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There Is More Right With Me Than There Is Wrong

07 Apr

IRightWrong_scalen our communities, whether we realize it or not, we live among all types of people, from the kindest to the cruelest, from the most functional to the most severely affected by mental illness, addiction, etc. Among us are a range of people who would never consciously break the law to those who seem to have no regard for the law. In most cases, we choose to live where we feel safer, more comfortable to go out into our world and then return home; where, typically, we actually are safe and comfortable. According to budgets, we decide what we will eat and when and where we will eat it.  We decide what we do in our spare time, what time we go to bed, what time we arise, and what clothing we wear. There are so many decisions we are free to make for ourselves in the course of a day. Can you imagine having no control over these kinds of decisions?

Perhaps everyone should go inside a prison at least once.  As described in my previous post, the process of getting into a prison is unnerving.  Once in, it is a very unnatural environment.  At the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW), you see small groups of women dressed very much the same…jeans, gray t-shirts, denim shirts, & sneakers.  Most seem as if they haven’t given much thought to their appearance in a while.  Some of us may think the same mix of personality types do not exist within prison walls, but they do.  Especially in prisons that house all levels of offenders (like MCIW), from the worst (murderers) to the non-violent offenders.  Here, you don’t get to decide where you live or what you eat or when you eat. Here, most of the day-to-day decisions are not yours to make.  You do get opportunities to request to attend events or programs within the confines of the prison.  These programs are carefully chosen and approved by the Warden.

After the last WMF Conference Steering Committee meeting, Warden Chippendale invited us to attend a special event in the gym.  When I heard it was related to National Crime Victims’ Week, I thought it would be similar to a previous event I had attended there:  an event in which some of the victims attended and spoke of the pain they suffered.  The offenders were given a chance to apologize and make a statement.  It was a powerful experience.

But this event was different.   The offenders became the victims for a couple of hours.  The gym was filled with female inmates who could relate to the topic in some way.  They listened intently as Serenity’s Door  President and CEO set the tone of the program with 3 simple words:

  1. Empowerment
  2. Resilience
  3. Justice

 

You may think a warden would not want the inmates to hear about empowerment.  After all, prison is designed to take away your power.  However, only when one feels empowered can she truly change her life.  With empowerment comes responsibility for protecting yourself and for making good decisions.  Each of 5 presenters told her story or gave new ways of healing old wounds offering hope for a better future.

One of the speakers drilled down on the meaning of justice.  She read the following definition: ‘to be treated fairly by others (including systems)’. Of course, that stirred the room, but everyone seemed to agree it is what we all want. There was no explanation needed for resilience.  One of the inmates said the audience knew more than anyone what it means to be resilient! One speaker had everyone repeat her mantra:  “There is more right with me than there is wrong. Focus on the best, minimize the effects of the rest.”  I think we can all use that thought at times in our lives, when we need to move on from something.

The types of programs Warden Chippendale brings to the women in her facility throughout the year make a difference.  If you haven’t been taught the skills required to make a big change in your life, a 2-hour program won’t be enough.  The WMF Conference provides a crash course in how to identify needs, make a plan, find resources, and put that resiliency to good use!  It doesn’t make it easy — but perhaps more achievable.

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

Worth the Effort

04 Apr

Planning a typical business conference requires a lot of attention to detail, from securing a venue, to lining up key note speakers and subject matter experts, to ensuring appropriate meal options.  While the venue is a given, planning a conference for 150 inmates inside a state prison poses challenges few event planners ever encounter.   How do you get presenters, speakers, event volunteers into a highly secured environment with their required materials and equipment in a timely fashion, without disrupting the daily routine of the facility?  The experience of running these conferences since 2008 has certainly provided some measure of expediency.

The planning meetings begin months before the event and become more frequent as the date draws near.  The Steering Committee convenes in a conference room inside the prison so backgrounds must be checked in advance by prison officials.  Once ‘cleared’, those entering the prison are required to strictly adhere to the facility rules regarding dress code and what is allowed inside.  Each person must pass through a metal detector and, even then, is patted down by a prison officer.  Finally, after passing through metal detectors and being frisked, you walk up to a series of gates and doors operated by a guard in a tower who can see your every move.  For many, especially those who have never visited a prison, it can feel very intimidating! No one complains.

