Linda: I founded Sistas in 2003 at the Department of Human Services office at 408 N. Laramie, where I was employed for twenty-something years as a case manager and support specialist. I found that a lot of needs for individuals in our community weren’t being given at the center. 

I went out and recruited private companies to train people without work experience so they’d be employable, because of the changes that were coming about in public aid at the time. We generated a clothes closet, a pantry for seniors, a help center. I also brought forth the issue of domestic violence to the awareness of the administration.

In December 2003, I stepped out on my faith and I retired to begin doing what I do. Since then, we’ve collaborated with many organizations such as Family of My Brother’s Keeper International.

We work with ex-offenders to help them get acclimated into society. We provide housing support services. We help them get reintegrated with society and with their families as well. We do health fairs and provide supportive services for people in the community. 

My grandmother, grandfather and mother moved into Austin when I was 18. We lived on the 4900 block of Ohio. We were one of about four black families in that area. We didn’t stay there too long, though. My father owned a lounge on Madison and at 20 years old, I was managing that. It was called Shay Harmon’s. 

I’m the oldest of ten children, but the only child between my father and mother. I have two sons, both of them grown. I’m a victim of the justice system, so therefore I have a strong outcry for the wrongful deeds done through the justice system. So, to prevent any dismay and harm to young people, I try to provide the services they need.

A lot of people, young men and old men, don’t realize that when they’re released from incarceration, once they walk out that gate, they gain their citizenship back. So I try to prepare them for some things they’ll encounter when they come home. Before I do anything else with them, I register them to vote. Then, after that, my main criteria is keeping people within the guidelines and requirements of their parole mandates.

Right now, one of my main pet peeves is the Accountability Act, which takes a person’s life away for minor scenarios. I’ve seen it happen too many times. I have letters, boxes of them, from guys who send me their information. It’s just sad. 

You put people in prison for so many years, let them back out and they do the same thing, because there are no clinics or programs set up to help them out with [their problems]. Instead, we judge them without knowing the cause of their problems. 

I’ve been in prisons and seen 4′ 5″ women weighing 90 pounds with life sentences for murder. It makes no sense. There’s no clarity to it. And we wonder why our economic development is not flowing. It’s because everybody’s locked up.