Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Around the Country, Inmates Are Giving Back to Their Communities

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Apologies for the blogging hiatus of late; I hope to get back to regular posting soon. In the meantime, a reader recently sent along this article at TakePart.com that spotlights five prison charities around the country. The examples range from small, inmate-run volunteer organizations to comprehensive job training programs. Through these programs, inmates are quilting blankets for nearby hospitals, selling homemade crafts and donating the proceeds, preparing and serving food at a low-cost cafeteria for their local community, training puppies to serve as companion dogs for disabled military veterans, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and more. Since I’m in California, I thought I’d highlight this organization at the Chowchilla women’s prison, but all the stories are well worth reading:

In the farmlands east of San Jose, behind the fences of the octagon-shaped Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), members of one of the country’s most active and effective women’s prison groups have an interesting new idea: they’d like to sponsor a Girl Scout troop.

The plan, if they can do it, is to start a troop made up of daughters of inmates that, with the aid of outside coordinators, would be just like any other troop in America—except it would occasionally gather at the institution.

A working Girl Scout troop would be one more way members of VSPW’s Long Termer’s Organization have found to give back to the community. During the group’s nearly 20-year history, the ladies have donated around $150,000 to charitable organizations.

It seems to me that the programs highlighted in this article do two really great things: they give inmates an opportunity to learn skills they could apply to a future job on the outside, while also giving them the valuable experience — an experience we all need to feel fulfilled — of taking control of a project and seeing it through. Along the same lines, a few months ago I blogged about the Sustainable Prisons Project, a partnership between Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections that involves inmates in beekeeping, spotted frog research, worm culture, organic gardening, and bicycle repair.

Unfortunately, prison education and rehabilitation programs around the country have been subject to crippling budget cuts in recent months, and in general, most inmates have precious few opportunities to do anything meaningful with their time while behind bars. Although true prison reform will require comprehensive statewide solutions, in the meantime, it would be great if more local nonprofits, job training programs, university labs, etc. would think creatively about ways to build bridges with nearby prisons and offer inmates an opportunity to get involved with their work. Perhaps these examples will spark some ideas!

Written by sara

April 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

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