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Laura Pavlou
Karen Orders
Alumni Profile: Laura Pavlou

When Laura Pavlou visits Gig Harbor’s Washington Corrections Center for Women, she sees hope and vitality. Behind the steel gates of the maximum-security prison, it is her mission to nurture potential.

“I see women who are smart, but never tapped into the resources inside of themselves,” she says.

In 2008, Pavlou co-founded Women’s Wellness and Integrated Social Health (WWISH) as an online resource to help women in crisis. A year later, she was invited to speak at Belfair’s Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. She deeply connected with the incarcerated women and founded an ongoing program, which expanded in June 2013 to the Gig Harbor prison. Pavlou facilitates weekly group sessions where inmates share stories and develop positive thinking and communication skills. They also engage in individual workbook and writing exercises.

WWISH has served approximately 3,000 inmates and is open to the entire prison population, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens. Pavlou interacts freely with those serving sentences for everything from murder to drug offenses. “They are no different than the rest of us. I look at my own life and there were many times I put myself at risk. It was really luck of the draw that I didn’t end up in prison,” she says.

After facing domestic abuse and mental-health challenges, Pavlou charted a new course through education. Always an avid writer, she enrolled in community college, where she thrived and launched a college newspaper. She received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship, which allowed the 42-year-old single mother of three to enroll at UW. She graduated in 2006 with a journalism degree.

“On campus, I felt like—pinch me! Is this really my life? I was able to have a better life because of resources and support from friends and mentors who encouraged me. For a long time, they saw me better than I saw myself,” she says.

Pavlou is paying the help forward. Early indicators point to her organization reducing recidivism as well as infractions in prison. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has expressed support and there is the possibility of expanding to additional facilities.

“When I walk into the prison, I feel like I’m home,” says Pavlou. “Of course, I’m grateful for my freedom, but I’m so hopeful for their transformations. I’m excited to be there, see my friends inside and do the work.”

9 Responses to Alumni Profile

  1. Sandra Galati says:

    I think Laura’s resolve to change her own life and then become the inspiration for other women to do the same is nothing less than extraordinary. I think it is fortunate for us that she chose this worthy work as her life’s purpose. I think we should see the lesson in her behavior. I think Washington State and the Country will be changed for the better just because she exists in it. I think she deserves our love and support because I think she will pass it on to those who we cannot reach. I think I am grateful for her.

  2. Susan Evans says:

    Gratitude for talented Laura who chooses to help others when she could do so many things with her gifts.

  3. Dian Prentice says:

    I had the opportunity to walk through some of Laura’s difficult years with her and to witness her transformation into a strong, vibrant capable woman has been an inspiration to me! Who better to reach out to other woman and help them find their strength and courage to turn their lives around! Thank you Laura for giving as you do!

  4. James Berg says:

    My wife and I have also had the opportunity to follow Laura in her journey. Laura has always been the champion for the people that have perhaps not made the best decisions for their life. We are so proud to see what she has accomplished, mostly by sheer willingness to not give up. The road ahead appears to be anything but smooth after having relied on some people that expressed an interest to give but, were only there to take. Anyone that knows Laura has to know that curves in the road may cause her delays but, her determination to do what is right will prevail. After all, SHE IS OUR DAUGHTER!

  5. Kristin Williams says:

    So proud of you Laura! You definitely did not choose the easy path and these women are so lucky to have you advocating for them when others gave up!!! Love you!!

  6. Juliana Marquis says:

    I have know Laura for nearly twenty years and I was lucky enough to be at her side early on in her career. I volunteered to help at one of her visits to a local prison. Imagine a large group of women who have been mistreated in every way, who are down trodden in ways we as the free can never imagine. There is hate, fear, remorse and anger in their eyes. Why should they trust Laura a women from the “outside”? In a short time with loving care, a deep heart, the ability to listen and truly hear the women’s story she won them over. I sat in with a group of seven women who opened up and shared their stories. You can’t imagine how profound this was. With Laura’s guidance the women in this group heard one of their fellow inmates speak for the first time (they had been together for months and even years). She spoke of her fear about having to go directly back into her old neighborhood where her gang ruled (for inmates by state law are required to back into the county they were arrested in). How she would be forced to resume her role as a form of protecting herself even though it was not what she wanted. This brave woman had many gang tattoos on her hands and face, she acknowledged how this would make it nearly impossible for her to fit in anywhere. I witnessed other inmates go from fearing this women to having compassion for her. Suddenly she went from an angry stranger to someone they could understand. This is only a small glance into the world Laura enters on a regular basis, what could be more important them helping others in such destitute circumstances?
    Laura you have surpassed and hurdled many obstacles in your life and the fact that you have chosen to take your knowledge and help others is beyond courageous. One day when it is your time to pass over you will lay your head on your pillow and know that your life was a life well spent!

  7. Julie Bodley says:

    I have known Laura for 51 years. Blood makes us related, but at last time and maturity has finally led us to be sisters. Birth does not bring sisterhood love does. I believe the true love of living beings must be completely unconditional, include constant forgiveness, plus the ability to admit your own errors freely and without condemnation. Then and only then can you become a vital part in the healing and growth of others. Though Laura and I have lived very separate lives until recently, both believing we couldn’t be more different, our journeys have been quite similar and we have come to know, love, and finally respect one another in the ways that can only be described as “sisterhood.” Many have known Laura could be so much more than she was led to believe or she believed. But when we finally discover what lies within our hearts, and who we are, we can conquer fears, face them head on, and refreshingly reach out to others with a deep desire to help lead them into a direction they can claim as their own. Laura, continue to shine your light as you are directed!

  8. Terri DiMartino says:

    Ms. Pavlou may be a wonderful person, but I found her comment in the recent Columns magazine “They are no different than the rest of us” disgusting. The women who are incarnated at Purdy are savages and were sent there because they have no regard for life. They are not like the rest of us at all. It is obvious that Ms. Pavlou has never been a victim of a crime. I would be more impressed if she used her education working with victims who were impacted by those in jail. The woman who viciously poisoned my beloved uncle would poison Ms. Pavlou if given the chance. They are no reforms for evil. Thank goodness they are behind bars and can’t harm others who cross their path.

    • Laura Pavlou says:

      Terri, I appreciate your comment. Your words inspired me to think of a quote I remember from Maya Angelou. I can’t quote it for word but I can paraphrase it because it has had such a positive impact on my life. She says: What it means to be human is that what one human is capable of doing we are all capable of doing. There is not one crime, no matter how heinous it is that a person can commit that I cannot relate to… that is what it means to be human. These words had a profound effect on me and always moves me toward deeper empathy for those I serve. NO ONE is exempt of crisis and tragedy… we can only hope that when it comes to us we have tools to deal with it compassionately and make choices based on a solid ground of integrity. It does not matter who you are or where you come from…this is the human experience. IF you were born into poverty, molestation, abuse, addictions, gangs etc…. who knows what you would do to survive. I ask you to open your heart to all people and find in yourself a way to connect… no matter if you are a victim, a or survivor… and what my hope is for you is that you become a thriver. Best wishes and blessings to you Terri.

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