Farm to help female ex-cons being developed near Graham

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — A plan to help women exiting prison is moving forward faster than expected, prompting some concerns in the Mount Hermon community, near Graham.

Benevolence Farm plans to open a working farm and home for women just out of prison.

“More than 2,600 women come out of North Carolina prisons each year and many of them don’t have the resources that they need to successfully transition back into their communities,” said Tanya Jisa, a social worker who developed the plan for the farm.

The idea is to give women who volunteer for the program a chance to learn new skills and have a stable home for six months to two years following their release — a time when many people struggle

“These are women who have served out their sentences with the Department of Public Safety,” said Jisa. “They have been deemed ready to return to the community and, more importantly, these women are recognizing that they need some help.”

Eleven acres were being developed for the farm off Thompson Mill Road. Housing for 12 women was also going to be built. It was set to open in the fall of 2015.

Instead, the purchase of a home adjacent to the land will speed up the plans with two women possibly being able to move into the house by the fall of 2014 and two more in early 2015.

That has some concerned neighbors scrambling to alert the community and hoping to convince Jisa to not allow violent offenders or women who hurt children to stay at Benevolence Farm.

“I want to know that our community is safe,” said Debbie Coble Newell, who lives just down the road from the planned farm.

Coble Newell believes others will also be concerned about the impact to their property value.

“If I were going to sell, who wants to buy property next to that? Nobody; so you’re property value is going to go into the dirt,” said Coble Newell.

Coble Newell said she learned about the halfway house from a postcard that went to her church. She feels attempts by Benevolence Farm to alert neighbors about plans for the farm have been half-hearted.

Jisa said before April, move-in plans were more than one year away but since then she’s held one community meeting about the farm and welcomes more.

“The community is anxious to share more of their feelings and thoughts with us and we are very committed to continuing this conversation and hoping to find some common ground,” said Jisa.

8 comments

  • GeoThom

    Coble Newell’s comments are so ironic.
    First she says she hears of the plans for this farm at her Church,
    Then goes on a rant about her property values being lowered.
    The women coming out of the penitentiary will most likely keep that farm beautiful.
    They may even turn the farm into something beautiful and productive.

    I am Christian, and just like our Lord God Jesus that I worship and fear,
    I don’t care much for Churches either.
    I feel this is as good a time as any to proclaim this.

    I do hope that Ms. Newell and her Church will read these words,
    and get involved by accepting the idea into the community,
    by offering these women the sincere positive help that they need.
    There may be some folks that will not want to move there.
    There will be others that will want to move there to offer their help too.

    If I had my pick of neighbors,
    I would definitely wish for the latter.

    • Snow Camper

      I am Christian and I am one of the community members that will be affected by this. I know people who work with this program, yet I think Debbie’s requests are perfectly reasonable. No women with records of violence against children? Totally reasonable in my opinion, given the volume and proximity of families with children in the immediate vicinity.

      The last time I checked, there’s only one being that gets to judge our actions…and it ain’t you. If you’re completely free of sin, then you can sit in judgment. Just sayin’.

  • A Concerned Community Member

    Ask Tanya Jisa if she plans on living at Benevolence Farm. She’ll tell you she will not. Neither will the folks on their Board. So, I wonder why she feigns surprise that the surrounding community is not excited about it? It’s also really interesting that most, if not all, of the folks on the BF Board are not from Alamance County, nor are they from North Carolina. Again, they feign surprise that a community would take offense or express any concern? *Gasp*

  • Mike

    By law,you cant restrict this to only females, thats sexist discrimination by gender. There is one issue, and as a neighbor to this I will use every method possible to shut this down. Expect protests. The people that owned that home to begin with weren’t “clean” if you will.

    Either this needs to be restricted to minor charges to protect the kids in the neighborhood or moved elsewhere.

    The percentage of people leaving prison and going back soon after is too high to justify their reasoning. The farm will earn them a profit that’s all they care about, I on the other hand will not lose any sleep worrying about what my neighbors are doing.

    You chose to put this is a secluded country neighborhood, of which all the neighbors are friendly and help each other and you’re trying to kill it.

    Safety before profit. Move it somewhere else. By the way this is what section 8 housing is for.

    • Supporter from Alamance County

      Mike,
      There is no gender discrimination here. Housing support services are free to restrict house members to one gender only.
      Benevolence Farm’s goal is not profit. Unfortunately, it is likely the farm will never be profitable because the cost to support the land, the housing, and the therapeutic needs of the women will be more than the funds raised by the crops sold.
      And last, formerly incarcerated persons are not eligible for Section 8 housing.
      I hope this helps address your concerns.

  • Sunflowerz

    Having a loved one become incarcerated was a humbling experience for me, and greatly altered my views about prisons and prisoners. There are some folks who are hardened criminals. There are also those who have made mistakes they deeply regret, and will regret for the rest of their lives. I am thankful Benevolence Farm is trying to help women develop all the skills necessary to lead productive lives and not return to prison. These women have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance. Frankly, I would be surprised if women who are known to be ex-prisoners would be foolish enough to commit crimes against folks living next to them. I would think there is more “danger” from the former inmates living and working all around us. And I would be very surprised if women who were in prison for violent crimes or crimes against children would target someone living nearby. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the crimes that sent them to prison were committed in the context of their own domestic situation and/or the women were accessories to a crime committed by someone else.

  • Ben

    I think our county will be improved by this kind of program, and I am sorry to hear that a few neighbors in Mt Hermon don’t see it that way. But it’s important to remember that this is a free country. If you believe in property rights (which I do), then you have to see that Benevolence Farm came into this property honestly, and are free to do with it what they please. If you believe in law and order (which I do), then you have to admit that when the prison system sees fit to release someone, they have done their time and deserve a chance at a fresh start; their punishment is over. If you believe in Jesus (which I do), then you might remember when he said “I was in prison and you visited me … as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.” Not everyone will be enthusiastic about Benevolence Farm’s mission. But don’t try to stand in their way. It won’t work, and at the end of the day, you’re just trying to stop them from doing some good in the world.

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