Benevolence Farm is a farm-based transitional living program which provides housing, employment, and community for women leaving North Carolina prisons.
Benevolence Farm is located on 13 acres of land in Graham, North Carolina in Alamance County. It is a three-bedroom brick house on Thompson Mill Road that can house up to 6 residents.
There are currently two residents living at the house, as well as our Farm Intern, Cristina!
Funding has come from a variety of sources including small family foundations, individual donors, fundraising events (like the annual Second Chance Dine & Dance), faith-based organizations, and small grants. The board of directors has developed a strategic fund development plan that is guiding efforts to operate the program long-term.
Data indicates that the majority of women are in prison for nonviolent offenses, such as drug addiction, property damage, or disorderly public conduct– often related to either their own decisions or someone with whom they are in a relationship. Women in prison for violent offenses, such as sexual assault or robbery, represent a small number of the total population in both state and federal prisons. It is important to note that women incarcerated for violent offenses frequently act in self-defense while experiencing personal violence by a partner or spouse. For more information about trends and statistics, visit Prison Policy Initiative.
Benevolence Farm will not refuse any woman based upon her record. We will serve women at medium- to higher-risk of recidivism, meaning those who have been in prison for longer terms and/or perhaps several times. These are the women who will benefit most from the type of intensive, long-term program offered by Benevolence Farm. We work closely with the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Reentry Services and staff, including chaplains, social workers, and case managers to assist us in identifying the most appropriate candidates for Benevolence Farm.
We meet with each candidate 3-6 months prior to her release to develop a plan for her transition to Benevolence Farm and upon her release date, pick her up and to bring her directly to the program. The screening and interview process includes detailed assessments that ensure we engage the most appropriate candidates who have strong potential to be successful within the program structure offered by Benevolence Farm.
A commitment of 6 months is required to enter the program. Participants may stay for up to 24 months. Each resident will have an individualized case plan and therefore, individualized goals that will vary and therefore the length of stay will vary accordingly.
Benevolence Farm will provide a supportive transitional living programming to adult women returning from prison. We will serve women who have children (75% of women in prison are parents of minor children), and work with families to facilitate positive family reunification and other goals residents may have for reuniting with their children. The child(ren) will be able to visit their mothers at Benevolence Farm. When additional housing is constructed, we may be able to offer residents weekend visits with their children as they are concluding their time with Benevolence Farm.
The farm enterprise is a way for residents to explore different career paths and skills; we are not recommending any specific career. Residents will learn, experientially, about starting a small business, managing finances, working as part of a team, marketing, keeping a work schedule and routine, liaising with the community, and a myriad of other skills that can be applied toward whatever career path they may choose.
One of many benefits of a career in farming is that it does not discriminate against individuals with a criminal history. One of the biggest barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people is the number of businesses which automatically screen out those with criminal records.
Benevolence Farm is not affiliated with the NC Department of Public Safety (NCDPS). We have a strong working relationship with several staff, and in particular the Office of Reentry & Transition Services, and will work closely with them to meet, screen, and ensure a smooth transition for our residents from any NCDPS facility. There are currently four women’s prisons in North Carolina with whom we will communicate regarding referrals to Benevolence Farm:
No. The program is nothing like a prison farm. Benevolence Farm will operate as a small social enterprise with input from residents concerning what to grow on the farm, how to market it to the community, decisions about financial operations, etc.. Essentially, the farm is operated by the women residents who work closely with, and under the guidance of, our paid full-time farm manager. Benevolence Farm’s residents will have been released from prison, having served their full sentences.
Benevolence Farm will have sufficient information available from the NCDPS as well as each resident’s parole officer to enable us to maintain the safety and security of the program. Women joining Benevolence Farm have been released from NCDPS and deemed ready to return to the community.
Residents who successfully complete the program will move on to a community of their choice with life and job skills that will enable them to live independently and successfully. They will have a savings account with money earned while working on Benevolence Farm so that they can set up a household of their own. During their stay at Benevolence Farm, every effort will be made to establish a support network for each resident in the community to which they plan to return. Furthermore, we intend to identify and ideally secure employment and housing for residents within that community prior to their departure from the program.
Residents participate in the program voluntarily. There will be varying levels of responsibility and accountability as each woman progress through stages in the program. For instance, residents will have a great deal of structure when first entering the program and not very much unstructured time. There will be opportunities for less structure and more freedom as residents meet certain agreed-upon goals as part of their individualized case plan.
Residents participate in the program completely voluntarily. Should someone wish to leave prior to finishing their agreed upon goals, we will assist them in either identifying a more appropriate program or transitioning to a sustainable, healthy independent lifestyle.
Benevolence Farm’s board of directors and staff have invested numerous hours of research in identifying best practices for operating a successful program for women returning from prison. Safety is of utmost importance and will be a priority at all times. We will carefully screen residents for the program and ensure each woman has an appropriate case plan and is making progress toward meeting her individual goals. There will be clear guidelines and expectations for residents and well-defined consequences for disregarding them.
We are conducting ourselves very transparently and inviting the community to visit Benevolence Farm during events and volunteer work days and/or simply by making an appointment to come by and talk with us. We’ve invited the community to our annual board meetings each year and welcome visitors to other board meetings as well.
Our Assistant Farm Manager, Cristina, currently resides in the home with our residents. Benevolence Farm will always have an appropriate amount of staff members on site, relative to the number of residents and what the needs of the women are at any given time, however, it has been determined that supervision 24 hours per day is not necessary and in fact can be detrimental to the progress and ultimate success of residents who are striving to achieve independence and self-determination.
Women rarely commit violent crimes, and when they do, it is often in self-defense. For instance, there have been cases of women who have been the victim of domestic abuse for many years who have seriously injured or killed the abuser as a desperate attempt to save herself and/or her children or another loved one. Benevolence Farm will not refuse any woman based upon her record. Safety is always a top priority, both inside the home and in the community. We will create peace and safety through our admissions screening processes, resident guidelines, and overall operations.
Farming is intricately connected to nature, which is both healing and restorative. It is a profession that offers individual pacing and plenty of space to be creative. The experience of growing one’s own food is very rewarding, and working in the dirt is both physically challenging and invigorating. Farming is also a profession where teamwork is important. Most of all, operating a small farm offers the opportunity to explore a wide variety of career paths including marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, business, and customer relations among others.
You can get involved with Benevolence Farm in a number of ways. Visit our volunteer page to learn about working on the farm and sign up for our volunteer newsletter. Visit our donate page to make a contribution. Contact us if you have other ideas to support this important work. You can also be an advocate for formerly incarcerated women by talking with your own community about the challenges they face and encouraging others to support the mission of Benevolence Farm.