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VCU professor creates ‘Sanctuary’ to help formerly incarcerated residents ease back into society

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RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office have teamed up to provide formerly incarcerated Richmond-area residents and their families a place to learn, create, and transition back into society. Sanctuary, which opened March 30 at 101 W. Broad Street, will provide GED tutoring, job preparation and resources, resume building, and creative expression through art for members re-entering the community.

Sanctuary will also assist families with programs including parenting skills workshops, prenatal yoga, and workshops to talk about family issues.

Sanctuary is located at 101 W. Broad St.

Sanctuary is located at 101 W. Broad St.

Sanctuary co-founder Dr. Liz Canfield is an assistant professor at VCU in the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

“We wanted to build a safe place on the outside where people can go when they got out,” she explained.

Sanctuary is an extension of Open-Minds, a program Canfield co-directs with VCU English professor Dr. David Coogan. Open-Minds provides dual enrollment classes for VCU students and incarcerated people at the Richmond City Jail.


Group discussion during a Sanctuary workshop.

Sanctuary is a sober environment that also heavily focuses on the arts as a way of expression.

“It’s another way to explore what’s going on in our lives. It’s a nice informal way to talk and share things about ourselves and build confidence and self esteem,” she said.

Workshops will be taught by VCU faculty members and graduate students, as well as members of the Richmond community. Canfield said the classes are not just available for the formerly incarcerated, but open to the public as well.

“It’s a statistical fact that if you have a high school diploma, you have a better chance and that helps improve society as a whole,” she said. “If you don’t have it, we can help you get it. The people here are our community.”

Sanctuary is open seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m.