I am ambitious with hope!
by Coral Smith, #LwC2020
April 28, 2020
I am the Vice President of Empowered to Change, an organization I co-founded in 2014. Based in Seminole, Florida, we provide direct services to people who suffer from addiction and homelessness or who are victims of human trafficking or life circumstance. Our goal is to inspire our clients to launch into a place of self-sufficiency. Our services include food and clothing for returning citizens, employment coaching, safe housing, and family, trauma, and substance abuse counseling. I believe very strongly in redemption and second chances, and I know our organization has filled a void in our state: we’ve grown by 600 percent since our founding!
I spend a lot of my time at the state capitol in Tallahassee working with other advocates to bring about desperately needed criminal justice reforms in my state. My main priorities right now are sentencing reform and expanding rehabilitative services in our corrections facilities. Here in Florida a person has to serve 85 percent of their sentence before they can go home. This is an overly punitive law that doesn’t improve public safety and is a major reason for over-incarceration. I’ve been lobbying for a bill drafted by the Florida Justice League that would lower the time spent to 65 percent if the individual completed rehabilitative programs inside the institution. If enacted, the bill would not only lead to the release of men and women who should no longer be incarcerated; it would force the state to invest in badly needed prison rehabilitative services. We want programs that provide education, anger management, parenting skills, restorative justice, counseling services, and support groups of all kinds, including the full gamut of spiritual support. I believe in the “trifecta theory” which teaches that a person’s physical, mental and spiritual states are equally important, and when any of those elements are out of alignment, a person is vulnerable to substance abuse, relapse or recurrence. I use my voice to fight for criminal justice and prison reform and to influence legislation to create a holistic community.
I started Empowered to Change based on my own experience of incarceration, and initially I saw myself as a service provider. But about six years after my release, I attended a retreat for formerly incarcerated women and it was there that I discovered that I was truly passionate about advocacy for human rights in general, and the criminal process in particular. I realized that those of us who were closest to the problem were closest to the solution because we understood both aspects: We are now law abiding citizens as well as having been formerly incarcerated; we’re criminal justice-impacted, and so we know what the in’s and the out’s look like. I was recently in a meeting with a Department of Corrections representative and I told him that I have a map of every institution up on a wall in my office, and that we were going to work on reforming every single one of them. He said, “You’re pretty ambitious with hope,” and I said, “Yes, I am.”
The Leading with Conviction forum was amazing! I’m looking forward to the next one and discovering what we’re going to learn, and how we’re going to be together, and how we’re going to grow as people and as leaders and world changers.
Coral Nichols is a certified life coach and a sought after public speaker. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Human Services/Marriage and Family Therapy and is currently working on a Master of Divinity Degree.