No electronics may be brought in so we are taken back to a time when you have paper and pen during a meeting.  When it is time to schedule a meeting, no one has a calendar so we do the best we can and follow up with e-mail to confirm once we leave the premises.  Even the planning meetings have unusual challenges.

Don’t get the idea the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) is not supportive — because the Conference is completely supported!  In fact, Warden Chippendale is on the Steering Committee along with some staff members.  They work as hard any anyone to ensure the success of this event!

Judge Julia Weatherly runs the meetings going through each agenda item with sub-committee members to ensure every detail is in place.  It is clear that the most important items to the Steering Committee revolve around making sure past learning experiences and feedback guide the content of the day.  This group never strays from their purpose!  Finally, to continue to run this annual event, the budget has to be addressed.   The Committee squeezes every bit out of a tight budget to provide the women with an experience that could make a life-altering impact.  The only way it actually happens is due to the admirable generosity of the many volunteers who contribute time, in-kind donations, and monetary donations.

The WMF team is finely-tuned, with each member bringing a unique set of skills and perspective.  Judges, criminal justice researchers, lawyers, reverends, executive coaches, criminal justice advocates and other support groups, come together year after year to provide beneficial experiences for 150 inmates —a great send-off as they take steps to a lawful and productive life in our communities!   Most inmates will eventually return to our communities and successful re-entry benefits us all.  I hope you will consider making a donation!

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 
 

Nothing Easy About Getting Out of Prison!

14 Mar

Re-entry, as it is called when an inmate is released back into her community, is not easy.  According to The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), as of 2009 approximately 40% of men and women in Maryland return to prison within three years of their release. (More recent statistics have been elusive thus far.)  While there has been a slight downward trend in the recidivism rates in Maryland and across the country over the past decade, we have not seemed to ‘break the code’ for significantly improving the chances that a person can overcome the challenges of re-entry.

‘Anna’ was due to be released in July. Because she had no home to return to, she had to wait (in prison) for a homeless shelter to become available. She has 2 children, 15 & 19, but they do not have a home to offer her.  Finally, nearly 3 months after her release date, she was able to get a bed in the House of Nehemiah in Baltimore.

When Anna was released, she basically had the clothes on her back and a $50 stipend for transportation and immediate needs. She had attended the Women Moving Forward (WMF) conference earlier in the year. The workshops she attended helped her understand the requirements for getting started with her new life. Luckily for her, the counsellors and programs required for probation were within walking distance of her living quarters.  Also nearby was the Social Services office where she was able to get food stamps.  Her allotment was $194 of which $100 had to be paid to the House of Nehemiah for her room and board.  Anna was able to get a free bus pass to go to job interviews.  She found a few clothes in the drop box at the House of Nehemiah.

Just getting her basic needs met is a challenge, but she is determined. She vows “nothing will take me back to prison.”  She is very dedicated to setting a good example for her children.

Obtaining a job with a criminal history is not easy.  Most often, job applicants are required to disclose their criminal history on the job application, thereby virtually eliminating themselves for consideration and the interview process. In 2013, the State of Maryland passed legislation to ‘ban the box’ (remove the criminal history question from the application) for most state jobs.  Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have passed laws that also require private sector employers eliminate the checkbox or criminal history question. This gives applicants a chance to introduce themselves in person and explain their past missteps. It gives employers an opportunity to hire someone who may be just right for the job and who deserves a second chance.

While we use the term EX-offender, Anna feels the EX is not often applied. The last time I heard from Anna, she did have a job interview scheduled. That was about 3 months ago and I do not know her current job or living arrangement. Getting access to technology for our communication is not a given.

For many judges, the sentencing part of their jobs may be the worst, especially when faced with returning offenders—those they have sentenced previously. The Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) gives personal time and resources to create a program to prepare incarcerated women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) in Jessup, Maryland to better equip women inmates’ successful re-entry.

