FailSafe-ERA was founded in August 2009 by Juanita Shanks after realizing that her walk through the criminal justice system with her son was not about him or her but what God wanted to do through her to help others who have been affected by incarceration.
My journey started before 2009. As I walked through this process, I was overwhelmed with emotions and could not find help anywhere. There was no FailSafe-ERA to help me understand how to gain control of my emotions, how to help him overcome his decisions, and successfully reenter the community. My saving grace was my relationship with God.
In order for me to heal I had to help others so as I was commuting to work in 2004, from Dale City, Virginia, where our family resided, to the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC, I began to visualize the help I needed in the form of an organization. One that would help families: “Families Affected by Incarcerated Loved-ones Sincere and Forward-thinking Exhorters – Education, Rehabilitation, Adaptation” and as a government worker I immediately formed it into an acronym: FailSafe-ERA. My pain created my purpose. This life changing event had such a dramatic effect on our family.
My family relocated to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2005. I began volunteering for a reentry organization for women as I continued to seek answers. In 2009, I launched FailSafe-ERA at the Bragg Hill Family Life Center and formed a board of founding members from the community: Janice Boles, Brenda Locke, Sue Parr, Dr. Pam Ray, and June Bennett. From 2010-2013, I was met with many personal challenges, to include the caretaking and death of my mother, etc., my husband’s bout with stomach cancer, gaining custody of my granddaughter, etc. Some good news I had to hold on to was my daughter’s educational pursuit that led to her PhD in Counseling and Education.
The FailSafe-ERA board reconvened in early 2014, and expanded. We applied for and received our 501c3 status in Feb 2015.
When FailSafe-ERA was launched, it was designed to help the family, but then came the revelation that in order for us to help the families we would have to get to them through the inmates so I began to go into the jail to minister to the inmates. Resulting from that ministry was the guide “Building Your Spiritual House: Pathway to the Next Level”. We soon realized that FailSafe-ERA needed to offer a holistic approach: spiritual and natural development.
Over the years we realized that our mission is to help all who have been affected by incarceration: the inmate, the returning citizen, family members, and the community. We do not call them ex-inmates, ex-cons, or formerly incarcerated, we call them returning citizens.
My son was the reason Failsafe-ERA started and he will continue to be the reason why we strive to make a positive impact on those currently incarcerated, our returning citizens, and their families. His last words, aside from Philippians 2:14-16, were..."don't worry about me mom I’m good, take care of all the others”. (See more at Q’s Corner)
Juanita Shanks, Founder