Transforming Materials, Transforming Lives
By Madeline Lubeck, Morgan Mikowski, & Sam Reese
Elizabeth Wallin, a native New Yorker, studied economics and architecture in college, but always had an interest in how the structures and systems of modern society played a role in our interactions with ourselves, with others, and with nature. Elizabeth moved to Indianapolis to learn more about a project called Economy of Communion, which led to consulting with a group of volunteers working with the Indiana Women’s Prison. Through this experience, she realized a severe lack of meaningful job opportunities available to women returning from incarceration, thus Project Lia emerged.
Brandi, an employee and program participant of Project Lia [Personal photograph taken in Circle City Industrial Complex]. (2019, February 21).
Women Returning from Incarceration
The United States has the highest incarceration rate of women in the world. According to the Prison Policy Institute, “nearly half of our states, including Indiana, continue to incarcerate women at least 10 times the rates of our closest international allies.” Research shows that a large majority of women involved in the criminal justice system have experienced abuse, trauma, addiction, and unstable work histories. It also shows that a lack of employment often leads to recidivism – return to incarceration. However, there are many barriers for individuals returning to our communities and looking for jobs. Project Lia aims to halt the cycle of incarceration while also seeking to lessen material waste by repurposing discarded materials.
Project Lia is a nonprofit social enterprise working to enhance the employability of women returning from incarceration by providing a positive environment to learn, collaborate, and create. They repurpose reclaimed materials into creative, one-of-a-kind home furnishings and accessories. Through completing this program, women gain workforce development training necessary for a successful transition into the labor market.
Elizabeth piloted the program in 2018 with two women and has just hired a new participant for their 2019 year. Project Lia sells their products online, during First Fridays, farmers markets, as well as other local markets and festivals. The products sold provide a self-generating revenue source, helping the organization become less reliant on capital funding and grants. Project Lia hopes to increase their revenue by selling products at local retail stores around Indianapolis and pop-up shops. This will also increase their recognition and brand exposure to the community and enable it to develop into a self-sustaining social enterprise.
Employment provides many benefits for these women beyond monetary needs. It supplies the individual with a sense of identity and purpose and engages them in healthy social interactions. As a result, it promotes a sense of prosperity and establishment in the next phase of their life. Project Lia takes this impact a step further by administering educational workshops. During these workshops, employees are given the space and tools to develop their critical thinking, strengthen their communication skills, and increase their self-confidence. Project Lia assists formerly incarcerated women into becoming capable workers who can disperse into the local job market and beyond which ultimately sustains the economy and community.
Founder, Elizabeth (middle) with former employees and program participants, Brandi (left) and Lori (right). [Personal photograph taken in Circle City Industrial Complex]. (2019, February 21).
Note: Social Enterprise Alliance – Central Indiana member