In 2008 The NAWJ initiated a partnership with the MCIW and an annual pre-release conference called Women Moving Forward (WMF).  The conference held over a weekend annually, provides 150 women who are within 9 months of their release date with workshops and resources to aid in their re-entry. Advocacy groups and other organizations recognizing the need for reducing recidivism collaborate to provide 16 workshops address a wide range of topics crucial to a successful life outside prison.

Past WMF participants praise the conference saying they enjoyed it and found it very useful.  Even with the tools, and perhaps even more importantly, the support felt by the participants, it is very challenging for a former inmate to return to a normal and productive life.

This program is about more than just compassion for individuals, it is for the good of our communities. Crime is a problem in every community and 95% of prisoners will be released back into the community at some point. We should do all we can to help them become productive, contributing neighbors.

This year’s conference is on April 8th. The WMF Re-entry Conference is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 
 

Better Choices Start Now

06 Apr

She’s 38 years old and has never been on her own.  She was with her husband for over 16 years and is now divorcing.  It is her first time in prison though she admits she has a troubled past.  We’ll call her ‘Anna’ here.

Anna has been at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women 14 months and is scheduled to be released in July.  She will attend the Women Moving Forward (WMF) Conference on April  23rd.  Her biggest concern is how to become a productive member of society.  She hasn’t work much in her life. Her husband took care of her.  She does feel she has skills but her drug addiction has led to a lack of good references.

Another big worry for Anna is reuniting with her 2 sons, 19 and 14 years old.  She will fight for joint custody and hopes that the WMF Conference will help her develop a plan for addressing these challenges and build healthy relationships.  And finally, Anna believes she will be worrying over things she cannot change or control.  Anna has consented to following up with the Steering Committee after she is released.

At the WMF Conference, Anna will be able to choose 3 workshops to attend.  Roseanna Vogt chairs the Workshop Committee for WMF and is Director of the Circle of Angles Initiative Inc.  Roseanna’s team will offer 13 workshops this year.  In past years, Conference attendees have been limited to only two workshops.  The Steering Committee made room for an additional workshop this year due to popular demand.  I think you will understand when you read more about some of the workshops offered.

Getting Ready for the Outside While on the Inside will help Anna prepare now for return to her community.  The workshop will lead her to identify and prioritize her initial needs, find resources to address those needs, and discuss how to ascertain whether her primary needs are met. Her success will depend on understanding, challenging, and rewriting old patterns and learning self-advocacy.  Presenter Katherine Coates has worked for several years in state and community based programs that serve the re-entry population.Classroom2Web

Mindfulness Meditation: A Tool for Life is basic introduction to Mindfulness Meditation to help the participant learn to pay attention and stay focused. She will learn how to consciously select specific actions to calm down when emotionally triggered. It also helps to relieve stress and to learn to pause before taking action, slow down to make better choices. The workshop presenter is Carole Clemis, a retired Federal employee.  For over 4 years Carole has taught Mindfulness Meditation at the Rockville Pre-­Release Center through the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

Family Reunification: What does “I’m not selfish” mean?/ I Still Care will cover emotional, legal, social, and financial issues of parenting from a distance and  the challenges of  returning to live with children.  This workshop will address what the phrases “Parent First” and “I’m not Selfish” mean. The presenter is Pastor Carol A. Overton, author, speaker, teacher, professional dancer, and paralegal with over 32 years of experience. She has done extensive criminal pre-­trial, trial and post-­trial work with various federal and state agencies.

As you can see, any of the workshop choices would benefit Anna, but there are still 10 other workshops offered.  In fact, the next one is a 2-part workshop—meaning if she selects this one, she can only take one other.  Job Interviewing 101 will teach the basics of interviewing with important “do’s” and “don’t’ s” from people who know. She will do a job interview with a professional who will give useful feedback to improve her interview. The professional instructors will critique her resume to recommend ways to make it a more powerful presentation of her abilities. Most importantly she will receive advice on how to handle the topic of her incarceration. There are 2 leads for this workshop. Mary Pat Donelan is the Director, Human Resources Division, IRS Office of Chief Counsel, Washington DC where she manages 37 employees who provide Human Resources functions to 2700 employees nationwide. She is also the Vice President of Maryland C.U.R.E., a prison reform advocacy group.  Fred Chandler provides intensive job development and job trainer services to previously incarcerated individuals at Montgomery Works and Work Source Montgomery.

