A Trump presidency is sobering for ex-offenders

By June Leffler

A week before the presidential election, Lacey Stolzke was released from jail after serving 225 days.

“I was never into politics, because I was so caught up in my drug use.”

At 27 years old, she’s in treatment and living at Grace House, a halfway house for female ex-offenders who are recovering from substance abuse. Now, she said, she’s never been more politically engaged.

“My eyes are open to how the world is changing,” said Stolzke. “Trump is going to make it harder than it already is.”

Lacey Stolzke wants her seven-year-old son Isaac to learn to respect women, something she believes Trump is incapable of doing. (June Leffler/MEDILL)

The women at Grace House watched the election results come in Tuesday night. It counted towards one their group meetings, credit for both their program and weekend passes to see their loved ones.

Every person I talked with said they were sickened by how Trump talks about immigrants, women, African Americans and the disabled.

“He degraded everybody, every nationality he disrespected,” said Stacey Jackson.

“We’re not of his pedigree,” said Jo Ann Jones.

“Trump said African Americans don’t have anything to lose,” said Connie Williams. “He’s making race an issue when we are all humans.”

Illinois is one of 14 states that restores voting rights to felons as soon as their sentence is served. Stolzke and Veronica Austin, who both arrived at Grace House last week, did not get their IDs in time to vote. Maria Lopez said that between her group meetings, she didn’t have time to vote.

Of the women who did vote, most said they voted a straight Democratic ticket. Jacqueline Langston, Jackson and Williams are all African-American women in their earlier fifties. They all said that the Democratic Party has been the party for the working class.

Jacqueline Langston said Trump is out of touch with the working class.
Jacqueline Langston said Trump is out of touch with the working class. (June Leffler/MEDILL)

With a Republican president, the women are all worried about potential cuts to public assistance programs. Nobody could be sure what they would lose. They mentioned Medicaid, food stamps, education and transition programs like Grace House.

“If we’re cutting schools, then you can’t [but] wonder why people get into negative things,” said Jackson.

“We need those who can help us better ourselves,” said Williams. They want access to quality jobs like everyone else.

Stolzke said while there are government incentives for hiring ex-offenders, employers still have their reservations.

To Jackson, a rap sheet is an obstacle for getting a job, making rejection a normal part of her life. “Everything has to go past somebody’s desk,” she said. “Give us the benefit of the doubt to be self-sufficient.”

Langston said she was a working addict. She spent over thirty years working for the Chicago Housing Authority. While Grace House helps the women find jobs, Langston said she doesn’t want to settle for jobs that the program suggests and that are expected of ex-felons. “I don’t want to work for McDonald’s, or in an assembly line.”

Jones, who spent 60 days in jail, had worked in nursing homes as a caregiver, but now she can’t because of her felony. She earns $8.25 an hour, working 12-hour shifts at a warehouse in Aurora.

If she wants to work again in a nursing home, she can get her criminal record expunged in a year by following her probation conditions.

As the television coverage projected state after state, Sabrina Williams got nervous.

“I’m going to keep moving forward,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in office. He’ll put up some obstacles but we’ll be alright.”

Photo at top: Grace House on Chicago’s near west side provides housing substance abuse treatment for ex-offenders. (Photo credit: June Leffler/MEDILL)