This interview was originally featured in Tech For Equity Updates — a biweekly newsletter about Change Machine’s platform, including upcoming trainings, and insights from our community of practice. Subscribe today!
Brittany K. Barnett is a best-selling author, attorney, entrepreneur, and the founder of the Buried Alive Project and Girls Embracing Mothers. We spoke with Brittany on what true systemic change looks like for justice-impacted people and how we can work toward preserving relationships between incarcerated mothers and their children.
What is the importance of building financial security for Black and Brown women?
The financial freedom workshop we did with Change Machine for justice-involved women at Girls Embracing Mothers was part of our healing justice workshops. When you feel good, you do good, and it’s so important for people to feel their worth in their surroundings.
Through all of my work with Girls Embracing Mothers and the Buried Alive Project, I realized that we can’t keep rescuing people from prison and restoring them to poverty. I discuss in my TED Talk that we have to really help justice-impacted people be put in positions to flourish. I’m holding this vision of sustainable liberation and for me, that must include economic freedom.
How does your work with Change Machine contribute to healing justice?
Change Machine might not look at it like this, but you all are intervening on generational trauma from a lack of financial resources. It’s that $100 extra income we’re holding on to — because we don’t know where the next $100 is coming from — instead of investing it, saving it in a bank, and collecting interest. This scarcity mindset prevents people, women of color in particular, from participating in the financial markets to create generational wealth.
Through this intervention on generational trauma, what we’re all doing — and Change Machine included — is bringing practices that can transform the consequences of oppression and how it shows up in our lives.
How can we center the needs of women who are currently incarcerated?
Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population. Texas incarcerates more women by sheer number than any other state in the country and roughly 80% of women in Texas prisons are mothers.
This country spends roughly $80 billion a year on incarceration. If these funds are reallocated to healthcare, education, mental health wellness, and financial security, we’ll bring these programs into prison so people have the tools they need to not just survive when they get out of prison, but to thrive. We are advocating for more practical programming for women, which involves teaching women’s skills in plumbing, electricity, and more male-dominated industries.
We truly feel that re-entry begins the day a person enters prison. Being able to have these real-world skills in place is very necessary, especially for women who are oftentimes primary caregivers of their families when they’re incarcerated.
Women should be leading the way and be at the center of any movement surrounding them. We want to ensure policies such as the federal Second Chance Act not only allocate funds for re-entry organizations, but also empower justice-impacted women to lead the way.