First-generation student plans to start organization to help others

Photo courtesy Tishara Wardlow
Tishara Wardlow is a UNO senior who plans to start her own organization to help people reenter society after prison.
Cassie Wade

University of Nebraska at Omaha senior Tishara Wardlow’s path through college hasn’t been linear, but will help her achieve her goal of helping others.

Wardlow, a criminology and criminal justice major and black studies minor, is a transfer student. Her college career began at Metropolitan Community College. Then, she transferred to the College of Saint Mary before temporarily dropping out for two or three years.

“I don’t really know why I stopped going to school, but I had two kids and was just dealing with life,” Wardlow said. “I came back because I wanted to finish my degree … and so I could be a role model for my kids, too.”

Wardlow is now in her third semester at UNO. She will graduate either this spring or over the summer and has plans to pursue a master’s degree as well as her other goal of helping the community.

Wardlow is an intern at the state parole and at ReConnect2Success, a program that helps individuals transition from prison back to the community. She wants to start her own program to help individuals reenter society after time in jail.

Wardlow said she would like her program to be “bigger than a halfway house but smaller than Boys Town.” It would offer those in need of help a variety of resources, including a place to stay and work and the ability to receive educational opportunities.

“Kind of like UNO where you can live here, you can go to school here, you can work here,” she said. “I want to set it up where this is a safe place. You don’t have to worry about finding home.”

Wardlow said that by setting up her program to include job opportunities, it would be like a trade where people could earn money to pay for rent and other necessities.

“It seems like a lot, but that’s my dream,” she said.

Wardlow said she became interested in creating a program of her own to help people reenter society after jail time because of the experiences she has seen her family members go through.

“When my dad got out [of prison], he really didn’t know anything because the world had changed in 25 years,” she said. “He’s trying to go further, but he has no education, no experience. It’s like they set him up to fail.”

Wardlow would like to take the experiences she and her family members have had and use them to help others in any way she can “to make that better.”

“People are really good people, and then they lose so much of their lifetime,” Wardlow said. “Once you get out, it’s hard to get back because you haven’t had a job in so many years.”

Jennifer Harbour, an assistant professor in the Black Studies department, met Wardlow when Wardlow was in one of her classes. Harbour said Wardlow is the “perfect kind of person” to start a program to help people reenter society after jail time.

“She’s so hard working and very thoughtful,” Harbour said. “She’s a super person. She will definitely go far.”

Harbour said there is a need for programs like the one Wardlow wants to create.

“We claim to rehabilitate them [prisoners], but we don’t, especially in for-profit prisons, so when they get out of prison, we don’t help them at all,” Harbour said. “So a lot of them, that’s why they end up recommitting crimes. They have no place to go. They have no money to get started, so it’s a pressing problem.”

Though Wardlow’s plans to start her organization haven’t been put into action yet, she is getting close to accomplishing one of her other goals: graduating.

“I’m two months away, so at the end of the day, that’s the good part about it,” she said. “Then it’s like OK, I’m going to grad school, so I’m not really done. I have two more years.”

Wardlow is a first-generation student, which means a lot to her, her children and her extended family.

“I hope it will help my cousins and the future generations be like ‘oh yeah, I want to go to school. I want to do something with my life, not just work a regular job,’” Wardlow said. “I’m not for working for anyone at this point. I want to build something and pass things down.”