Pauline Rogers operates the RECH Foundation alongside her husband. Photo by Acacia Clark
Pauline Rogers watched her mother kill her father in an act of self-defense when she was a little girl. Originally from Vancleave, Miss., Rogers was born and raised in a family where she was one of 11 siblings, and she grew up doing petty crimes like shoplifting, and eventually found herself in prison.
Now, she works as the president and CEO of the Reaching and Educating for Community Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing and support services to those affected by crime and incarceration.
"My mother believed in hard work, and that hard work paid off. And that was instilled in me, that work ethic. When I got to prison, I was in culture shock. When I got there, I saw people like me, and I thought, 'I need to do something about this.' That was my mindset," Rogers says.
While she was in prison, she met Chaplain Wendy Hatcher, a British woman who was the first hired female chaplain of the state. Rogers began working for her in prison, and Hatcher became her mentor.
Rogers even lived with Hatcher for three years after she was released from prison, which went against all MDOC rules; she moved out when she got married to her husband, Frederick Rogers, who had been incarcerated for 16 years.
"She saw people," Rogers says of Hatcher. "She looked beyond the most heinous of crimes and mentored you with the best that she could. ... I was a prisoner, but I don't know if I could've done what she did. ... I'm still grateful for what she did for me and how she helped turn my life around."
Both realizing they had a call for prison reform and ministry based on their own life experiences, Pauline and Frederick Rogers created the RECH Foundation in 1987. It started when the Rogers opened up the third room in their home to a woman who needed transitional housing, and the foundation is now a 27-acre re-entry campus located in south Jackson.
"We plan to get it structured to the point where it lives on beyond us. That the work continues. Because it's needed," Rogers says now.
They have a program called MORE, Mississippi Offender Reentry Establishment, that provides ex-offenders with training to assist them in making a successful transition back into society and the workforce.
The program teaches life skills, mentoring, workforce development and more.
In Mississippi, Rogers would like to see improvement regarding things like prison conditions, voter disenfranchisement and restoring the rights of ex-offenders.
"Every day I wake up and it's a constant proving of yourself. And when you constantly prove yourself, what you've learned is to take it and pour it into somebody else. That's what it is for me. Strengthen your brother, your sister," Rogers says.
Rogers also insists that improving criminal justice would help to improve the community as a whole
The RECH Foundation will have its annual gift giveaway to children of prisoners on Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. at New Horizon Church in Jackson.
On Dec. 14 at 9 a.m., it will be packaging the gifts for the event. Volunteers are welcome for both days.
Learn more about Pauline Rogers and the RECH Foundation at the organization's website, rechfoundationms.org.