Forty-four-year-old Vanessa Thompson has led other women prisoners to solve two problems with the same stroke in Indianapolis. She developed a re-entry program that enables released inmates to renovate abandoned houses with opportunities to also live in them.
There are over 10,000 abandoned houses and lots in Indianapolis – yet housing problems send ex-convicts back to jail. Thompson’s re-entry problem has now been approved by the state’s legislature.
Who Is Inmate Vanessa Thompson?
Thompson has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years at Indiana Women’s Prison. She is serving a prison term for the death of a 16-year-old in a drug dispute. She protested her innocence to this day, stating that she was only implicated in the crime.
Born in Georgia but raised in Louisiana, Thompson said she quit school at 13 and ran away from home. She said her family was sexually abusive and while running away from home, found herself mixing with the wrong crowd. She did drugs and became addicted to cocaine for up to 10 years.
Thompson Re-Entry Program Renovates Local Abandon Houses
Vanessa was inspired to start her re-entry program for ex-women convicts while watching TV in her bunk. The program airing was about the thousands of abandoned houses and lots in the state.
There was also talk of the prevalent mortgage crises and how this released prisoners lack a decent home to settle down. She understands how housing problems contributes to recidivism for released inmates. So she decided to act fast.
Having studied public policy and civic matters with other women inmates in prison, Thompson broached her idea with her class of about 12. She discussed the idea of having released prisoners renovate and restore abandoned homes with the possibility of staying in one.
This would help renew the value of abandoned houses while also solving the problem of housing for ex-offenders.
Video: IWP Indiana Statehouse Presentation – Constructing Our Future
Women from the Indiana Women’s Prison testify in support of the program, Constructing Our Future, that they developed.
Constructing Our Future: Prisons to Jobs
Thompson developed a proposal to this effect and her class pored over it. They agreed that their prisoner re-entry program would be called Constructing Our Future.
They held video conferencing with several agencies over the project and set up a Constructing Our Future GoFundMe page to raise $200,000 for logistics. They recruited an executive board and brought in an executive director who used to be a topshot at the Indiana Attorney General’s office.
And when all was set, Thompson led four of her team to present their project to Indiana lawmakers via video conferencing. It was the first time prisoners would advocate directly to the state legislature and it turned out beyond expectations. The state lawmakers in a unanimous resolution approved Thompson’s Constructing Our Future re-entry proposal:
“It’s a double restoration — not just of the house but of the person,” Thompson said. “What does Indianapolis need? A solution to this housing crisis. What do women in prison need, more than anything? Ownership. Of our minds, of our bodies, and of our physical homes.”