Queens-native Kat Stroke is a resident at Hope House, a safe housing space in the Bronx for women and girls recently released from prison or jail. Stroke spent six months incarcerated, and credits Hope House with keeping her from going back.
"It's good, everybody is very helpful. You know, I'm just trying to do the right thing this time around,” said Stroke.
Hope House is one of six programs aimed at ending poverty and incarceration of women and girls offered by The Ladies of Hope Ministries, founded five years ago by Topeka K. Sam.
Born in Harlem and raised in Suffolk County by business-owner parents, Sam was in college in Baltimore when she says she started dating men who were drug dealers. Eventually she started selling cocaine, and was arrested in 2012.
"The judge told me that I was a drug queen pin and a threat to society and no bail,” said Sam.
Sam would spend three years in federal prison, and while there says she spoke with fellow inmates about how they got there and about their drug use.
"With women, it was sexual trauma and violence, substance misuse, mental health issues that lead them to coping with other mechanisms,” said Sam.
Among those benefitting from Sam's work is Harlem-native Cheryse Murray, who takes care of just about everything around Hope House. She is appreciative Sam gave her a chance to work after spending more than 17 years in prison.
"Nobody never gave me an opportunity when I came home, so she gave me an opportunity so that means I have to show her more of my ability to succeed,” said Murray.
Hope House Coordinator Maya Scott said she started working for The Ladies of Hope Ministries around a month ago after serving more than 21 years in prison.
“Working here is an opportunity to move forward to what I want to do to build my life from here on out,” said Scott.
Topeka Sam was able to do just that, and plans on assisting many other women to do the same.
"We are able to help people every single day, keep safe roofs over peoples’ head, empower them to be able to know that they deserve more, and they are not their worst mistake,” said Sam, who added that service for her is what gives her joy.