Prison B.R.E.A.K. is an acronym for Building Relationships Empowerment and Knowledge
It’s no secret that the justice system can be unfair and unjust. Although we are often reminded from the heartbreaking cases shown on television, unfortunately for some, injustice is a reality. In Stacy Barker’s case, the painful past she experienced became motivation to correct a very flawed structure. Barker’s brave and persistent strides towards order and responsible treatment for women in prison, is the true definition of taking matters into your own hands.” Her story is both heartbreaking and heartfelt, and is a true lesson in faith, trust and taking pain and turning it into advancement for others.
At the age of 20, Barker was sexually assaulted for a second time in a three year span. Soon she found herself arrested and sentenced to life in prison, charged with first degree murder of a man who attempted to harm and sexually assault her. Emotional, overwhelmed and in complete disbelief, she began her life sentence unlike many others. She knew that prison would not be her final destination. In her heart, Baker felt the justice system had failed her and was willing to do whatever she needed to be a free woman again.
Soon Baker found herself being sexually assaulted in prison. This time by a male guard behind bars. After a short period of feeling ashamed and not telling anyone of the assault, Barker knew she needed to speak up and become a voice when she learned that very same guard sexually abused another inmate. Barker became an active advocate for what she knew was right. Pushing women to leave feeling like a victim behind and embracing their story to help women in similar situations. After being successful in her own personal and class action lawsuits, Barker inspired hundreds of women to step forward and become a part of history. These courageous ladies led the largest lawsuit (Neal vs MDOC) ever filed by women prisoners against the Michigan Department of Corrections, winning $100M.
Barker has even been instrumental in the changing of laws around our country. During her amazing journey that led to her being released from prison in 2009, a case law was created. Now in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan if a women kills a man that’s trying to sexually assault her, and a judge fails to instruct a jury that by law a women has that right as self-defense, an attorney can simply reference her case (People vs Barker). At that point, a judge must fully instruct the jury. She is very determined to make this class action stretch across the rest of the country. Also, Barker’s class action lawsuits are the reason male guards cannot perform full body checks on women and they are no longer allowed in women housing units.
Barker is the first woman in the state of Michigan to have a mandatory life sentence completely vacated. She is motivated and passionate about promoting women’s rights and the importance of speaking up. When Barker is not helping others, she enjoys spending time with her daughter and grandchildren. I was honored to speak with Barker to share some of her past, positivity and inspiration .
Was there any disbelief when after 22 years you were released from prison?
No. Not at all. I hit the ground running. I always knew I would be coming home because I knew I didn’t deserve to be there. My main focus was how I was going to do it. I got involved in everything. I signed up for classes, therapy, you name it. I even gently pushed to get the other women to participate as well. When I came home in 2009, my daughter was 25 and nine months pregnant with my fourth grandchild. I felt blessed. I moved to Ann Arbor and immediately began to volunteer.
How is your relationship with your daughter?
We’re really close. We are super close. I’ve only been pregnant once. It hasn’t been perfect, but I feel we have the best relationship. When I was in prison, she was brought to see me at least once a month. She was blessed to travel when I was away. I’m forever grateful for that. My daughter and grandchildren keep me leveled.
How was your support system while you were in prison?
I had a bomb support system. They refused to let me fail and they encouraged me constantly. I feel like having a strong support backing is the reason why I didn’t fall in the cracks or want to be included with the rest. I knew I had something more waiting for me. My dad played a major role and came to visit me three to four times a week.
How do you spread the word to women in need of help and advice?
I incorporated my nonprofit organization The Stacy Barker Center in 2011. I advocate for women who have been domestically and sexually abused. My goal is to help women because I really feel like so many need it and society doesn’t pay enough attention. So many women are sexually molested and raped, but it’s such a stigma and shame attached to it they don’t want to talk about it. I say talk about it. If more women found the strength to be transparent and not care what others think, they could find freedom within themselves. That freedom opens so many doors.
Do you ever wish you could change your past?
I never wish it wasn’t my past. I embrace my past. My past is the reason I’m the woman I am today. A lot of people think that the 22 years I spent in prison was time wasted. That wasn’t time wasted. That was a learning experience. I got over $300,000 worth of education. If I was out in the streets I probably would’ve got an associate’s degree.
What degree did you get while in prison?
I graduated with my associate’s degree in General Education with a 3.86 GPA. I received my bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University with a 3.42 GPA. My major was psychology and my minor was sociology. I would still like to pursue my master’s [degree] at University of Michigan.
What advice do you have for inmates currently in prison?
Never lose your faith. Never lose your hope. You can lose everything else, but you can’t lose your faith or your hope. That’s all you have at the end of the day. To the women who are being sexually abused, you have to tell because secrets keep you sick. Secrets keep you sick.
What advice would you give to the loved ones of inmates who want to support and help their family member while they are in prison?
Just listen to them and do for them what you would want someone to do for you in that situation. A lot of times people talk too much. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes you need to hold back a little bit and just listen to what your loved one has to say.
Connect with Stacy Barker:
Email: [email protected]
Dave Bishop is the founder of the nonprofit organization, K.I.T.E. Inc., Konnecting the Incarcerated Through Excellence.The mission of the organization is to provide mentoring and support to children, younger than 18 years of age, who live in urban, underrepresented areas, and have at least one incarcerated parent. K.I.T.E. facilitates programs dedicated to providing financial assistance, emotional and crisis counseling, and educational and life skills training.
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