Second Chance – Giving Hope to Women Inmates

Sheryl Abel had a vision while in prison.  The vision was to help ex-offenders stay out of prison and give them a second chance. She started an organization called H.O.P.E. This is a video about her vision and how this “www.youreverydayheroes.com” person has made a difference. The video of part of her story certainly is inspiring to watch and hear for yourself. Amazing!

Sheryl telling her story of having a second chance.

Before the Judge

As it turns out, after multiple offenses, Sheryl was standing before a Judge who sentenced her to 20 years in prison. As a result, she says, “He told me that he was tired of looking at me.” The reality hit her hard. She realized she would be away from her family for years, and that her mother would be aging and needing help. Can you imagine the pain she was feeling as this reality set in? As she reached out to her higher power and laying it all on the line, she didn’t realize that POWER was instilling something in her. Or consequently, that she was becoming this new being.  Sheryl Abel was a changed woman but would the community accept her back for a second chance when they looked at her past, her failures, it was all unclear and in question. What will she do?

Next steps for Sheryl

As this new Sheryl starts to think, guess what clicked in her mind…to become an entrepreneur. If no other way she would build her own foundation. The vision started to become clear to her. “I will be HOPE for women and children” “I know how to treat ex-offenders, what their needs are, what they think and worry about,” “They are afraid, Fear of not succeeding.”

Sheryl is well aware of the importance of taking the opportunity to take a job and other questions like these:

            Where will they live?

            What will their relationship at home be like?

            Will they be able to make it so they don’t have to return to prison?

            Do they have the confidence to look for a job and getting one?

A high five to one that has turned their life around.

A Solution

Consequently, Hero Sheryl knows the importance of how one presents themselves, how to dress properly for an interview and look. So in preparation for this outing Sheryl started an upscale store where she helps ex-offenders prepare for theses days. But there are other needs…a beauty parlor to help teach a trade. She was helpful to some by teaching them how to do hair in the beauty salon, as well as, other beauty tricks. Surprise, she even started a hot dog cart. Her mind was flowing with ideas.

She says that, as a result of, the hot dog cart happening, she felt as though she was on roller skates with one need coming to fruition after the other. Her excitement in the video is very moving. Sheryl didn’t know where to start first. She knew that this new venture was going to save lives and that energized her to forge ahead with her plans. As she states, “I’m excited. I’m like an energized bunny. I can do it. I can make this work!”

Sheryl giving an inmate a second chance at a new life.

A second chance

She began to hang out with Ex-Offenders who dropped out of school. The ones that think they can make it. She chooses ones who are “C” students and encourages them to be “A or B” students. Sheryl starts with those that feel there is no other choice, she gives them hugs, makes them feel as if someone cares. She says it is what she was born to do, give them a second chance. What an inspiring thought. 

Sheryl’s life has been complicated she is not surprised at any ones stories… been there, done that, so to speak. She meets them where they are emotionally and gives them hope. It’s the population of people that she wants to wrap her arms around and want them to wrap their arms around her. They trust her and know that she promotes positivity not negativity. She is determined to try and change lives, anyway that she can. It doesn’t matter whether one is rich or poor, sick or unwanted, a drug addict, a dropout, and anyone else. She wants to help anybody that she can because her higher power is holding her accountable for the lives of some of these people.

Sheryl hopes to get community support for H.O.P.E, Inc. Her story is fascinating and definitely in my book an “youreverydayheroes” person. Thank you Sheryl for your passion about restoring purpose in the live of Ex-Offenders and more!

What is the mission of H.O.P.E.

H.O.P.E, Inc. is about hope For ex-offenders specializes in servicing men, women, boys, and girls that have been convicted, adjudicated of a crime, who are incarcerated, on parole and/or probation. Their clients are treated with the utmost respect. Its ultimate goal is to defeat the curse of recidivism through their service. In doing so, they also provide additional services to offer a second chance such as:

Sheryl created H.O.P.E. to give other women a second chance to prove themselves.

. Job Search Assistance

. Short/Long Term Housing Assistance

. Clothing/Food/Utilities Assistance

. Drug/Mental Health Treatment Referrals

. Life Skills Training

. General Assistance Referrals

. Bus/Transportation Assistance

. ID Replacement Assistance

. Employment/Educational/Vocational Referrals

About Sheryl – Her Story

For about 15 years, Sheryl Abel was in and out of the lockup, Cook County Jail and the state’s prison system for crimes she committed to feed her heroin addiction.

Having been clean for more than two decades, Sheryl, often returned to Illinois Department of Corrections facilities — but as the CEO of the nonprofit H.O.P.E., or Helping Ourselves, Prisoners and Ex-offender Women. The organization works with inmates and ex-offenders to help these women reset their lives.

“I no longer have a one-way ticket into prison, but a round-trip ticket,” Sheryl Abel said, laughing. “And now I enter through the front door.”

Among the much-needed services H.O.P.E. offers is bus transportation to the prison so that children can maintain relationships with their mothers. Program staffers also help ex-offenders find employment and get important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security and state identification cards.

Much of what H.O.P.E. offers stems from what Sheryl herself either had or lacked while she was incarcerated.

Gang members who are about to her Sheryl's words of wisdom.

Trouble continues

In 1987, she was three months pregnant when she was sentenced to two years in the now-closed Dwight Correctional Center for violating her probation after a retail theft conviction. She wound up giving birth to her son in prison.

