NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Spending more than a decade behind bars would change anyone. But Maryam Henderson-Uloho used the experience to transform lives. Not only her own....but those of hundreds of others.
There's a thrift store in Arabi that's got more than just discarded goods. It's also got a great story behind it.
“The idea to start Sister Hearts started in prison when I was in the hole, I was in solitary confinement,” Maryam Henderson-Uloho said.
Henderson-Uloho explains, in her life, she’s been to hell and back.
“My self-esteem was so low, self-confidence, self-value was so low at that point, I didn’t even feel worthy to be alive,” she commented.
Sentenced to 25 years in prison on an obstruction of justice charge, Henderson-Uloho felt helpless. She spent 13 years at St. Gabriel facility. While there, she hatched a plan for her future.
She explains, “I said where’s the treasures in me? Where’s the value in me? Where do society go when they look for hidden treasures? Where do they go to find it? And then I thought, they go to thrift stores.”
Four years after her release from prison Henderon-Uloho has transformed her life and gained national attention in the process.
She states, “I went from selling junk out of suitcase to a 17,000 square foot building, to a movie, to my story in a book traveling all over the country doing motivational speaking talking about decarceration.”
Vanessa Faure is one of hundreds of people the mother of six has helped and one of the original “Sister Hearts”, a term Henderson-Uloho coined, describing the unbreakable bond she shared with fellow prisoners.
Faure says, “I’m proud of her. She’s proud of me but I’m proud of her.”
Henderson-Uloho got out first. So when it came time for Faure’s release, she knew she had a friend waiting.
“She even gave me a job when I came here. She gave me a job, like come on, work,” Faure said.
Henderson-Uloho not only opened her thrift store, starting small before graduating to this large facility, she also opened a shelter to house people newly released with nowhere else to go.
On a daily basis, volunteers help her achieve her goal, teaching life skills to former inmates to help them get back on their feet.
Henderson-Uloho explains, “We make these head wraps for them, they make these and this is an income producing thing that we do. Also in the store they learn organizational skills, they learn social skills, community skills, negotiation skills and all these are things are needed to re-humanize a person.”
Meeting Maryam Henderson-Uloho it’s clear, she’s not just a great neighbor to one or two people but to hundreds, who are at points in their lives, when friends are hard to come by.
Faure explains, “That’s what we do, we help each other and once we get help, we help somebody else. And that’s what Sister Hearts is all about.”
“We need a bunch of Maryams, we really do. She’s a dear and she’s got a big ole great heart,” volunteer Karen West added.
Her dreams for the future? Expanding Sister Hearts to a second location. But also, continuing to spread the word that Sister Hearts isn’t just a store but a way of life. It’s a way of helping a fellow brother or sister in need, when all other hope seems lost.