ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – With help from the You Paid For It team, the path appears clear for an organization helping women get out of prison.

Recently, Elliott Davis talked to Shawntelle Fisher, President and CEO of the SoulFisher Ministries in north St. Louis County. After spending 14 years in prison, Fisher came out and earned three bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree.

She also started the SoulFisher Ministries nonprofit to help other women once they’re released from prison.

SoulFisher Ministries received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and a $1.6 million grant from the Department of Justice. The money will help with one big long-term goal: A center to help women recently freed from prison.

“We have received a residential building permit,” said Fisher. “We’re ready and excited about being able to finally go in and begin renovations on the residential side of the property. We’re still awaiting the building permit for the commercial side, but we have been reassured that it is in the works and that we should be receiving it shortly.”

At first, Fisher ran into opposition from the City of Pagedale when they wanted to locate a center in that North County town. The facility would help women with job training, housing, and mental health, among other things, to ease their transition from prison back to life on the outside .

Pagedale Mayor Faye Millett was initially against it, saying she didn’t want felons in her city. Things began to change after we aired the story.

Then came another twist. At first, it seemed like smooth sailing for Soul Fisher Ministries to spend $700,000 to renovate its building to use as a center to help women newly released from prison. But a roadblock surfaced when one official threatened to block it.

You Paid For It prepared a follow-up story, but Fisher informed me that she had gotten the all-clear. She admits it’s been a challenge.

“Extremely challenging from the first time that we came on to talk about it. It was at a standstill, so we had to work through different layers of authority,” said Fisher. “I think some people still have a bad taste in their mouth about felons, but I’m living proof that lives can be transformed with the right amount of support.”

“People transforming back into the community after incarceration can become amazing contributors to our community,” she continued. “When we try to shut them out, we not only hinder them, but we hinder progress and economic development in our very community.”

Now with the green light, SoulFisher Ministries plans to open a Pagedale center in April 2024. Fisher credits You Paid for it for helping things along.

“Your involvement definitely had a huge impact. Thank you, You Paid For It, for making this opportunity available to us to shine a light on the issue that we were having.”