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The Main Event

22 Oct

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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.

 

 

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