YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Second chances – that’s the theme of Shauna Barry-Scott’s life. She’s a Youngstown woman who went to prison and was granted clemency by President Obama in 2015.
Her story is one of courage, resilience and making the most out of a second chance. Now Shauna dedicates her life to giving people like her another shot at success.
She comes from an area in Youngstown that used to be called “unemployment corner” in a part of the Westlake Terrace Housing Projects near Griffith Street. Shauna lived there in the 1980s.
“After the steel mills announced their closing and a lot of people ended up losing their jobs, they were used to getting up and going to work every day and they’d come here and congregate on this corner,” she said.
Then in the 1990s, crack cocaine hit Youngstown and that corner began serving an entirely different purpose. Shauna says hundreds of cars were going by on a daily basis and thousands of dollars were exchanging hands.
Shauna says parents in Westlake Terrace began spending their entire paychecks with the drug dealers on the corner, leaving a majority of the children in the projects without food or clothing.
At the time, she ran the Dare to Dream charity in Youngstown, which works to reinforce the family structure in the midst of poverty.
“I was probably the most unlikely person to ever be involved in drugs,” she said. “I foolishly tapped into the underground market and started selling myself to try and take care of a lot of people who couldn’t take care of themselves.”
When faced with children in desperate need of help, Shauna says the immediacy of drug money was hard to resist.
“It’s kind of hard, as a mother, to see somebody’s child go without. It was hard for me.”
Still, she says there’s no excuse for what she did.
“I should have used my intelligence. I should have used my resources.”
She admits she came to that conclusion too late. Shauna was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in a federal women’s prison in Alderson, West Virginia.
She spent ten years there before President Barack Obama’s Clemency Project came into her life. The Clemency Project was created to level out discrepancies between sentences for crack cocaine and those for other drugs in federal court.
Knowing that Shauna was sentenced under the tougher laws, her attorney began working to get her clemency. She was granted clemency in July of 2015 and released the following September.
“All I can do is tip my hat to him for giving me a second chance to do what I love to do better this time.”
But with ten years of supervised release, she wasn’t completely free of the federal system. The Youngstown STAR Re-entry Program is a model that could give her complete freedom sooner.
The program has multiple stages. The first 12 months are spent in direct supervision of two federal judges and probation officers.
Participants of the program have to report to re-entry court monthly, with the goal being to remain arrest- and drug-free, as well as being on their way to making milestones. That could include finding a job or house, or getting to know their family again.
Judge Benita Pearson, one of the two judges running the program, says it’s designed to build character in a year.
“That next phase can be without issue, without the re-arrest, the re-conviction, the re-incarceration, the return of shame, the further separation of family.”
Shauna is only one month away from finishing phase one of the program.
She wants to finish so she can move on to a personal project she came up with in prison called “New Freedom.” The idea stems from her past in community involvement, but focuses more on mental health and job training for ex-cons getting their lives back.
“A core component of the program is going to be training in the construction trades,” Shauna said. “We’re going to be teaching them to be journeymen, carpenters, roofers, painters, brick masonry workers.”
She even had the building picked out – the old expo center off of Belmont Avenue. However, three months before she was released, it was auctioned off to someone else.
Shauna is still holding out hope.
“It still hasn’t opened, so I’m hoping that he might be open to selling it.”
Location aside, the goal remains the same – giving returning citizens a second chance so Youngstown can have a second chance, too.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to use the workforce that we build here, to help rebuild some of the slum and blight housing that we’re plagued with in Youngstown.”
Shauna is writing grants for funding and working on creating a curriculum for the project.
Lester Scott, Shauna’s son, is helping his mom realize her dream.
“Basically what I’ve been doing is organizing community meetings, kind of planting the seeds for New Freedom Project,” he said.
Lester was 12 years old when his mother went to prison for selling drugs.
“It was devastating at first, you know, but you live. You gotta adjust and adapt to it,” he said.
In his neighborhood, having a family member in prison isn’t uncommon.
“Where I’m from, we deal with returning citizens every day,” Lester said.
The pair has a lot of ideas in the works for New Freedom Project, including teaching entrepreneurship and encouraging those in the community to get involved in politics.
Lester thinks they can launch the project in a year.
“Maybe not the full scale of everything we have planned, but just a starting point. Just to get our foot in the door.”
In the meantime, Shauna and her son plan to keep working on getting funding and support for the New Freedom Project.
Anyone interested in helping their efforts can contact Shauna by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.