First, let me mention that our next meeting will be this Sunday at 11:30 in the Lichtenberger Room. Hope you can join us!
At our last meeting, we began to discuss some already-established groups we might want to work with:
Concord Prison Outreach
From their website:
“Concord Prison Outreach (CPO) dates back to 1968, when its first volunteers helped to support people in a local prison infirmary. Since those early days, we developed into the largest organization of our kind in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We are a 501(c)(3) organization composed of a coalition of individuals and faith communities committed to helping people who are incarcerated build better lives for themselves and their families. We work cooperatively with the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC), offering educational programs that focus on skill-building and personal growth, essentials we believe will help support people in prison to achieve success post-incarceration. Our programs serve eight prisons and one jail in Massachusetts. Hundreds of individuals and nearly forty faith communities join us in our mission to offer compassion, education and opportunity to those behind bars.”
CPO currently has programs in two facilities in Concord, one facility in Billerica, and two facilities in Shirley. A number of different educational programs are offered -- for example, basic computer skills, parenting, gardening, anger management, and job search skills. Volunteers learn the ropes by attending the programs and learning from experienced volunteers (you don’t need to already be, e.g., a gardening expert). More information about the steps involved in becoming a volunteer are available at this page on their volunteering page.
It appears that CPO has an organized, well defined volunteering program, which would be one of the advantages of working with them. One potential disadvantage would be the need to coordinate transportation for those of us who don’t have cars (me included!). There are also background checks and other paperwork involved, which can take some time to be processed; however, this would be the case with any volunteering behind prison walls.
This is the group Kate K. worked with initially; in their College Behind Bars program, they organize teams of mentors for people who are working toward degrees (from Boston University, Tufts, or Emerson) while incarcerated in a state prison in the area. Each team has four to six members, all of whom have committed to working with an incarcerated student in the long term -- that is, until they finish whatever degree program they’re in. Mentors, according to the website, visit in twos, so not every team member goes to visit the student every time.
Again, there are no particular requirements in terms of being eligible to participate, other than (of course) having to be subjected to background checks, etc. Transportation would also be an issue, although, according to the website, the mentoring takes place both by mail and in person.
Roca’s focus is on working with young (late teens/early twenties) men and women who are thought to be at high risk for going to (or going back to) jail. They use a “four-year intervention model” that involves “relentless” outreach and relationship building, as well as life skills, educational, and employment programs; a two-year period of these more intensive services is followed by a couple years of follow-up to make sure the people in the program stay on track. Roca has a relationship with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and are listed on their website as one of the department’s reentry programs.There is a lot more information on Roca website about what the group does; for more about the intervention model, see this page and links therein. I believe their office in Boston might be their newest one, but they also have offices in some suburbs, as well as in Baltimore, MD.
Roca also has an apparently formal and well defined volunteering program. Volunteers are expected to commit to at least four hours a week for at least three months (with people willing to commit to at least six months given priority). Their PDF on volunteering notes that most volunteers can expect to spend about 75% of their time performing administrative tasks and about 25% in direct service.
Art and Spirituality Program at South Bay
I haven’t been able to find an official website for this program (if you know of one, please tell me!), but here’s a good article about Rev. Pam Werntz’s founding of and involvement in the program; I’d also recommend Jill’s write-up, “A Ministry of Presence,” about her experiences in the program. Rev. Werntz has turned over the running of the program to Lesley University, which has an art expressive therapies program. The group holds a session with the women who are incarcerated at South Bay every Monday night; during the session, the women use art supplies brought by the group to make cards for their friends and family. To learn more about the program, I’d really recommend checking out the two links above. Rev. Werntz and Jill Seiler-Moon describe it more vividly than I could!
I should note that although the visits take place every week, it seems that many (perhaps most?) volunteers participate once a month. And, as with any volunteering that takes place in a correctional facility, there would be background checks and many, many rules involved.
We also discussed the possibility of holding a fundraiser or drive during the holidays, although we were reminded that having it at that time could conflict with the Be an Angel Project, so we’ll probably need to rethink the timing. However, here are the two groups we’re considering helping out in some way:
Massachusetts Bail Fund
This group provides up to $500 as bail to low-income people facing charges who aren’t able to afford it. Referrals come from court-appointed counsel, and each application is reviewed by a panel that considers various factors, including “all relevant aspects of their case and life.” After a decision is made in a client’s favor, a volunteer goes to the jail and posts the bail. At the end of the legal process, when the case has been decided, the bail money (assuming it has not been forfeited) is released back into the bail fund. Therefore, money donated to this group can potentially be used over and over again as additional clients are referred.
Prison Book Program
This group receives book requests from incarcerated people all over the country and fulfills them from their collection of donated paperback books. They are currently receiving book donations only if they are on their “most needed list,” as well as donations through their Amazon wish list.
I’d also like to mention that the Prison Book Program is currently collecting online (money) donations for a Dictionary/Thesaurus Drive. Dictionaries are the most requested book at the Prison Book Program, and thesauruses are apparently a close second! It doesn’t take a lot of money to donate one or a few such books to incarcerated people who need them, so I hope you’ll consider spreading the word and donating.
We can talk more about raising funds/collecting resources for these groups at future meetings. Leah also brought up the possibility of applying for a Ministry Outside the Church (MOC) grant. More on this to come!
Finally, the day after our last meeting, Pat and I spent Monday evening with the Prison and After group at St. Cecilia Parish. Although the specifics of our experiences there need to remain confidential, we did come away with some additional ideas about things our group might want to consider doing. More on this on Sunday!
I’d love to hear any and all thoughts from those who are interested in participating in the group, regardless if whether you’ll be able to attend the meeting on Sunday. Please let me know what you think about all of the above ideas! We’re hoping we’re going to be able to settle on something we can get started on very soon.
Hope to see you Sunday!