Thirty-four years ago Choices Founder and President Merle Hoffman entered the women’s prison at Rikers Island as part of the Bellevue Mental Health Players. The group engaged inmates in extraordinary role-plays where they adopted the perspectives of their own family members, acquiring empathy and understanding in the process. For her work, she was awarded a Letter of Appreciation by then-NYC Mayor Ed Koch.
Fast forward to 2017, Monday, October 23rd: Merle Hoffman returned to Rikers with key Choices staff to assess needs of women imprisoned there and to plan ways of assisting them, bringing to bear her years of experience leading one of the largest and most comprehensive women’s health centers in the country.
Choices team outside entrance to Rikers Island. From left: Choices Founder/President Merle Hoffman; Behavioral Health Director Dr. Rischa Gottlieb; Aide de Camp Kelly Mallinson; Director of Counseling Esther Priegue.
Sitting down with groups of women at Rikers, she started meaningful conversations with, “We see you. How can we help?” It seemed as if it had been a long time since any of the women had been asked to speak on their own behalf, but the ice broke quickly. Among the many things that came to the surface were:
We want to learn how to be good parents.
We want to be able to ask questions about our reproductive health and get real answers and help.
We want to learn how to walk away from a fight and how to put our futures and our families’ lives first.
Inspired and challenged, the Choices team left with two promises to those they had talked with: We hear you and we will be back.
Plans are being developed for future visits to educate women about common reproductive and gynecological health questions, building positive and healthy relationships, and skills in conflict resolution.
On any given day there are approximately 600 women held at Rikers.
In 2014, about 6,745 were at Rikers over the year, 80 % of whom were being held in pretrial detention (jailed while their cases were pending, largely because they couldn’t make bail). That means they had not been convicted of any charge.
Many Incarcerated women complain of physical and psychological mistreatment at Rikers.Taken from: http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/nonprofits/women-in-rikers-reform.html#.WfIuuRNSzPB
New York Political Leaders Visit Choices
October 18th, 2017 – New York City Council Member Rory L. Lancman organized representatives of New York State political leaders to come to breakfast at Choices, meet Founder/President Merle Hoffman and tour the Choices facility. Councilmember Lancman represents the 24th Council District where Choices is located and where he has lived for more than 40 years. In brief remarks, he emphasized that “especially in the current political climate, I feel it is important for us to learn about Choices, and you, about us.” Lancman first visited Choices earlier this year and offered his support after he learned about NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit against anti-abortion protestors who regularly harass patients outside the facility. Merle Hoffman welcomed the political leaders and gave a brief history of Choices.
Thank you for your support!
Photo: From left: Councilmember Lancman; Merle Hoffman; Sharon Crawford (behind Ms. Hoffman) representing NYS Assembly member Vivian Cook; Choices staff members Mary Lou Greenberg, Kelly Mallinson and Esther Priegue; and (at right) Lynette Shelborne-Barfield, Director of Special Projects for State Senator Leroy Comrie
Women Join Together to Support Choices!
Merle Hoffman with members of the Women’s Action Group
October 24, 2017
Choices Women’s Medical Center, Inc.
147-32 Jamaica Avenue
Jamaica, NY 11435
Dear Ms. Hoffman and the Choices Staff,
By way of introduction, we are the Women’s Action Group of Forest Hills. Our group was founded after the election of the 45th President of the United States to join efforts towards getting Democrats and progressives elected at all levels of government, as well as to advocate for a woman’s right to affordable, local and comprehensive healthcare. Over the summer, we became aware of the federal lawsuit that Attorney General Schneiderman’s office filed against a number of anti-abortion groups who have been harassing patients and employees at Choices Women’s Medical Center. We sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office to thank him for treating women’s healthcare rights seriously by taking action to protect them.
It is deeply disturbing to us that in 2017, women’s rights to affordable birth control and family planning is in question and that clinics like Choices that provide vital and life-saving healthcare services are under siege. As a group, we discussed the possibility of raising funds to send a thank-you gift to Choices, to demonstrate our appreciation for the work that you do. Our members were enthusiastic about this possibility and we were happy to gather enough funds to donate three items to your facility: a microwave, a Keurig, and a water cooler. We hope that these items will provide a daily reminder of our appreciation. Further, we hope that, in some small way, these items will make your work easier or more enjoyable
Thank you for working to ensure that women, and our bodies, are treated with respect and dignity throughout all of the choices we face in life.