Turning Leaf Founder Published in Stanford Social Innovation Review

 “Change is really hard, even under the best circumstances. People leaving prison attempt to change their whole lives with the cards stacked against them.”

So writes Turning Leaf Founder and Executive Director Amy Barch in an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) on July 7, 2021. The article, A Better Way to Keep People from Going Back to Prison, takes a look at what works at Turning Leaf and other re-entry organizations around the country with particular focus on the different ways Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is incorporated into the most successful programs.

While this is Barch’s first professional publication, it is by no means the first time she’s written about the challenges of re-entry. Since entering the field of prison reform in her early 20s, she’s spent countless hours researching and writing about the topic. The bespoke curriculum at Turning Leaf, which uses 25 life skills like “Setting Boundaries” and “Asking for Help,” was created by Barch. She has also written extensively about the early successes (and failures) of Turning Leaf at her blog.

“It’s an honor to be published,” says Barch. “It’s a validation of all the hard work we’ve done at Turning Leaf. When you launch a nonprofit with a clinical component, you have to be willing to change and grow. We’ve done that, and now that we’re putting in the work to prove our program is able to replicate and scale, it’s wonderful to have our accomplishments acknowledged by a journal like SSIR.”

Read full article at SSIR

Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Charleston Visits Turning Leaf

We were honored to host a group from Leadership Charleston for a tour of Turning Leaf last week. Leadership Charleston is a yearlong program that engages participants in experiences that help them become better community leaders. The Chamber has been running this program for over 45 years – offering an intensive and up-close look at the most challenging issues and opportunities facing our region. The group spends one of their day-long sessions focused on the criminal justice system.

With two-thirds of people re-arrested within three years of release, prison reentry is a huge challenge, not just for Charleston, but for all cities across the country. That’s why we were thrilled that the group spent two hours of their day with us, to learn about how we’re equipping people with the skills to succeed after prison and the role that organizations like Turning Leaf have in the widespread effort to end mass incarceration. Solving the issue of recidivism is an important part of reforming our criminal justice system. 

“These are the people who will go on to hold prominent positions in our community,” said Amy Barch, Turning Leaf’s Founder and Executive Director. “They’ll be making decisions that impact policy and economics for years to come. To be able to show them exactly what we’re doing here is invaluable.”

Amy also happens to be a Leadership Charleston alumnus. She was in the process of starting Turning Leaf as she was finishing the program in 2012. At that time, Leadership Charleston’s criminal justice day didn’t include a spotlight on prison reentry.

With students acting as tour guides, the 45 professionals spent approximately 90 minutes learning about five key pieces of the Turning Leaf program, including:

  • Turning Leaf’s history, from its humble beginnings at the Charleston County Jail to its current home on Leeds Avenue with eight full time staff;
  • The importance of role plays when practicing the 25 social skills taught to each Turning Leaf student; 
  • How crucial it is for a reentry program to run a social enterprise with a specific purpose, as well as compassion and professionalism;
  • A Turning Leaf graduate testimonial; and
  • Turning Leaf’s Founder and Executive Director’s vision for a proven reentry program that can be replicated across South Carolina, and eventually the country.

Collaboration between like-minded community organizations is key to solving complex, systemic issues. We are always excited to share our program with people interested in changing the world for the better.

Interested in scheduling a tour of the facility for your professional group? Contact Director of Marketing and Communication, Leah Rhyne, at lrhyne@turningleafproject.com.

Turning Leaf Visits Columbia Rotary Club

“I’ve always had a strong sense of fairness and equality, and an equally strong belief that people should get a fair shake in life,” said Turning Leaf Founder and Executive Director, Amy Barch, at a recent meeting of the Columbia Rotary Club in Columbia, South Carolina.

Barch was invited, along with Aulzue “Blue” Fields, to share the Turning Leaf story to this group ahead of the organization’s planned October 2021 opening of its second center. Speaking before a crowd of approximately 150 members, Amy first shared a bit of the “why” and “how” of Turning Leaf’s origin.

