19 November 2010

And now, for a little good news

I write this on the day that the Department of Corrections announced the closure of a third prison in a year. You might think that's good news. Think of it, we don't need three prisons! But it really means more crowding at the prisons we have, and the loss of jobs and programs, and more tension behind the walls.

But there is good news. Those of you who have been around for a while may remember my writing about the Transitioning Offenders Program that started at the prison where I worked in Shelton. It was begun by men who noticed guys coming back to prison again and again, for violations of their parole or for new charges. They asked pointed questions: why are you back? what happened when you got out? what kind of help did you need that you didn't get?

The answers were basic: I didn't have a place to live. I couldn't find a job. I couldn't get connected to mental health resources.

From that, some creative types started combing the newspapers, looking for any resource that might be able to assist people coming out of prison. They collected envelopes and wrote letters to those agencies. Hundreds of letters went out and when the answers came in, the computer-savvy built a database that eventually contained over 8000 housing, food, clothing, employment, schooling, mental health, and other resources. All 39 counties of the state were covered.

They developed a questionnaire to compile a packet specific to the community an offender was going to return to.

They became advocates for each other: found treatment beds, helped get driver's licenses re-instated, provided the addresses for vital statistics in 50 states (do you know how many people don't have a copy of their birth certificate?), and on and on.

There's much more, but the reason I'm bragging today is that now there is a working website that details the work that has been done over the last six or seven years. I'm so very proud of what they have accomplished and now you can see it here.

14 November 2010

It's That Time Again

The requests are coming in for Christmas cards. No one asked for Halloween cards this year (they were a hot commodity at the prison a few years ago) but the push is on for Thanksgiving and Christmas cards. I managed to pick up a few dozen at a local Catholic supply store back in the summer.

But now! I've put a special collection bag right by my front door so when I pick up my mail, I can put all those wonderful cards into the bag. What cards? you ask. Why all those charities who want my money and send me half a dozen cards at a time. In just a few weeks, I have managed to stockpile almost a hundred cards. And I'm finding more around my house all the time. I think those fall under the "Stash Them Now. Use Them Later" rule. Except I usually forget exactly where I have stashed such treasures and come across them in July or some other unwieldy time.

This year, my disorganization is not so bad.

I've been finding all sorts of postcards too. Postcards are great to use in jail for getting messages to people. I try to make a point of having colorful postcards to send around. There is so little color inside the jail. A photo of earth shot by NASA. Stone circles in Ireland. A view of the city skyline. Anything with some color on it brightens up the cells, believe me.

Then there are the bookmarks. Bookstores are a great place to pick up bookmarks. I hope I'm giving someone an idea of where to go when she's released from jail--a bookstore! a library! a place where there are stories just like yours and NOT just like yours.

When I run out of bookmarks, I make my own. Interesting bits of wisdom. Scripture stories to ponder. A bit of poetry. At a gathering of jail chaplains in September, I had them write down their favorite sayings or Scripture passages on bright yellow cards. Now those cards go out in the packets of devotionals or other things people have asked for.

The weather has turned. It is more grey and there's more rain. Inside the jail, there's limited chance to see the outside--too many of the windows are frosted, not with frost, but with the type of stuff you just want to peel away. Whatever color we can bring inside, it's needed, no matter how small a bit it is.