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This van service for prison visits is rebuilding Philly families, one ride at a time

Ride and Rebuild founder Crystal Wyatt. August 23, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongPurpose
Returning citizens face countless challenges when reintegrating into society, among them finding steady employment and housing. But what about those who were home the whole time — the people holding down the families left behind by those incarcerated?

West Philadelphia native Crystal Wyatt is rebuilding local families through reliable transportation to Pennsylvania prisons. Her business, Ride and Rebuild, transports families to and from locations as close as SCI Graterford, which is 36 miles from Philadelphia, to ones farther away like SCI Somerset, which is 240 miles away.

After the 47-year-old fell in love with a man who became incarcerated, she felt the loss at home, along with his three children and the rest of his family. Her partner was placed three hours away, making it extremely difficult for her and his family to visit him in person. However, this adversity helped her brainstorm the concept of what is now Ride and Rebuild, established in 2011.

Initially, Ride and Rebuild was focused on supporting men in prison and helping them re-enter the communities after their term. However, after her romantic relationship ended, Wyatt shifted her focus to the women supporting the men who were incarcerated.

“I still had to do it,” she explained. “There are a lot of women that still have to keep moving, keep pushing and doing what their heart and spirit is telling them to do.”

<em>Crystal Wyatt. (Photo by Danielle Corcione)</em>

Crystal Wyatt. (Photo by Danielle Corcione)

Wyatt estimates Black women are approximately 98 percent of her clientele. Some other stats that inform her business:

  • According to The Sentencing Project, people of color make up 67 percent of the United States prison population, despite making up only 37 percent of the country’s overall population.
  • One in every three Black men is likely to be incarcerated at some point in his life compared to one in every 17 white men.

This data reveals that Black women of color who serve as caretakers to Black men are more disproportionately affected by mass incarceration, making a service like Ride and Rebuild even more urgent.

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“[The women are] the sole providers for their families as well as the men who are incarcerated,” Wyatt said. “These men aren’t necessarily husbands. They’re sons, grandsons, fathers, boyfriends, uncles. We have women footing the bill emotionally, financially, physically. I would love to have more financial support to support the women.”

A huge challenge both her business and clients face is when clients can’t show up for their scheduled visits. For one, “there is a brother who was expecting a visit that day and he’s not getting it,” Wyatt said. But because women of color suffer from higher rates of poverty, face harsher workplace discrimination, and are hurt more by the gender pay gap compared to their white counterparts, this challenge is often an economic one.

“The population I deal with is financially strapped, so sometimes, the women have to make a choice,” she said. “Are they going to visit or going to send him money?”

Ride and Rebuild (Photo by Danielle Corcione)

Ride and Rebuild, LLC. (Photo by Danielle Corcione)

Wyatt’s background in the nonprofit world helped her start the business. Currently, she serves on the board of directors of theVillage, a foster care and children’s mental health organization, and she cofounded the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice.

For the past two years, she’s sometimes relied on another driver, but Wyatt wears all the different hats of being a small business owner. She’s a one-woman show who drives clients, manages reservations, manages social media channels and handles accounting.

More funding, including donations through PayPal via her website, would enable Ride and Rebuild to hire another driver more often, hire someone to market her business, purchase another van and help supplement rides to women in need, Wyatt said. Although the business currently has two vehicles — a 15-passenger van and a smaller minivan — she is constantly putting mileage on both of them.

In the past, Wyatt has received a grant from mental health organization Hope & Grace, and this summer, she received funding from Safety Pin Box (SPB), a monthly subscription service to educate white people about racial justice. SPB’s Black Women Being Fund uses funds from its white subscribers to center and help fund Black women serving their communities.

A long-term goal is for her business to expand: Currently, she only provides rides to prisons located in Pennsylvania.

“When you’re doing this kind of work, you don’t take time out to see how far you’ve come,” Wyatt said. “When someone from the outside acknowledges you’ve done this work, you sit there and say, ‘God is not in vain,’ because you want to give up sometimes. This is hard work.”

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