She left Dwight after six months, but because she hadn’t addressed her addiction, she continued to use drugs, commit crimes and get arrested.

At the end of 1991, Sheryl hit her lowest point. She was nabbed for home invasion and robbery of a person over 60. The one incident resulted in two convictions and two sentences, one for 15 years and the other for 20. They ran concurrently.

“I had been in the penitentiary four or five times, and that was my last strike,” she said. “The judge was tired of seeing me. He gave me 20 years. I said, ‘Twenty years? What will my life be like when I get out?'”

Abel’s mother became the caregiver of her son. That’s when she began to understand the challenges grandparents face while taking care of grandchildren whose parents are imprisoned. She also witnessed the devastation of fellow inmates who had lost their children to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  “I was like, ‘Let me sit down, do my time and do something positive with it,'” she said. “And my higher power began to work with me.”

Accomplishments in Prison

Because Sheryl dropped out of high school in her sophomore year, she was able to earn her GED in prison, went to school, and got her license in cosmetology and food sanitation. She started a support group and began advising young women, trying to encourage them to find ways to use their time wisely so they’d have something to fall back on when they returned to society for a second chance.

Sheryl would serve 9 1/2 years — receiving one year off for every year served, with added time deductions — and in May 2002, she was fitted with an ankle bracelet and paroled to her mother’s house in Maywood.

About a month later, a woman from Lutheran Social Services of Illinois visited her. Sheryl had volunteered for the agency while in prison. “She asked, ‘What are you doing for employment?” Sheryl said. “I told her my mother had built me a beauty shop in the basement and I was doing hair. But I really wanted to be of service to women like me.”

Gracious Help and a second chance

The agency gave her a part-time job as its transportation coordinator. She also found part-time employment at a Dollar Tree store. She worked both jobs for five years.

“At Lutheran Social Services, I was working with a woman named Sister Pat, and I told her my goal was to start a program to help women like me get back on their feet and a second chance,” she said. “And do you know that woman taught me everything I needed to know?”

“My grandmother believed in me so much that she put my name on her checking account. She was my provider, my motivator and mentor. She was my pastor, my “everything.” My sister started to believe in me, and my aunt. I was no longer that person they couldn’t leave in their house alone.”

In her job as transportation coordinator, she was taking families to the prison and she was also attending meetings at other social services agencies. She noticed they each had mission statements. Consequently, Sheryl thought…”I said to myself, I need a mission statement.” And “I came up with: H.O.P.E. brings understanding, love, and support to formerly incarcerated women who want to lead productive lives for themselves and their children in society.”

What else did she need to give others a second chance?

She realized she also needed a vision, and that was to empower women to improve the quality of their lives and remain focused. Her sister-in-law told her she needed a symbol to represent her mission and vision. Her symbol became the butterfly. “It symbolizes hope and a second chance at life,” Abel said.

Today, H.O.P.E., at hopeforexoffenderwomen.org, is based in Maywood and has four storefront locations. She’s been working with it full time since 2007.

What H.O.P.E offers

The agency has a licensed cosmetologist and barber on staff and will train women who want to get their license to do hair. H.O.P.E. also has a hot dog cart for women trying to earn hours needed for a food sanitation license. “H.O.P.E has a certified substance abuse and mental health counselor on staff,” she stated. “We have anger management groups and one-on-one counseling. We have job readiness training, and National Louis University teaches GED courses for us. We’re also hoping to offer an alternative high school diploma for youth at risk.”

H.O.P.E. also has a clothing store (women pay with vouchers) that’s stocked with donated clothes that are in good enough condition for women to dress appropriately for job interviews. Sheryl said she has a lot to be grateful for, including her son who now lives in Maine and is a jockey who cares for horses. She knows his fate could have been far different, in part, because of her early choices. “But I was blessed,” she says. “I have a supportive family. I want to bless someone else, because I know what it’s like to be in that life. A lot of people don’t believe we can change, but we don’t have to be junkies and thieves all our lives. We all just need help and hope.”

Video Production: Rocko Productions
Review Written By: M. Cardinal
Date Written: Mar 24th, 2020

In addition, Look for more videos with our inspirational heroes:

Intro to everyday heroes – Meet the heroes

Beat Depression – Just walk away

Inspirational Story – Blind mechanic

Feed the Homeless – Recipe for hope

Heart Transplants – Tragedy to a blessing

Helping Teenagers – Mentoring gang members

Overcoming Obstacles – Inspirational comedian

Motorcycle Ride – Helping Veterans

Married Life – Make it 65 years

God’s Word – Junkyard Preacher

Second Chance FAQs

Do people deserve second chances?

Everyone deserves a second chance if they have learned and changed from their mistakes. Learning from your mistake means that you acknowledge it and are willing to take responsibility for yourself. Changing from your mistake is vital.

What is a second chance program?

A second chance program is an opportunity for inmates who get out of jail to turn their lives around and have a brighter future and make something of their lives.

What is the second chance act?

The Second Chance Act, SCA, is one of four programs the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has that can reduce the time of incarceration of an inmate. It is also a federal law which was signed by President George Bush in 2008.

Do prisoners deserve a second chance?

Second chance programs that provide in-prison programming and reentry support have been found to reduce recidivism and increase public safety, and are vital to helping formerly incarcerated individuals acquire an opportunity to support themselves through legitimate and productive work.

More Inspirational

God’s Word – Junkyard Preacher
Feed the Homeless – Recipe for Hope