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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: An easy, scary decision to seek community

courtesy of Sarah Davis

This season of ReEntry Stories, we’ve focused on The Fringe Coffee House in Hamilton, which offers direct help to returning citizens, including a place to work.

In the first episode, we met Patrick Davis, who started The Fringe with his wife Sarah. And today we meet Sarah. She herself was also incarcerated until 2014. She talked with series producer Mary Evans.

(Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited lightly for length and clarity.)

Sarah Davis: So one of the things I feel like sort of saved my life during that experience was going through the dog program, and I trained dogs for three years. It sort of helped with my grief, with being away from my children and gave me a sense of purpose and something to pour my love into. I was also very involved in ministry. I was involved with the ministry called Signs of Life where you minister to music using sign language. I was part of a mentor group called Footsteps where we as lower security inmates would work with higher level security inmates with the hope of helping them change their behavior in hopes of eventually lowering their security level.

Mary Evans: All those activities inside prison helped Sarah keep her focus, and by the time she was released in 2014, she and Patrick were ready to take a giant next step and open The Fringe. I went there to talk with her last fall. When I arrived at the Fringe, I could smell the fresh coffee brewing. The patio was lit up by the sun. The day was too beautiful to waste. So I decided to interview Sarah outside.

Sarah Davis: Patrick had been doing Scars and Bars for years and years, so that's always been, you know, a good experience to go in there and to see the major need and to have experienced that need of people needing a job when they come home and not being able to get one because of having a felony. So when we sold our house, that was kind of like an easy decision for us. It was a scary decision. It was a long and hellish process, to be honest, to get it open. We definitely felt like that's what God had called us to do. But there were many times that we doubted along the way that it would ever happen and but knew there was definitely a need for people to have employment, to have a sense of community and people who understand what they've been through.

Mary Evans: It's been 18 months since The Fringe opened, and Sarah says it's going really well.

Sarah Davis: I think the most rewarding part for me has been like the overwhelming community support. Like when you launch something like this, you never know how the community will respond. And we've just been blown away at the people who come in and they literally tell us like, there's nothing you could do wrong from a business standpoint. They can give me the wrong drink. You can take too long to make my food, whatever. Even if you screw it up, I still support your mission so much I'm going to come back. And that part has been the most surprising to me, like how supportive people are of the mission.

Mary Evans: But Sarah didn't stop with The Fringe. When the position opened up at Dayton Correctional for Chaplain, she stepped forward.

Sarah Davis: We'd sort of gotten information from someone who works there that it would be coming available. You know, if you're interested, you may want to apply. And I did, but I honestly felt like this is like totally 50-50. This could go either way. Like, they know I've been there, like, but I'm going to try.

Mary Evans: And she got the job.

Sarah Davis: I say the first part of my life like I was, I was a nurse since I've always had that heart for people. But like on the other side of my own incarceration experience, I still have a heart for people, but it's in more meeting their emotional and spiritual needs. And so it's the dream job for me to be able to go back in there and tell the women, like, I've been where you are. Like, I know what you're experiencing as a mom.

Mary Evans: Sarah hopes to continue to be a beacon for those waiting to return. The Fringe Coffeehouse and the Fringe Church are still community supported and hope to expand in the Greater Miami Valley area in the future.

Sarah Davis: I think the key in anything in life and being successful is learning to be faithful right where you are. And like there was a time where I was a porter and I cleaned toilets and I took pride in that job and that was an important job. It was as important as anything else there. And that's kind of always been my motto in my heart. And so, yeah, this is where I'm at. This is the season God has me in.

ReEntry Stories comes from the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Mary Evans is a Dayton, Ohio-based activist, abolitionist, and journalist. She holds a BA in the Business of Interdisciplinary Media Arts from Antioch College. In 2022 she was awarded the Bob and Norma Ross Outstanding Leadership Award at the 71st Dayton NAACP Hall of Freedom Awards. She has been a Community Voices producer at WYSO since 2018. Her projects include: Re Entry Stories, a series giving space to system-impacted individuals and West Dayton Stories, a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant West Side. Mary is also the co-founder of the Journalism Lab and helps folks in the Miami Valley that are interested in freelance journalism reach some of their reporting goals.