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


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