Former Prison to Become a Place of Activism, Empowerment for Girls, Women


Formerly incarcerated at Bayview and now invested in its future as The Women’s Building, Marcie Chase, third from left, encouraged others to share their vision for the repurposed correctional facility. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Passing out The Women’s Building block party bingo card, Marcie Chase was taking one of the activity directives — “make a new friend” —very seriously.

Chase was talking to everyone — the young and the not-so-young — during last weekend’s community event to celebrate the metamorphosis of a former women’s prison into a hub of activism and social justice for women and girls called The Women’s Building.

“It’s going to empower all women, all girls,” Chase, 53, told Chelsea Now on Sat., Sept. 23. “It’s about women, for women, by women.”

Chase has a connection to the building that will be transformed — she was incarcerated at Bayview Correctional Facility for eight years. Shortly before Superstorm Sandy hit almost five years ago, the prison at the corner of W. 20th St. and 11th Ave. was evacuated and then shuttered. In late 2015, the governor and the NoVo Foundation announced that the building would be renovated and reborn as The Women’s Building.

“There is great optimism to transform a place [of incarceration] into a place of hope,” Chase said.

Chase, a member of the Women & Justice Project that is working with NoVo on the project, asked passerby to share their vision for The Women’s Building. Nearby, people were painting murals, which Chase said would be displayed at the building.

Painting was one of many activities at the Sept. 23 block party, where organizations and community members anticipated the new role assigned to former Bayview Correctional Facility. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

“We’re deeply committed to ensuring women who were incarcerated in Bayview play a critical role at every step in the way in the creation of the building,” Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation’s executive director, said.

Shifman said that the second annual block party — held this year at W. 20th St. between 10th and 11th Aves. — “is an opportunity to bring the whole community to celebrate what this building is going to become.”

The Foundation has reached out to hundreds of organizations and activists for their input on the building, which is slated for completion in about five years. “Activists in all walks of life will connect in powerful ways,” Shifman said, confidently predicting its role as “a real global hub for social justice.”

The NoVo Foundation has reached out to hundreds of activists and organizations for input on The Women’s Building, Pamela Shifman, the foundation’s executive director, said. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Given Chelsea’s long history of activism, she said it is fitting that The Women’s Building will make its home in the neighborhood.

For Chase, “being on the other side to mend fences” has been “very empowering for me to never forget where I came from.” It has been a great privilege and honor to represent the transfeminine perspective, she said, albeit sometimes a burden to be the one of the few transgendered voices in the room. Chase said there needs to be parole reform, the end of solitary confinement, and more discussions about healthcare for imprisoned transgender people.

The block party on Saturday afternoon drew activists and organizations, such as Sanctuary for Families, and residents who just happened to be walking by, like Charae Anderson and her children. Anderson, 27, who lives on W. 26th St., had taken her seven-year-old twins Megan and Madison, and her son, Mason, 3, to the High Line when she saw the event and decided to check it out.

Anderson liked the booth that highlighted careers traditionally thought of as male professions, such as construction. “I found it interesting,” she said. “It’s empowering women.”

Madison, Mason, and Megan took a break from coloring to indulge this reporter. Their mother, Charae Anderson, was walking by with them and decided to see what the block party was all about. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Kierra Coll, a mentor and survivor leader for the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, was also at the block party with her children, Nalecia, 9, and Elias, 3. Sanctuary for Families advocates and provides services for “survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence,” according to its website.

“For me, it’s another place where women can come together and be positive,” Coll, 28, said about the event. Nalecia, a fourth grader who likes science, said, “It’s fun and helpful.”

Hannah Eddy, 25, a communications associate for the nonprofit, said that once The Women’s Building is “up and running, it’s going to be a great space for women and girls to come together.”

Lorena Estrella was at the block party for a second year to support the transformation of the former prison into The Women’s Building. It is “creating a space of freedom and expression in a place that once held people captive,” Estrella, 29, said.

Estrella is a part of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, which she said works with young women in high schools in New York City and Newark on social justice and leadership. Maryam Olatunde, 16, was working the Sadie Nash table at the event, and said, “I appreciate something like this.”

Lorena Estrella said the future Women’s Building would support the voices of those who are marginalized in the city. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

“It’s a safe space for me,” Olatunde said about Sadie Nash. “It’s very cool.”

No block party would be complete without entertainment, and there was a group of drummers — one of which did tricks with her sticks — spoken word artists, and a step team called the Lady Dragons (from Brooklyn Technical High School) that got the crowd going.

The Lady Dragons Step Team performed at the event. L to R: Nikki Turyanskiy, Mengwe Wapimewah, Tara Abdullah-Nri, Velldreice Cadely, Carina Tan, and Janai Toney. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

“We’re performing for The Women’s Building,” Yueling Chen, 17, said. Chen noted that women are still fighting for professional equality, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Velldreice Cadely, 17, said that a lot of current policy for women is being dictated by men. Her teammate, Daphny Belmont, 16, agreed, saying that during this current administration events like these were important.

“We’re still here,” she said. “We’re going to take over the world.”

At the former site of Bayview Correctional Facility (seen here), The Women’s Building, at W. 20th St. and 11th Ave., is expected to open in about five years. Photo by Katina Houvouras.


Seen at Sept. 23’s block party: Caity-Shea Violette (second from left) represented the Chicago chapter of the Voices and Faces Project, which hosts writing workshops all over the country for those who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.


Maryam Olatunde, a junior in high school and a part of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, said she hopes to one day work in mass communications or international relations. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.


Kierra Coll, left, and Hannah Eddy, right, both work for the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families. Coll’s children, Nalecia and Elias, also came to enjoy the block party. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.