Anna will have to select from these and other workshops that will be covered in future blog entries.   I hope this is the beginning of a long string of good choices for her. An email account has been created as a means to write to us from the outside.  The feedback from Anna and others will provide the Steering Committee with information to continue to improve and refine the conference.

The Steering Committee is comprised of 32 individuals who donate their time to make this conference happen each year.  Often, it is those same individuals who contribute financially.  The Luv U Project is matching $5,o00 in contributions and you can trigger a match by going to our WMF website.

 
 

It’s No Way to Treat Mental Disorders

01 Apr

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental disorders occur at high rates in all countries of the world. It is estimated that, worldwide, more than 450 million people suffer from mental or behavioral disorders.  In fact, in the U.S., one in 4 adults and one in 5 children suffer from some form of behavioral disorder.  And the WHO acknowledges that those disorders are disproportionately high in prison populations.  I’ve read some studies that report the ratio of mental disorders in prison is significantly  higher than in the general population.

The increase of mental disorders in prisons may have begun with the push for deinstitutionalization in the early 1960s.   Advocates of deinstitutionalization hoped it would result in the mentally ill living more independently with access to community mental health programs.  Funding for such health programs did not materialize and states reduced their budgets for mental hospitals. Ultimately, there was no replacement for the institutions resulting in hundreds of thousands of people with mental disorders being released into the communities with no access to mental health care.

So while closing mental institutions has been heralded as a step forward for mental health, it has actually led us to a place where we, once again, cage the mentally ill – this time in prisons rather than hospitals.  Prisons have become a dumping ground for people with mental illness.

Mental disorders are further exacerbated by the stress of imprisonment and are very often not treated during incarceration. Prisons are simply bad for mental health.  Overcrowding, various forms of violence, solitary confinement or conversely, lack of privacy, separation from loved ones, lack of meaningful activity and inadequate health services, especially mental health services, in prisons can cause mental disorders to manifest themselves where they were previously undetected.

Surveys show 1 in 4 adults in this country have a mental disorder.  It has been reported that over half of all American prisoners (up to three fourths of females) suffer from a mental health problem.  Most of the approximately 2.2 million American prisoners will be coming back to their neighborhoods and few of them will have been improved by the experience of incarceration.

A major sponsor of the WMF Conference is The Luv U Project, a 501(c) (3) public charity. Its mission is to turn an unacceptable tragedy into a quantifiable agenda and responsible actions that advance the understanding of, and treatments for, mental health issues.  The organization was formed in memory of Carolyn Mattingly, who was, for years, a key member of the WMF Steering Committee.  On September 30, 2014, Carolyn’s life was abruptly, violently, and senselessly ended.  In memoriam of Carolyn and as a tribute to her goodness, The Luv u Project was established as a lasting commitment from her husband, daughter, family, and friends to continue her legacy. Carolyn cared deeply about the WMF initiative and through The Luv u Project her support continues.

The Luv u Project will match contributions, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $5000 to support the 2016 WMF Conference. If you would like to make a gift, please MAKE CHECKS PAYABLE TO  NAWJ  (PLEASE NOTE “MCIW: WOMEN MOVING FORWARD” ON REFERENCE LINE OF CHECK.)

MAIL TO:   MCIW WOMEN MOVING FORWARD 2016
                       C/O RACHAEL CAMPBELL
                      1352 CHARWOOD ROAD, SUITE C 
                       HANOVER, MARYLAND 21076
 
The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ)  is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization — FED TAX ID: 52-1185005.

 

 

Be the Solution — Not the Problem!

