SPARTANBURG — In 2013, Nannie Jefferies began visiting women in the Spartanburg County Jail. She hoped to offer encouragement and a connection, to let these women know that someone cares.
It didn’t take long before Jefferies began to notice a trend: A high percentage of the women she met had been in jail more than once.
“I would ask them, ‘What would it take for you not to go back to jail after you get out?’ ” Jefferies said. “And we set about to make that happen.”
With support from several community donors and from the church she pastors — Maranatha Free Church of Jesus Christ – she founded Angels Charge Ministry.
The non-profit organization provides transitional housing for women who have been incarcerated. It is the only such program for women in Spartanburg County, according to Jefferies. Angels Charge also provides case management to connect these women with medical providers, mental health and drug addiction counseling, adult education, job training, and other services.
A $5,000 grant from the Spartanburg Regional Foundation will fund behavioral health counseling, medications and dental care for women in the program.
“The Spartanburg Regional Foundation has shown they believe in us, and we are grateful,” said Theresa Mann Bowles, an Angels Charge board member and active volunteer.
Bowles and Jefferies explained that there are more programs to support men — rather than women — who have been incarcerated and are working to re-enter society. Though the overall number of men in jail remains higher than the number of women, Spartanburg County has the highest number of women incarcerated in the state, Jefferies said.
Many of these women have battled drug or alcohol addictions that led to theft or prostitution. Some have children in the care of the Department of Social Services.
Underlying factors can be varied — and complex. Jefferies has worked with women who were abused by a spouse or boyfriend. One woman was sexually abused by her father as a teenager, and she eventually gave birth to his child.
“This happened right here in our sweet little town,” Jefferies said, adding that such experiences have caused women “to simply want to numb the pain.”
There are others who just lost their way at some point, reeling from a personal loss or other life changes that left them unable to cope. Bowles pointed out that Angels Charge works with women of diverse backgrounds.
“These problems aren’t confined to any one socioeconomic group,” she said.
The organization is currently supporting nine women in transitional housing. There are two homes — one in the City of Spartanburg and one in the county — and a third house is undergoing renovations. Other women in the program may live on their own or with family members but take part in mental health counseling, GED classes, or other services through Angels Charge and its partnering organizations.
Angels Charge is one of 16 community organizations receiving a Foundation grant this year. These grants address a wide range of health and wellness needs in the community – from dental care for low-income children and support for children with autism to programs that provide food for those who are hungry and more.