Beauty for Ashes program gives incarcerated women hope with a second chance

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PLATTE CITY, Mo. — Lost and without hope, inmates in one of Missouri’s two women’s prisons are getting a different kind of help, and a second chance in the real world. It’s thanks to a program called Beauty for Ashes.

More than 30 percent of Missouri women who’ve served time will return to prison within three years of release according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. The recidivism rate for women who go through the Beauty for Ashes program started by a woman in Platte City is just five percent.

The difference, they say, is one-on-one contact and hope.

“It’s a lonely feeling,” said Kimberly Bryan.

She’s been in and out of jail, treatment programs and prison since the age of 15. Bryan said beating her addiction to prescription pills and life of trouble was an empty promise.

“It hurts and it’s very painful, and until you figure out how to deal with this thing, you know,” said Bryan.

Bryan figured it out two years ago during her second stint in prison. She signed up for the Beauty for Ashes program run out of a wing in the Vandalia, Mo. women’s prison

“I walked in carrying a bag. Petrified, terrified and I just knew I was going to be okay,” Bryan said.

With a pink shirt, glitter covered cell, classes, therapy and help from hundreds of volunteers, Bryan’s life was changed. One-on-one and group help with everyday issues and life lessons that guide the women in prison and out.

“A new hope to do something positive,” Bryan said.

The change was thanks to Gina Hanna, a former drug addict and convict herself.

“If you don’t heal those root issues, the problem is still there,” Hanna said.

Hanna started Beauty for Ashes in 2011 and has helped more than 150 women through the faith-based prison program.

“If you can give someone a little bit of hope, they are created for a reason and have everything to succeed, they will keep swimming,” said Hanna.

Hanna says only five of the women who’ve gone through the program have returned to prison. The non-profit is run solely off donations and costs only about $1000 per year for each inmate. Hanna is hoping to build transitional housing in Platte City to help the woman coming out of prison get back on their feet.

Right now, some women live with Hanna’s parents on a farm in Platte City, while others are helped by Hillcrest Transitional Housing. The women are assisted with finding a job and a circle of people who help them in their new freedom.

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