22 Mar

I read an article by Emma Brown in the Washington Post last week https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/03/08/a-principal-met-a-student-she-expelled-and-it-changed-her-approach-to-discipline/.   The article caught my eye because the subject of the article, Nancy Hanks, mentions the ‘School-to-Prison’ pipeline.  The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to describe the consequence of practices implemented by educational institutions, specifically zero tolerance policies and the use of police in schools.  The result is the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.  As media coverage of youth violence and mass incarceration has grown, the term is often a hot topic in discussions surrounding educational disciplinary policies.

As I read the speech by Ms. Hanks, a top administrator for the Madison, Wisconsin school system, I found commonalities with the WMF Re-Entry Conference. Ms. Hanks asks her audience to consider alternative solutions to students’ bad behavior.  She questions whether 4-5 year old pre-school children should be suspended or expelled for disrupting the learning environment.

Ms. Hanks even questions her past decisions as a Principal, one in particular where she expelled a middle school student for bringing his BB gun to school.  By chance, she came face-to-face with the young man years later and fortunately, he had not gotten swept into the pipeline.  She still felt the guilt of being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  The overcrowding in our prisons is largely due to the ‘war on drugs’ in which we treat addiction as a crime.  We are just beginning to see laws changing to provide rehabilitation treatment for drug addicts instead of prison.  Alternative solutions should be sought for other non-violent crimes.

A strong message in Ms. Hanks speech was something we can all try to apply to our daily lives:  Separate the Person from the Act.  That is exactly what happens during the WMF conference.  The many volunteer organizations and individual volunteers look at the women attending the conference without seeing their crimes.  The women are viewed as individuals who need a little help, some guidance and training.  They will get a second chance; they will need to be able to find a place to live, get and keep a job, have healthy relationships with their families, and manage their money.  Some of them haven’t done any of this in a long timeOneonOneWeb; some of them may have never done it successfully.

And when the women do get out of prison, I hope they will encounter people who can separate them from their prior acts—people who will take a chance on them, give them a break, hire them, show them  kindness and respect.   After all, they have paid their debts to society for their past crimes.  Re-entering their communities should be a fresh start.

You can help by donating to the WMF Conference! !  Go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

 

 

 

One Day Makes a Difference in Lives of Women

15 Mar

The Women Moving Forward (WMF) Pre-Release Conference is held annually in partnership with the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW).   The conference is a one day event on Saturday, April 23.

The goal of the WMF annual conference is to provide approximately 150 women who are within 6 to 9 months of regroupweblease with resources and information necessary to successfully return to their communities.

The time-served for these women vary.  I think we can safely assume it has been some time since any of them have successfully managed to live on their own, going to work, paying rent, buying groceries,  and all the things that are part of our normal, daily lives.  Now, it is going to be much more of a challenge because they have criminal records and no relevant job history.  Many applications still ask if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.  She must answer honestly, but checking that box usually means she will not be considered if there are other applicants without the check. Ex-felons are not eligible for public housing or unemployment. Typically a city will not hire an ex-felon even for garbage pick-up. Companies who are open to hiring ex-offenders do not want anyone, especially their customers, to know. Ex-felons are not eligible for health insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. The list of obstacles goes on and on.

There are organizations participating in the conference whose mission it is to help the ex-offender navigate her re-entry to society and they offer workshops to give the inmates an idea of what will be required of them. The activities for conference day are designed to meet the specific needs of the soon-to-be-released inmate. Workshops include how to find housing, getting and keeping a job, finding health insurance, parenting, coping with trauma and substance abuse, anger management, dealing with post-release legal issues, avoiding gangs, money management and addressing mental health issues.

One reason for high recidivism rates is probation violations so there is a workshop on successfully navigating parole & probation requirements.  Learning stress management is also an important factor to avoiding bad choices that could derail an ex-offender so yoga and meditation are offered.  The inmate is allowed to choose the workshops she feels will best serve her as she returns to her community.

It is one day. Each inmate will receive a thumb drive with resource internet sites and phone numbers as she is released and leaves the facility.  This one day could make a difference.

