Richmond story maker: upholding social justice, Shiba Williams works to help people with beliefs thrive

2022 Richmond History of Creators Award

RICHMAND, Virginia (WRIC) – Shiba Williams believes her work to uphold the rights of prisoners and those previously convicted has chosen her, not the other way around.

Like someone out first-hand experience with how belief creates barriers for a person, Williams sought to help others who faced similar circumstances. Williams, her parents, sister and husband have a criminal record, but she says it tells only one side of the story.

She said Williams was convicted of a non-violent crime as she mistakenly told 8News, and sentenced to probation when she was young and her husband was arrested as a teenager and spent nearly 20 years in prison before being acquitted and released she said. Their records posed many challenges to them, including when it came to finding a job.

“We have submitted more than 1,000 job applications between us and we have not received a single call. It was directly related to convictions for serious crimes, ”Williams said.

Williams, a graduate of John Marshall High School and Norfolk State University, said she sought help for herself and her family, a process that shed light on the lack of resources available to people with a criminal record and sparked her advocacy work.

“There were programs for people coming out of prisons,” she explained. “There were programs to release people from federal prison, but when you were released from the Department of Corrections, you were simply told, ‘Contact a probation officer in 72 hours and don’t get in trouble.’ There weren’t many resources. “

Williams decided to do something about it by setting up a nonprofit to help people in the Richmond area who are facing the same challenges. Now, six years later, Williams Fr. Richmond History Makers Award 2022 for “Champion of Social Justice.” She will be celebrated with her fellow admirers during a celebration hosted by The Valentine on Tuesday, March 8th.

“It’s weird, I don’t think it’s really pledged,” she said, adding that the work made her think about the significance of the award.

“I still don’t know who made the recommendation, but someone will pay,” Williams said, laughing. “But it is definitely an honor. I’m from this city. I was born and raised in Richmond, and I’ve always seen people who support the community. “

Williams is the founder and CEO Nolef turns, a criminal justice advocacy group working to reduce recidivism. The nonprofit helps people in the Richmond area in several ways: from helping those who go through the criminal justice system, to distributing food and test kits to COVID-19.

William says Nolef Turns is not a traditional program because it focuses on the individual needs of the people it helps. The advocacy group, consisting of volunteers, mentored children whose parents are in the prison system or who themselves go through detention centers.

Williams said Nolef Turns’ support could be different from helping people navigate the complexities of the legal system, subscribing to programs such as SNAP and Medicaid, and donating tablets to students. The group distributed food, medicine, masks, hand sanitizers and test kits for COVID-19 during the pandemic.

“Every day is different. Everyone is different. We sit down and set goals that are specific to a person, ”Williams said, explaining that there is no leadership or plan in the work.

Williams spoke about the side effects faced by people with a criminal record, pointing to discrimination in housing and employment problems.

“Having a criminal record is probably one of the few things for which people can legally discriminate against a person. So, in order not to rely on social services and various non-profit organizations, if people are able to work and earn a living, they are integrated into this community, ”Williams said.

“Many believe that people are just committing crimes for no reason. If you look at the root causes of crime, then most criminal acts are due to lack of resources, due to behavioral health problems, due to drug-related disorders. But people will not cure the problem. ”

But Williams said there are other obstacles people face with beliefs that others may not think about, including when trying to become foster parents or volunteer to be companions on their child’s school trip.

After the 2016 presidential election and increased attention to suffrage, Williams said Nolef Terns was transferred to a new position to defend those who were disenfranchised because of the record. She hopes lawmakers will eventually be able to vote and pass a bill amending the constitutional amendment to automatically restore the voting rights of people with convictions after their release.

Although her workload and coverage of Nolef Tourns continue to expand, Williams said she is proud to be honored as the creator of Richmond’s story. But still, advocacy comes first.

“Just to be recognized and I feel like a child in this advocacy space. It seems to me that I didn’t do and halve as much as I wanted, but just being recognized to have someone pat you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I see you,” is just a weird feeling. Much remains to be done, ”Williams said.

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