Formerly Incarcerated Woman Breaks the Stigma of Incarceration through Positive Action

by | Sep 21, 2023

Tracie Bernardi Guzman recently took to the stage at TheaterWorks in Hartford where she was inducted into the 2023 Connecticut Hall of Change as a Great 8. This honor has been bestowed upon only eight people each year since 2020, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to society after coming home from incarceration.

The Connecticut Hall of Change was created by Charlie Grady, a retired police detective now working for the FBI who wanted to reshape and assist standout people who were formerly incarcerated, by shedding the stigmas associated with prison. In 2014 Charlie developed a program called Hang Time, a grassroots initiative designed to give formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to de-conflict and problem-solve community violence through group conversations.

Tracie entered prison as a 19-year-old and was sentenced to 30 years for a gang-related crime that resulted in a loss of life. She left prison in 2015 at age 42 after serving 23 years, 7 of which was spent in solitary confinement.

Tracie’s life-changing moment happened after an attempted suicide, and she knew she wanted to live but had to figure out how to live, even in prison. Tracie went on to earn 48 college credits and create artwork in CPA’s Prison Art Program run by Program Manager Jeff Greene. One of the projects she worked on “Shared Dining” has been exhibited in The Brooklyn Museum, The American Visionary Art Museum, and other venues.

Since her release in 2015, Tracie has become a CT State Certified Recovery Support Specialist and assists people like herself, by sharing her lived experience.

Now a Case Manager at Community Partners in Action, she helps people obtain their identification, find employment, and housing, and overcome setbacks and discrimination. Tracie is committed to using her voice and experience as a person who was formerly incarcerated, to help others who are in the same shoes she was in when returning home from prison. Tracie runs a weekly peer support group at the Waterbury Reentry Welcome Center to give participants a safe haven to talk about their successes and struggles.

Speaking at the TheaterWorks Hartford awards ceremony, Tracie reflected on this accomplishment:

“To be nominated as a member of the 2023 CT Hall of Change is such an honor and I’m so happy to be in a position to use my voice to help people who have put their trust in me,” said Tracie.

A Voice for Change

As an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut Smart Justice Leader, Tracie has testified before the House and Senate sharing her lived experience. In her work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Tracie has helped change over 13 laws geared toward ending mass incarceration. More recently she offered testimony to support HB 6875 on CT State Identification. This law will help cover costs to ensure that everyone leaves prison with a State ID.

Here is an extract from the testimony she gave in March 2023 to the Connecticut legislature about HB 6875, taken from Tracie’ Blog, Tracie Bernardi Guzman – 23YEARSANINMATE.COM

“As a full-time Reentry Case Manager in Waterbury, I can tell you it is extremely difficult to help a person coming home if they don’t have an ID. There are men in halfway houses with job offers they cannot take because they don’t have an ID. They cannot get a phone without an ID. It is practically impossible to obtain housing. You can barely cash a Burlington Coat Factory clothing voucher without an ID. It is also extremely difficult to get health care services without an ID, and many people leaving prison, especially people who have served long sentences, are facing medical issues.

Sending people home from prison without an ID is setting them up for failure. This is not good for them and not good for our communities.” 

Of all of Tracie’s criminal justice-related accomplishments, she is most proud of the work she has done to help people who have been over-incarcerated shave years off their sentences through Sentence Commutations, Modifications, Parole, Medical Parole, and Good Time Restoration.

Since leaving prison Tracie has completely renovated her life. Tracie is now a wife, a mother, and a homeowner but above all things, Tracie is a self-proclaimed child of God and is carrying out his assignment.

Tracie is pictured above at TheaterWorks Hartford with her husband Joey and her son, Xavier.