The WMF Pre-Release Conference is funded through contributions from companies and individuals.  A steering committee works months in advance to plan the event, taking in consideration MCIW rules and procedures.  The steering committee is made up of members of the National Association of Women Judges and employees of MCIW, including Warden Margaret Chippendale, and various organizations and individuals.  Future blog entries will introduce some of these members. 

Please support this effort by donating!  Go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

 

 

The Main Event

22 Oct

 DSCN5570

Awesome, incredible, wonderful, impressive, so important —- words heard from volunteers.  There were more than 70 volunteers who participated in the Women Moving Forward (WMF) Re-entry Conference on October 11, 2014.

Grateful, helpful, kind, needed, awesome, thank you — words heard from many of the 150 inmates who attended the WMF Conference.

Before the civilian (non-Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW)) volunteers arrived, MCIW Lieutenants and Captains gave up a day off to volunteer, providing the additional staff necessary to hold the conference for the 150 inmates who will be released within the next 9 months.  The day began with welcoming words from co-chair Judge Angela Eaves.  She expressed the goal of the conference:  to provide information and resources to support the successful transition to the community.   Reverend Cheryl Mercer introduced the key note speaker, Lashonia Etheridge-Bey.

Ms. Etheridge-Bey’s portion of the program began with a powerful video by Gabriela Bulisova documenting her struggle to put her life back on track after her release from prison.  The video may be viewed on Vimeo.  Ms. Etheridge-Bey’s story is a tragic, yet inspiring one.  As a youth, she made a series of bad decisions that landed her in prison for a double murder.  Ms. Etheridge-Bey spoke candidly about her journey that included rehabilitation and atonement both inside prison and out.   Her words certainly set the tone for the day and as Judge Julia Weatherly gave instructions for the rest of the day, the women headed for their morning workshops.

It was a difficult choice for the morning.  Each inmate had to choose one workshop to attend from the following 8 options:

  • Goodbye to Gangs
  • So You Wanna Reconnect with Your Kid?
  • Get Connected Through Mediation
  • Positive Moves for No More Drama Mama
  • Yes, Your Credit Matters!
  • Confronting Post Release Legal Issues
  • Calm Down & Focus with Mindfulness Meditation
  • Empowerment to Insure and Overcome

 

Inmates were orderly in moving from the gymnasium to the classrooms which undoubtedly pleased Warden Chippendale. The workshops were well attended and inmates showed interest by participating in exercises and discussion.  One hour and twenty minutes was allotted for the workshop sessions.

A double dose of energy could be expected for the next item on the agenda.  The box lunches were quite a treat as they were brought in from the outside and fried chicken has been a favorite in the past.  There was a variety of sandwiches to choose from as well and a piece of fresh fruit in each box pleased the crowd.  But the main attraction for the lunch hour was the Fashion Show!

The Fashion Show was produced by Inez Watson and directed by Adrienne Watson Carver, Executive Director of Studio “A” Modeling, Etiquette and Dance Academy.  The models were inmates who were not among the participants of the conference and each had 3 outfit changes to navigate during the very professional exhibition, complete with a red carpet runway and music.  The crowd was wild with enthusiasm!

Breakout Session II began after lunch at 12:40 and inmates, once again, had to make some tough choices from the following list of programs:

  • How to Live on a Budget with a Savings Account
  • Parents with Patience & Purpose
  • Preparing Now for New Place Outside
  • Live a Joyful Life
  • So Everybody Needs a Job
  • My Life, My Needs, My Journey
  • Make Your Legacy Iconic
  • Break Through to Independence

 

And speaking of breaking through to independence, Lamont Carey delivered a performance that brought the house down.  After spending time behind bars at age 16, Mr. Carey became an internationally known and award winning spoken-word artist, as well as a filmmaker, author, workshop facilitator and motivational speaker.  He performed two poems for the audience.

Other activities during the day included practice employment interviews.  Volunteers, acting as prospective employers, interviewed inmates and provided feedback for future job searches.  There was a Resource Fair providing information on essential needs such as housing, jobs, healthcare, and addiction management.

The participants were given Conference Guides to assist them in making the most of the conference.  The guide included a Resource Fair Scavenger Hunt to encourage the participants to identify their most significant needs and the appropriate resources.

