To Sister Rose McLarney, co-founder and president of Journey To New Life, and recipient of the American Public Square Civil Citizen Award!
One of the tenets of American Public Square is to bring together non-like-minded people for civil conversation. We want to recognize those in our community who share this goal, who create a space in which people with varying points of view can work together to benefit Kansas City.
In this case, Sister Rose and her colleagues connect people recently out of prison with the services and agencies they need to re-enter society successfully. Journey to New Life focuses on helping women, veterans, and other individuals who may deal with mental illness or prior trauma, substance abuse, or a history of incarceration. Their goal is to assist those in need as they strive to become productive citizens.
Sister Rose lives at Journey House for Women, the organization’s temporary home for women, with three other nuns and 15-17 women who arrive directly from the state women’s prison. Former offenders stay with Sister Rose at Journey House for three months, during which they receive treatment, counseling, clothing, and training (on such skills as budgeting, child care, and managing day-to-day life).
“If you get them into housing, they’re much more apt to participate with their mental health, with the substance abuse treatment, because they have less stress,” Sister Rose told us. “We get them a phone, and it’s not cheap, but they can’t do job applications, they can’t follow up, they can’t talk with their mental health providers, they can’t do any of that if they don’t have a phone…We really look at where’s the greatest need, and who are those not being served by other agencies.”
After three months at Journey House, the women who work with Journey to New Life receive some aid from the organization—help with rent, utilities, and phone service, for example—as they incrementally take over their own responsibilities. Journey to New Life currently has over 300 people in housing all over the Kansas City Metro area.
And the system is working: the national average of former inmates returning to prison is 68%. Among Journey to New Life participants, it’s 5%.
Sister Rose says a large part of the organization’s excellent recidivism rate is Journey House and housing assistance. “Opening a home to them says more than the food and all of the other stuff we give them because they’ve experienced almost nothing but rejection. It’s society saying ‘You’re welcome back; we want to give you another chance.’”
Thank you, Sister Rose, for your work with these underserved communities in our city! Please visit Journey to New Life’s website to learn more about the organization.
Also read our interview with Sister Rose below, watch the moving video about her organization, and view the photos we took when we visited Sister Rose (and Audrey Harrell!) at Journey to New Life to present her with an American Public Square Civility Bell.
for Sister Rose
What do you do?
I was one of the three who realized that the Kansas City area did not have a re-entry service that focused on those with a history in the criminal justice system, mental illness, and substance abuse. I am chair of the Board of Directors. I also choose to be one of the four Sisters of St Joseph that live in the residence for women coming directly from prison [ Journey House for Women ]. This is my most special role.
Why do you do it?
I do this because I care about individuals who have not had the best of situations and want to be a part of society. From a societal standpoint, the U.S. incarcerates at a higher rate per capita than any other country in the world. I want a restorative justice system, not a purely punitive one that continues to harm.
What do you hope your work accomplishes?
I hope that every individual gets an opportunity to be their best self, that those who have experienced rejection after rejection will know there are people in society who care. I hope our justice system will transform to a restorative approach building up lives rather than destroying them. The national return rate to prison is 68%. For Journey to New Life participants it is less than 5%. It works.