BRENTWOOD, New York -- While most 19-year-olds are just starting their adult lives, Serena Liguori was in prison.
"It was certainly a really tough experience," said Liguori of Long Island. "Coming home as a 21-year-old from prison is not something people normally understand, and on Long Island, there's almost nobody who understands what that means."
During her time in prison, she found that resources were scarce concerning women's health care, mental health, and support services.
Liguori resolved that no other woman or child affected by the criminal justice system would feel like she did when she was released.
Since there are no other agencies dedicated to empowering women and children impacted by incarceration on Long Island, Liguori created the nonprofit New Hour in 2015.
"When an incarcerated female comes home, you embrace them," said Laquita Brooks, who joined the program at its launch. "You let them know that you are not the only one out there, and there's hope. We have a whole world out here of advocacy and people that fight for women like us."
Their staff is composed of women, all of whom have either been incarcerated or have family members who have been.
The programs include 12 weekly jail-based programs to support mothers and women across Long Island through parenting classes, reentry planning, and a nursery program for new mothers with babies in the Suffolk County jail.
In 2019, New Hour provided programming to over 1,000 detained women, and just last year, they supplied supportive programming to over 600 detained women.
"When I first came here, I had a lot of negativity inside me," said Deanna Pettawy, a New Hour member. "I had a lot of anger inside of me. I had a lot of hurt inside of meeting." She credits New Hour and its Emerge program with helping her release that anger.
The program gives women reentering society the skills to become effective advocates for themselves, their families, and social justice causes.
Liguori is looking forward to resuming in-person courses again.
"We needed to create a space where people's stories and experiences were valued," Liguori said. "Where you didn't have to feel overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and stigma. Incarceration is the punishment for the crime. It's the way of being held accountable. After you are released, you shouldn't have to still suffer those collateral consequences, including the shame and stigma."
Contact Community Journalist Alex Ciccarone