Archive for April, 2016

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.)

                       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.