Clare House offers compassion, life skills to women leaving prison

Sister Grace Ann Witte, former BCU sociology professor and a Franciscan sister of Dubuque, Iowa, helped found the Clare Guest House nine years ago.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — From its exterior, Clare Guest House looks like a well-kept older home in a nice, quiet neighborhood.

Yet the purpose of the house, located at 1918 Douglas St., is to provide a helping hand to female inmates during their first few months of freedom.

“The women who don't successfully rejoin the community typically fail in the first two or three months.”

— Sr. Grace Ann Witte, Clare House co-founder

"After they've done their time, women inmates really have nothing except debts racked up from fines, court costs and attorney fees," Clare Guest House director Sister Gwen Hennessey remarked. "The women also lack the job skills and the people skills to make it in the outside world."

This is where Clare Guest House comes into play. The transitional house, founded in 2005, provides a supportive community, mentoring the women as they look for work, a place to live and a new way of life.

Operated by the Dubuque, Iowa-based Sisters of St. Francis, the home has helped more than 70 women transition back into society over the past nine years according to Hennessey. She was one of the Clare Guest House founders.

Sister Grace Ann Witte, another one of Clare Guest House founders and a former Briar Cliff University sociology and criminology professor, said readjusting to the outside is a very stressful time.

"The stigma of prison makes it difficult as (guests) look for housing, try to find a job, try to pay bills and reunite with family," she said. "The women who don't successfully rejoin the community typically fail in the first two or three months, usually for financial reasons."

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Tags: BCU, Sociology, Social Work, Criminal Justice, Alumni, Campus Ministry, Justice, BCU in the Media, Local Media