Archive for October, 2014

The Main Event

22 Oct


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


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



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 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.