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Women's History Month

Topeka Sam Is Working to Support Formerly Incarcerated Women

This March, we're recognizing the women who are making history today by working to impact policy change in various areas where Arnold Ventures works.

Topeka K. Sam
Topeka K. Sam, executive director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries and co-founder of Hope House NYC, speaks at the ninth annual Women in the World Summit in New York on April 13, 2018. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by recognizing the women who are making history today by working to impact policy change in various areas where Arnold Ventures works.

Today, we’re highlighting Topeka Sam, the founder and executive director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, which helps formerly incarcerated women transition back into society through education and mentorship.

Who She Is

While serving a sentence in federal prison, Sam witnessed the disparate impact of incarceration on women, particularly women of color. After her release in 2015, Sam founded The Ladies of Hope Ministries to support women making the transition from prison to society. She also co-founded Hope House NYC, a safe living space for formerly incarcerated women in the Bronx. Sam’s tireless advocacy work helped bring attention to the plight of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, leading to Johnson’s pardon by President Donald Trump. Sam is a founding member of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and has received fellowships from Columbia University and the Open Society Foundation.

What She’s Currently Working On

The Ladies of Hope Ministries is expanding, with plans to open new Hope Houses in Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans. Sam hopes to eventually operate Hope Houses in every major American city. To support that expansion, the nonprofit organization recently hired ten new employees for a total staff of 30. Sam also remains active on the speaker’s circuit, raising awareness about prison reform and the unique challenges facing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women.

What Inspires Her

“I draw inspiration from the women that I’ve left behind in prison, and from the women I talk to everyday. I draw my inspiration from myself — I’ve had many different traumas in my life, but I’ve utilized those traumas to empower me, and to remain spiritually grounded. That inspiration drives me to create a space where formerly incarcerated women can live a healthy life and don’t have to follow the same trajectory I did. Through Ladies of Hope I can provide support to my employees through a global pandemic. Focusing on others keeps me centered. It’s been a painful journey, but rewarding all at the same time.”

Focusing on others keeps me centered. It’s been a painful journey, but rewarding all at the same time.
Topeka Sam

Grants

Arnold Ventures funds projects to understand problems and identify policy solutions.

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