The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prison population. Since the 1980s there’s been a 500% increase in the country’s incarcerated people due mostly to policy changes and longer sentences. These were just a couple of the statistics that nudged Barch toward launching a nonprofit dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated men re-enter society. In 2011 she quit her day job and began volunteering in prisons during the day while waitressing at night.

The program she created based on proven methodologies includes 150 hours of group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one-on-one counseling, transitional employment in the Turning Leaf Print Shop, and post-graduation placement in a job with a livable wage, benefits, and opportunity for advancement.

CBT teaches fundamental life skills, she explained. “CBT is widely recognized as the most effective intervention that can change criminal behavior in youth and adults, in currently and formerly incarcerated populations.” Introducing the audience to Skill 18: Managing Frustrations, she explained how role plays allow Turning Leaf students to practice those skills in a safe environment.

Program graduate and staff member Aulzue “Blue” Fields also shared his story. “I lost my father to police brutality when I was eight years old,” he said. Raised to believe he had to be a man of the house, Fields turned to the streets as a way to make money. His disregard for the rules was established, as was a hatred for police. “These are the people who are supposed to help us, but these are also the people who took my father’s life,” he said.

Fields talked about his childhood on the streets; his seven-month stint in a juvenile detention facility; his 20 years in prison; and his lifetime of regret. “I took a life,” he said. “I have to live with that every single day.”

Turning Leaf’s program helped Fields to turn his life around. “When I got out of prison, I knew I’d rather die trying than go back. All I had left to try was Turning Leaf,” he said. “I got there, and I never left.”

As the Peer Specialist, he has a unique rapport with the students because he’s been there, just like them.

The two answered questions about Turning Leaf’s planned expansion before the meeting closed with a round of heavy applause and numerous thanks.

It was an honor for Turning Leaf to be invited to speak at the Columbia Rotary Club. We are all always thrilled for the opportunity to talk about our incredible students and the story behind the work we do.

Click this link to watch Amy Barch and Aulzue “Blue” Fields at the Columbia Rotary Club.


Mace Bill Would Modernize Due Process Rights (Post & Courier)

The most basic purpose of our justice system is to convict and punish the guilty while protecting the innocent and safeguarding the rights of all Americans. As part of that mission, rehabilitating offenders and helping them return to society should be a primary goal. Unfortunately, for decades, our criminal justice system has failed to fulfill this mandate.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace understands this, and her record proves it. Her time in public service is marked by significant achievements in criminal justice. And she works with anyone willing to work with her to make our justice system work for every American.

It created an opening for organizations such as Turning Leaf to help people become productive members of society after prison.

Read full article

The Turning Leaf Project Aims to Break Cycle (Sisters of Charity SC)

Communities often address crime through a cycle of prison time and release. This cycle leads them back to old habits, separated from their families and a drain on tax payer dollars. That is why The Turning Leaf Project (TLP) exists—to work with individuals who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system in order to provide the structure needed after release from jail.

The TLP was founded by Amy Barch, 36, founder and director, who has had a passion for working with incarcerated folk since her 20s.

“I became very interested in why people commit crimes and how we can effectively respond to that behavior as a community,” Barch said.

When Barch moved to Charleston in 2010 she was unable to find any meaningful volunteer opportunities in the field of reentry and rehabilitation for the incarcerated population. This led to her approaching the jail to teach classes in the evenings a few times a week.

Read full article

Turning Leaf is raising the stakes, and its profile, in recidivism (Post & Courier)

An audience at the Mount Pleasant library listens silently as three men calmly talk about violence, the crimes they’ve committed, the drugs they’ve sold — and the reason they quit.

She’s sitting in the front row.

The men are students of Amy Barch’s Turning Leaf Project, a local nonprofit working to quell the epidemic of recidivism. And the program appears to be a rousing success.

That is not hyperbole, just math. Nationally, 67 percent of people released from prison will be re-arrested for another crime within three years.

In the past two years, the rate for Turning Leaf graduates is 19 percent.

That’s an amazing statistic and, as a result, Barch has a growing national reputation in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy. Other cities and states send emissaries to study her work and hire Turning Leaf to consult on their own recidivism projects.

Read full article