19 Apr NOLABA Small Business Spotlight: Sister Hearts

Sister HeartsNOLABA connects New Orleanians with the support and resources they need to achieve economic prosperity. This includes providing information for small businesses like local resource providers and certification opportunities. In this small business spotlight, we highlight Maryam Uloho, a formerly incarcerated individual who opened her own thrift store in Greater New Orleans, Sister Hearts, to help other citizens re-enter society after prison terms.

“Year after year after year in prison, I forgot how to think because we’re told what to do and how to do it 24 hours a day. So then when you come out, how are we expected to know how to think again? You don’t know, and even when you do know, you’re afraid to think. So [Sister Hearts] is a wonderful place where you can come in and learn to decarcerate from being incarcerated,” explained Maryam Uloho, owner of Sister Hearts Thrift Store.

Her mission is to provide work, shelter and a fresh future for formerly incarcerated men and women – all in a nurturing environment.

“The store concept is used to decarcerate because in a thrift store, everything is supposed to be everywhere,” she said. “There’s no real order in a thrift store. I use the thrift store to decarcerate the mind because inside of our brain, we’re confused and frustrated and angry. A lot of negative things tend to go on inside of our brain. So what I do is I pick a section and I say, ‘OK, what’s wrong with this section?’ And they say, ‘Well it’s cluttered.’ And I tell them, ‘So what I need you to do is declutter it. I want you to figure it out.’ And in the process of them figuring out how to declutter [the store section], they now have to start thinking…and in the process, they’re organizing their thoughts. That’s what’s really powerful. So everything in the store that you see is a form of decarceration because nobody is told what to do.”

NOLABA is working on a partnership initiative with the City of New Orleans to connect formerly incarcerated individuals, or returning citizens, with a clear job-based pipeline to dependable employment through work opportunities, career training and development, and partnerships with local re-entry programs. Employees will be able to complete crucial services for the City of New Orleans’ Code Enforcement and SWB Departments while establishing a proven track record of accountability and performance. As they complete 3 to 6 months of stable employment, they will be connected to various longer-term job opportunities and ongoing support networks so they can successfully continue to restart their lives. To learn more, contact Manager of Business Development and Strategy Thomas Krumins.

“What makes it so unique for us is this – Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the world,” Uloho said. “We should be striving to make a model for reentry faster than anybody else in the world.”

Maryam Uloho’s youngest son, Robert, said Sister Hearts is a place “that embraces the greatness in broken people.”

“What would I say about Sister Hearts?” he said. “We believe in helping people transition into their greatness. It’s what we do.”

Maryam Uloho said she hopes Sister Hearts can grow into a nationwide model where formerly incarcerated individuals can grow and be nurtured.

“What we want to do is in every city where there’s a jail, we want people to be able to come out and find a Sister Hearts because that way they can find the care they need, and the compassion,” she said.