There was only one solemn period during the day and that was the moment of silence for the late Carolyn Mattingly, treasurer and past chair of WMF.  Mrs. Mattingly recently passed leaving a legacy of warmth and compassion and an ache in committee members’ hearts.

The conference was conducted much like any other professional business conference.  It took the attendees out of their typical workday and placed them in an environment that stimulated thought and innovation.  It caused the participants to think about the future, to plan, to dream.  And most of all, it let the inmates know that someone cares that they succeed — from the Judge who may have sentenced them to the Warden that keeps them within the fences.  No one wants to see them fail.

 

 

The Details Are In The Home Stretch

09 Oct

At the last planning meeting before the Women Moving Forward (WMF) Conference Tuesday night, the ‘home stretch’ was in front of the team of volunteers gathered around a conference table at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW).   An event like this is a challenge to put together at any venue, but add the unusual obstacles that present themselves when the event is held in a prison and you have quite a lot of moving parts that must come together.

The planning meetings are held at the MCIW.  All WMF committee members must be cleared in advance to enter the prison and go through a screening process before each meeting.  It is quite daunting to go through metal detectors and a frisk then wait for a series of gates and doors to be opened as you walk to the conference room.

Co-chairs Reverend Cheryl Mercer and Judge Angela Eaves went through each item on the agenda, checking with the sub-committee members for assurance that every detail has been addressed.  The budget was first on the agenda.   Have checks been issued to those who required payment in advance?  Is there money left to pay for the remaining expenses?  It seems that, once more, expenses have been kept to a minimum to stay within budget. The reason this is possible is because of the incredible generosity of those who contribute their time, those that provide in-kind donations, and those who contribute financially.

The participants are given conference bags to store the brochures and other information they may pick up at the resource fair.  Warden Chippendale tries to avoid gang colors for items going to the inmates.  No red bags.  And this year, no blue bags.  But the order had been placed.  The Warden approved the blue, mesh bags for this year, but already the sub-committee chair, Judge Cathy Serrette is looking into clear bags for next year.   The teamwork is impressive!

It was easy to know the flowers had been delivered — the conference room was very fragrant and chilly as the air conditioning in the room was lowered to keep the flowers fresh until Saturday.

The program book has been completed, sent to the printer and will be delivered Friday.  Box lunches have been ordered from the caterers and the inmate models have been fitted with outfits for the fashion show.  There will be a practice run of the fashion show one night during the week.  A sound system will be provided by MCIW and it was decided a song list should be provided to the Warden to ensure there are no banned lyrics in the mix.  And, yes the red carpet has been rented!

It is customary to receive ‘freebies’ when you attend a conference so the inmates at MCIW do receive goodie bags.  Of course, the committee must be pretty creative to come up with items that can be approved by the Warden. The Zonta Club of Annapolis supplied goodie bags containing personal toiletry items.

Recruiting volunteers is typically a challenge for an event.  Outside of committee members, there are more than 70 volunteers who will be at the prison Saturday.  Each of those volunteers had to be cleared by the prison.  The team will arrive at the prison at 7:45 Saturday morning to be processed in.  That will take some time!  The conference begins at 9:00 a.m.

Organizing the WMF Conference is tricky business but you would never have noticed that Tuesday night.  The WMF team is a well-oiled machine with all moving parts working together in harmony to provide wonderful and beneficial experiences for 150 inmates every year—a great send-off as they look towards a lawful and productive life in their communities!


 

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

Reducing Recidivism is Key for Families, Communities & Taxpayers

04 Oct

On any given day in America, more than 2 million people are incarcerated, according to a prison study conducted by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons (Confronting Confinement).  Over the course of a year, 13.5 million spend time in prison or jail.  For many, it is not their first time.
Why do ex-offenders recidivate?  Most  inmates dream of a different life on the outside.  They plan to reunite with family, to get a good job, and lead a responsible life.  Most never intend to return to illegal drugs or alcohol and the problems their addictions led them to experience.  So how does it happen that over 40% of ex-offenders end up returning to prison within 3 years of their release? Among state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 about two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years.

