When Stacey Borden pitched her idea of a healing halfway house for women in 2018 as the final for her entrepreneurship course at Boston College, she assumed it was simply that: an exercise.
Little did she know that presentation would be her ticket to reaching her dreams. A couple in the audience that day– who remain anonymous — was impressed. They were moved by the presentation and wanted to buy a house for her to house women.
“After class I came home, and I had an email and I sat here on my computer for two hours staring at it,” Borden said. “It was a dream. I didn’t expect the dream to come true.” The couple bought the house for $750,000, and now she’s only responsible for taxes, utilities and insurance.
Borden, who just turned 60, launched her nonprofit New Beginnings in 2016 to counsel women who were previously incarcerated. The dream was always to run a house, and give women a space to heal through therapy, art and growth — an experience that’s hard to come by, Borden said.
30 Women So Far
Since then, the Roxbury, Massachusetts-based nonprofit has raised about $300,000 in funding from sources such as The Boston Foundation, Boston-based Eastern Bank and her GoFundMe page. More than 30 women have been through New Beginnings’ counselling services and Borden employs one full time employee and one part time employee.
Its mission is deeply personal to Borden, who was in and out of jail and prison herself for decades. She stole to support her drug use, which began when she was a teenager. Then, in her late 40s, she had wake-up call. One day her dad – whom she revered – told her it was enough: “Babe, I can’t keep bailing you out,” she remembers him telling her. Soon after a judge asked her why she kept doing this to herself.
“That was the first court official who ever asked me anything,” she said. “It was always just, she’s a menace to society, send her to jail,” she said. “In that moment, the judge humanized me.”
She became determined to find a way to empower women to recover and stay out of prison, fueled by the women she knew who were behind bars for actions directly related to trauma. Among them: Angela Jefferson, who was convincted of first-degree murder in 1990 for stabbing her boyfriend and has been in prison since. Her cause has been taken up by a network of supporters who point to it as an example of the way the justice system treats the victims of abuse, especially women of color.
“I can’t fight all the wrongful convictions. I can’t fight that fight,” Borden said. “What I can do is get out and get educated and figure out how I could get a house. So women, when they finish those sentences, they can come home to it.”
The next time she got out, in 2010, she followed through. She went to school and got her masters degree in counseling and her alcohol and narcotics counseling license.
Now, after years of renovations on her gifted home, Borden hopes to welcome the first 10 women into the red house in Roxbury by the end of January — she’s just waiting for the final permits to be accepted and to hire a few more employees to work night shifts and weekends.
“I still think I’m in a dream,” she said. “I’m just like, we really have a house.”
Coming to Terms with Her Own History
Besides counselling, the program will teach women how to tell their own story — through art, such as painting or creative writing, and through performance, such as theatre and public speaking. The women in the house will learn to cook, to sew, to use a computer and other life skills. The nonprofit has partnered with Tufts University and Boston College to offer the women free credits.
Borden was inspired by prison systems in Scandinavian countries — where she spent some time abroad while she attended school. Some systems grant many more rights to prisoners than the U.S. does — such as voting, education and respect. It humanizes prisoners, and they grow from it, she said.
A large part of Borden’s program is art, which was a huge form of therapy for her, Borden said. After she got out of prison in 2010, an old friend introduced her to a playwright who wrote about women’s issues. Attending her dress rehearsals and watching the performance come to life inspired Borden — and it also led her to perform in a version of The Vagina Monologues, an experience that allowed Borden to accept herself and reclaim the word vagina that had been tarnished from her history of sexual assault.
She hopes its program will help women recognize their own value and heal from their trauma — to break the cycle so they can live fulfilling lives, be reunited with their children or just love themselves again.
“It’s all a part of allowing the woman to build self esteem, build confidence, remove the stigma and remove the shame,” Borden said.
It’s never too late to change your life. Borden got out of prison 11 years ago, earned her degrees and built her nonprofit in her 50s.
Put yourself out there, you might just get what you’re looking for. “I just blame everything that has been done thus far on the universe,” Borden said. “The universe just continues. As long as you put one foot in front of the other, and you have this dream or this idea, you have to cultivate it, you have to believe that it could happen and come true.”