Get to Know Sharon White-Harrigan, Prison Reform Activist | The 2019 MAKERS Conference
After serving more than a decade in prison for defending herself against a rapist, Sharon White-Harrigan is now giving back as an activist and advocate for prison reform, providing services to help women prisoners transition back to civilian life.
SHARON WHITE-HARRIGAN: There's nothing correctional about the Department of Corrections. They just put you all in one place, and it's like a dog fight. Throw a piece of meat and let them go. I was raised in the Bronx. My parents, exceptional. They raised us with education as the cornerstone. Of our household, I was the one that brought laughter. I was a clown. Having my daughter out of wedlock, my parents wasn't happy. His parents wasn't happy. And so we planned a wedding. And we were excited about our future until that fateful day. Dave was killed in a car accident three days before wedding. Everything changed. Immediately something snapped. I felt so lost. The Black eyes, fractured jaw, fractured ribs, the bruises. And when I tried to say I would like a divorce, he tried to pull me into the alley and kill me. I'd made a promise to myself that I was not going to allow anybody else to abuse me in any kind of way. A few years later, a man attempted to rape me. And I fought for my life. The judge was a racist. I'm very clear it was about the color of my skin. I had letters from the church community. I had support in the court room, and it didn't matter. They only cared about locking this black girl up for defending herself. When I got there, I realized that the majority of the women were there because of a man. There is 840 women in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility that is re traumatized again and again, and nobody gives a damn. And we all hear deviance put together and just it feels like a box. For us to fend for ourselves, I knew that I had to stop being angry. I knew that I couldn't afford to be bitter anymore. I decided that I'm going to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be because one day I will come home. And when I do, I'm going to be a force to reckon with. The reentry process was difficult because people had the box. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Of course, I'm going to check it because I did. And so every day I hit that pavement. The women coming home we're a sisterhood. And so I'm an advocate. I'm an activist to make sure that the women receive the help and support that they need. I may have been broken and I'm still under construction. But I stand as a woman no longer broken but put together. [MUSIC PLAYING]