Renita Seabrook grew up in Georgia, where she watched her mother go to work every day as a corrections officer.
“Over the years, watching my mom and visiting her at work, I realized I was interested in understanding why people commit crimes,” she says.
At age 12, as her parents were going through a divorce, Seabrook was again intrigued by the court system and ultimately inspired to pursue a career in criminal justice.
“I’ve always had this belief that rehabilitation does work,” she says. “I have this belief that if you provide offenders with the appropriate tools and skill set they need, you can get them on the path of change. They can become active and productive members of society.”
After graduating from Purdue University, Seabrook continued her education at Rutgers University where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in criminal justice.
Seabrook has more than 20 years of criminal justice experience. She has worked at the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles in many roles, including as a cognitive skills instructor and life skills coach. She has also worked at the Georgia Department of Corrections as a program consultant for its Risk Reductions Services.
In a Georgia state prison, she taught close to 100 women using a research-based program called “Reasoning and Rehabilitation” that teaches life skills, problem-solving and critical thinking. In those 36 sessions, Seabrook says she began to see that women were changing.
“They were making better decisions about their personal situations,” Seabrook says. “It could be, ‘I’m not going to drink today,’ or ‘I went to work today.’ We held graduations to mark their milestones of achievement.”
Even a year later, corrections officers told Seabrook they noticed a difference in the behavior of the women who took the course.
With this fellowship, Seabrook will establish Helping Others 2 Win, an experiential learning environment that will give pre- and post-release adult female offenders the tools to succeed.
“You don’t find too many programs geared to women who are in prison, or released from prison, and most programs stereotype gender roles,” Seabrook says. “Some women have been beaten down and have lost everything. Many lose their children and relationships; many have themselves experienced trauma or abuse.”
Helping Others 2 Win will be an extension of Alternative Directions Inc., a Baltimore nonprofit Seabrook has worked with since 2007 that helps men and women in prison and those leaving prison, become independent, responsible citizens. The program will use a modified version of the Reasoning and Rehabilitation curriculum, and will incorporate civic awareness and giving back to the community.
Women in the program will tour a college campus and explore community college opportunities. The program also will also focus on developing computer skills, creating a solid resume and learning how to complete job applications.
Because building self-esteem is particularly important for many of these women, Seabrook plans to have graduate assistants from the University of Baltimore School of Public and International Affairs mentor the women.
Seabrook, who has worked as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore, said each program session will include eight to 10 women and last five to six weeks.
“I want to help them have a positive experience,” Seabrook says. “I want them to look at themselves and say, ‘I am worth it. I have a lot to offer.’”