turn their lives around.
The Defender spoke to Baker about the opportunity, what her plans are and how her work is impacting Houstonians.
Defender: You’re originally from Louisiana — What brought you to Houston and what is one experience that led you down the path of service?
Baker: I moved to Houston in 2015 … I did an internship with a men’s reentry program in Texas and here in Texas the recidivism rate is currently 19%. And Texas prides itself over that rate. It inspired and motivated me to actually launch 2nd Chance Living PMI which was founded in 2017.
Defender: Why was it important to focus on incarcerated women?
Baker: I’ve been directly impacted by the criminal justice system. I’ve been in and out of the justice system, and growing up as an adult I faced challenges with reintegration back into society. There were few options for women reentry programs. There are ample amounts of opportunities and reentry programs centered around men. But then there were very few options even still here in Texas when it comes down to programs for women. Over the last 10 years across the United States, women being incarcerated has grown by 746%. That is what initially inspired me, especially looking at the data of Black and Brown communities. It directly impacted me. I am a justice-involved woman. I understand firsthand the challenges woman would face when they return to the community.
Defender: What are your programs centered around?
Baker: They are centered around not just evidence-based strategies, but also real-life experience. Women are employed at a lower rate versus men when returning back to the community. That initiated our career readiness training and placement program. Then also looking at our needs as women. About 80% of women that are involved into the justice system are mothers. Looking at the infrastructure to reintegrate women back into society is complex. That’s why at 2nd Chance PMI, we target our programs as a gender-focused model. These women will return with career readiness training and placement, entrepreneurship and financial education and credit restoration, and bridging the gaps in technology.
Defender: What has been the most challenging experience running a non-profit of this nature?
Baker: I faced challenges early on. I worked as a housekeeper making about $10 an hour and that wasn’t sustainable enough to take care of myself or my beautiful daughter who is 14 years old now. Having a reentry program has been impactful to the community as well as being a part of the Strayer University Fellow for Justice Program. Building a non-profit organization, it takes a special skill set: knowledge, patience and understanding of the developmental process of building any organization.
Defender: As a Strayer University Justice Fellow, how did it help you, prepare you or shape the work you are currently doing?
Baker: With Strayer University, it allowed me to understand the 10 skills to sustain and understand how to face growing pains in the organization. If it weren’t for that opportunity, I don’t know where exactly our mission would be today. Earlier, when I was a part of the cohort, I was already experiencing challenges as an entrepreneur with very little education. I already had my associate’s degree. Having that education and that experience under my belt allowed me to leverage more opportunities, but also keep focus on relationship building.
Defender: How are you able to work with community members and employers to help formerly incarcerated individuals instead of judging them?
Baker: One highlight I have to mention about Strayer is that they make me feel like I’m not alone, and the program is data-driven and that’s something that I have learned here. I share data with companies about how impactful it is to hire an individual looking for second chance employment opportunities. I also present different seminars to corporations on different tax benefits that they can ultimately receive. Then (I) share testimonials, background and experience that is visible on the resume of these individuals. We are also looking into volunteering and internship roles with these companies to build relationships and break those barriers in the workforce. Then we make sure to stay in contact and (track) the progress the program is making overall.
Defender: How are you able to help those who relapse?
Baker: We want to be a positive reinforcement for them. Help them understand their trajectory and help them understand their milestones. We make sure not to overlook their accomplishments and connect them with other peer organizations that can provide support.
For more information on the fellowship visit Strayer University website and 2nd Chance Living PMI website.