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


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