The impact of an arrest, criminal charge, eviction or family court litigation can devastate someone psychologically and financially. Add to those stressors the reality of being a single mother in poverty, perhaps with a mental illness, and the barriers to recovery may feel insurmountable.
This situation is common in Oklahoma, which has the highest female incarceration rate in the country; however, mothers and female caregivers facing legal action in Tulsa have a place to turn for help: Still She Rises.
Originally a project of the Bronx Defenders, a public defender nonprofit in New York, Still She Rises began representing caregivers exclusively in criminal and civil court in 2017.
“We represent a wide variety of cases, from misdemeanor or municipal traffic cases to misdemeanor criminal offenses to felony offenses that carry the possibility of life in prison,” executive director Aisha McWeay says. “The unique thing about the organization … is that we are a holistic, interdisciplinary model, which means that we use a team approach.”
The nonprofit sits in the community it primarily serves: north Tulsa. Residents can be seen on a walk-in basis, and the staff also monitors women who have been arrested and live in the service area. Potential clients must be mothers or female caretakers of children. Each client is assigned an attorney, an investigator and a client advocate – each approaching the case from multiple angles to address a range of needs for an entire family.
“I find that the stakes are incredibly high for what happens – what level of representation is provided to a mother while a case is pending – because you’re not impacting just the one individual, but likely impacting multiple individuals with just the way the case maneuvers and navigates through the system,” McWeay says.
Funding for Still She Rises comes from national and local foundations and individuals; clients pay nothing. In nearly three years of operation, the Tulsa group has seen more than 1,100 clients and grown from six employees to almost 30, including attorneys, investigators, fellows and social workers.
The firm also advocates for other social issues, including bail reform and mitigating the disproportionate impact of court and legal fees on low-income and other populations, according to McWeay. Fighting to solve these problems promotes the community vision of Still She Rises.
“Success for this community, much larger than the organization, is that we [would be] in a place where we understand and value funding community resources,” McWeay says. “We significantly decrease the criminal legal system and have a system that actually supports the needs of the people that reside in that community.”
Walk-in services are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 567 E. 36th St. N.