There is plenty of debate over the reasons for high rates of recidivism.  The causes cited range from the inherent problem of exposure to other criminals while in prison to insufficient education and rehabilitation programs in prisons to lack of support once released.  All of these and more certainly contribute to the problem.

What we do know is that the problem needs to be addressed.  The average cost of prison is approximately $30,000 per person annually.  The Federal Bureau of Prison’s 2014 annual budget is $6,936 million (43,361 positions; 20,911 correctional officers).   Among the 40 states that participated in a survey conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, the cost of prisons was $39 billion in fiscal year 2010, $5.4 billion more than what their corrections budgets reflected.  Reducing recidivism offers significant potential savings to taxpayers and greater safety in our communities.

While the volunteers involved with the Women Moving Forward (WMF) conference are aware of the significant costs of prison, it is actually a more human aspect that drives them to continue to invest time and resources into the program.  They care.  They care about the women, approximately 65% of whom are mothers.  They care about the children of those mothers and they want to interrupt the cycle of crime and incarceration.  Children who have a parent in prison are five times more likely than their peers to commit crimes.

When asked why Dr. Shawn Flower, Principal Researcher at Choice Research Associates, volunteers her time to the WMF conference, she says, “I believe that opportunity is the key to success.  The Women Moving Forward conference provides these women with the opportunity to obtain information that may help them to successfully return to the community.  It is not a panacea – but it is a start.”  Choice Research Associates focuses their research on issues pertaining to prisoner re-entry, female offenders, community corrections, and program evaluation.

The WMF Re-Entry Conference will be held on October 11, 2014 at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Maryland.  The conference will provide much needed information on how to find a job and a place to live, how to get IDs and Driver’s License, and how to continue Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous support.  WMF gathers leaders and motivators to give mini-workshops to inspire the inmates who are going to be free within 9 months and to steel them against the temptations that will land them in trouble.   Perhaps the most important element is that the same judge that handed down a sentence is now lending a hand for success.

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 


 

Shawn M. Flower, Ph.D. is the Principal Researcher of Choice Research Associates, providing criminal justice research services that focus on issues of prisoner re-entry, female offenders, community corrections, and program evaluation which employ rigorous methodologies. Dr. Flower has worked as a Program Evaluator in the field of Criminal Justice Research since 2002 and has a solid foundation working with program administrators, direct service providers, and funding agencies. In her work, she conducts both process and outcome evaluations of a variety of programs including prisoner reentry, BJA/SAMHSA funded enhancement services project for Baltimore City District Drug Treatment Court participants, and services for at risk populations including the unemployed and public housing residents. In conducting these evaluations, Dr. Flower often employs a model of researcher-practitioner collaboration called the Program Development Evaluation (PDE) method, developed by Drs. Gary and Denise Gottfredson. Dr. Flower also provides research services and policy and strategic planning support to state, local, and national criminal justice agencies.

Dr. Flower also works with Justice Research Statistics Association as a Research Associate on the National Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center project and is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Governmental Service and Research (IGSR) working on a project-by-project basis..

In April 2009, Dr. Flower was appointed to the State of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Female Offender Management Workgroup, and served on the Program Quality Subcommittee. In 2010, Dr. Flower was selected as the Chair of this workgroup and conducts quarterly meetings to discuss the needs and issues related to women offenders along the criminal justice continuum. Dr. Flower has also served as a board member for the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women College Degree Program since 2010. This program provides incarcerated women the opportunity to participate in college classes. Dr. Flower also served on the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center Community Advisory Board from 2007 to 2012.

Since 2008, Dr. Flower has been the evaluator for the Women Moving Forward Conference, (see www.wmfmd.org) sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and held each year at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Dr. Flower has also been involved as a steering committee member and in 2011, served as Co-Chair of the conference. This annual day-long event provides approximately 125 women with the opportunity to attend workshops focused on re-entry issues including housing, education, mental health counseling and available resources, as well as providing an opportunity to participate in job interviews.

For more on Dr. Flower, see About Dr. Flower.