The house of Ardella seeks the dignity of incarcerated women

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Tonie Willis opened up about these obstacles in an interview with WHYY’s Cherri Gregg.

“A high percentage of women are mothers and when they come home they have to be mothers and they don’t even have a chance to deal with the trauma of incarceration,” Willis said. “Often their primary caregiver meets them at the door with the children to hand the children over to the mother.”

Willis is the founder of Ardelle’s house, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that supports incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls. The group recently renovated a property in North Philadelphia that will provide transitional housing for women returning from prison.

Tonie Willis, the founder of Ardella’s House, speaks at an open house. (Cherri Gregg / WHY)

“Housing is always a challenge,” Willis said. “Often women can’t go back to where they were before they were incarcerated or they may not want to go back because that’s the environment that led to their incarceration.”

The five-bedroom home is located on the 2400 block of North 33rd Street. The bright space includes a resource center in the basement, a large kitchen and a common area. The first floor will also house the headquarters of the House of Ardella.

“I fixed this house like I lived here,” Willis said. “Everything is brand new. Everything is high end, and all women have to do is come here and get on with their lives.

The Ardella’s House halfway house resource center for formerly incarcerated women, located in the 2400 block of 33rd Street N. (Cherri Gregg/WHY)

Willis says the women will be able to stay in the house for up to a year, and 75% of the rent they pay will be kept in a savings account and returned to the women when they move out.

“We’re going to make sure they have everything they need to be successful once they leave here,” said Willis, who notes that all residents receive clothing, linens, toiletries and other necessities as they further their education and find employment.

Rooms in Ardella’s House halfway house for formerly incarcerated women, located in the 2400 block of 33rd Street N. (Cherri Gregg/WHY)
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