Felisa Bryant, The IF Project’s Director of Programs
Felisa Bryant says that she had always been a driven individual, but throughout the course of her life she had to learn how to channel that energy in a positive and constructive way.
“Ever since I was a child,” Felisa says, “I always told myself that one day I would become a doctor, or at least have a doctorate degree—I didn’t know in what, I didn’t know how, I didn’t even know why—but I always told myself that I would achieve that dream.”
All throughout her incarceration, Felisa held onto that dream. She had already obtained a bachelor’s degree, but unfortunately the institution offered very limited educational outlets. Still, she took advantage of every available option. After successfully completing a horticultural course, Felisa became the Teaching Assistant for the program, and she even discovered a hidden talent for floral design.
Because of her newly acquired horticultural skills, upon her release, Felisa quickly secured a job working for the company that supplied flowers to the institution for the program that she had completed while incarcerated.
“I was incarcerated for literally one day under five years,” she says. “The DOC released me on December 26th, 2012. They told me that it was my Christmas present.”
Before long, Felisa was offered a prime position at a brand-new grocery store opening in Normandy Park, and she was even tasked with designing her own department.
“That was a huge confidence builder for me,” Felisa says, “because they all knew about my record. I was very up front with them and they were willing to give me a chance. I had keys to the store and to the safe. I did daily deposits. I did all of that with a criminal record.”
Felisa still had dreams of one day obtaining her doctorate degree, but she hadn’t yet decided which direction to go with her studies.
“I asked myself, ‘What am I going to get the degree in, and how am I going to use it?’ So, I began looking at everything that I was going through with my own reentry. It was then that I decided to get my doctorate in psychology, but not for the clinical side. I basically wanted to use it to shape policy, because I wanted to shake some stuff up!”
For Felisa, it was all onwards and upwards from there. After leaving the grocery store, she began working for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle as a Participant Navigator, and eventually she was promoted to the Director of Workforce Development. In this role, Felisa worked with both employers and community members alike to develop programs and resources designed to bridge gaps in employment barriers.
Felisa had first heard about The IF Project years ago while incarcerated at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), when it had first been introduced by Seattle Police Department (SPD) Detective Kim Bogucki, and fellow incarceree, Renata Abramson. Felisa was so impressed with the program that she vowed to one day work for the organization. She still recalls participating in the writing sessions and answering the “IF question”: If there was something someone could have said or done to change the path that led you here, what would it have been?
Growing up, Felisa’s father was both a preacher as well as a military member. She says it was almost natural that she had rebelled. However, looking back, Felisa wishes that she had listened more to her parents.
“In answering the IF question, I went back to my childhood and the lessons my parents tried to instill in me. I fall back on those lessons now. I wished that I had really listened to my parents. I wished that I’d had that knowledge that I have now, back then.”
Fast forward to 2020, when Felisa was asked to be a member of IF’s Advisory Council. She calls this her “re-introduction to IF.”
“It’s exciting because the council is made up almost entirely of formerly incarcerated individuals who finally have a voice. We can speak up and say, ‘No, this isn’t working. We need to try something different.’ I think it’s time we start holding the powers that be accountable, and stop saying it, and actually doing it.”
This month, Felisa joins The IF Project as its new Director of Programs.
“I’m so excited to be at IF; I feel like I’m at home,” she says. “This is my passion, my calling. I’m ready to take the reins and run with it.”
In her new role, Felisa aims to advance the organization’s existing programs, while working in concert with members of the community to address their needs and concerns. As needs change, Felisa believes it’s important to have the ability to adapt and implement new programming as needed.
“The IF Project is an organization for the formerly incarcerated,” she says, “and the formerly incarcerated are going to be involved in every way.”
Since beginning her studies post-incarceration, Felisa has finally attained her lifelong dream of earning a doctorate degree—a PhD in Psychology, with an Emphasis in Instruction and Cognition. By achieving what society has deemed unachievable for formerly incarcerated individuals, Felisa feels a responsibility to pave the way for others returning to society after incarceration, so that they may be afforded the same opportunities.
“I want my sisters and brothers to be able to dream, and to have the support needed to achieve their dreams.”