Thursday, December 31, 2009

Helping Ex-cons Start Over

The Women Of Block 12 are not always happy to leave jail. Many of them have no place to go. Life on the outside doesn't wait while you're incarcerated. Landlords rent your apartment to someone else, furniture and possessions disappear, another person takes your job - sometimes they take your boyfriend.

Starting over is difficult, if not impossible. Where does the security deposit come from for the new apartment? How do you find a job with no telephone? How do you explain the gaps in your employment? There aren't enough shelters. There's not enough help.

Diana Ortiz spent 22 years in prison. Now she's a job developer at Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem. Read her story in the following article by Suzanne Weinstock, "Helping Ex-Cons Start Over."

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Read more about The Women Of Block 12:

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Project Angel Tree - What One Woman Can Do

In 1982, former prisoner Mary Kay Beard began setting up Christmas trees in shopping malls and asking shoppers to donate presents for the children of prisoners. That year, Project Angel Tree gave gifts to 556 Alabama children. Since then, volunteers in churches across the country have given more than 16.5 million gifts for over 8 million children.

But her life wasn't always about giving to others. As a young woman, Mary Kay was known as the "Bonnie Parker" of the south. By the age of 27 she was wanted by both federal and state authorities for armed robbery. Her specialty was guns. Captured and convicted, she was sentenced to 21 years in an Alabama prison. There she said, she watched other inmates wrap items such as bars of soap, toothpaste and shampoo (all obtained from local charities) as presents for their children. She vowed to do something about it. The result of her vision is Project Angel Tree, a nationwide charity, sponsored by Prison Fellowship.

Listen to May Kay's amazing story at:

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For more stories about women in prison visit my website:

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Educating Prisoners

Six out of 10 U.S. inmates go to prison without a high school education - a factor that weighs heavily in the numbers of offenders who return to the system.

But one Salem, Oregon business man is doing his part to change that. He has donated nearly $294,000 to help prisoners get a college education because "He believes government can't do everything and private citizens need to step up."

As a result of his generosity, nearly 100 students in three Oregon correctional institutions are enrolled in college courses. The average grade point for all of these students over the past 2 years has been 3.4.

Read the entire article: Anonymous donor helps pay bill for prisoners to go to college behind bars by Susan Goldsmith at:

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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Awful Plight Of Pregnant Prisoners

"The lack of common sense and compassion with which imprisoned pregnant women are treated is chilling" according to an article by Rachel Roth, writer for "The Nation." Women prisoners in the US have often been denied prenatal care, adequate nutrition and hospitalization during pregnancy and birth. Many deliver their children while in shackles. Ms. Roth's article goes on to discuss examples of the dangers incarcerated women face during pregnancy and childbirth.

Read the entire article "How Does Somebody Have a Baby in Jail Without Anybody Noticing?" at:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Christmas Blessing

I had a wonderful surprise today. I met with a woman who wrote her story for my upcoming book, "The Women of Block 12: Voices From A Jail Ministry." Her name is Tesa and she was referred by a "graduate" from my Wednesday Evening Creative Writing group at the jail.

Tesa and I had talked on the phone several times. Today, we met at a local Subway Shop so she could finalize giving me permission to use her work. When she walked in I realized, by her greeting, that she knew me. Then it registered. Tesa had been in the group WAY BACK when it started about 7 years ago!

It's hard to remember all the names and faces. My partner, Jean and I have met hundreds of inmates over the years....and they look so different when I meet them on the street. For one thing, they're not dressed in orange. Sometimes they even have makeup on.

Tesa looks beautiful and healthy. She's a wonderful writer (watch for her story in my book). She's going to school to get her degree in AODA counseling so she can help others. And she plans to continue until she gets her doctorate.

For those of you in prison ministry (or those who are thinking about it), remember God works through you to help people heal. His work is never a waste of your time.

Thank you, Tesa, for hanging in there, for your courage, for the gifts you share.

Thank you for this Christmas Blessing.


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For more information about my upcoming book,
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Decline In US Prison Population

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report earlier this week stating that for the first time in more than three decades, 20 states reported a decline in the number of people in prison during 2008. Across the country, states are sending fewer people to prison as they struggle with the severe economic recession.

These new figures document that the dramatic growth in the U.S. prison population over the past 30 years may be finally leveling off. However, the U.S. rate of incarceration of 754 per 100,000 people remains the highest in the world and about five to eight times that of other industrialized nations.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Prison Punishment And Mental Illness

The number of prisoners who suffer from mental illness is growing dramatically with the increase in prison and jail populations.

According to author, Eve Bender in a November 4th article for Psychiatric News, Prison Punishment Exacerbates Inmates' Psychiatric Illness, the system is creating a more 'severely disturbed' population by failing to provide adequate psychiatric care and punishing inmates with isolation. This practice, which uses segregated housing units (SHU) to separate prisoners from the general population was developed over the past few decades as a way to control prison violence and overcrowding.

Studies indicate individuals who have been segregated have the highest rates of recidivism. Even those inmates with no history of mental illness, suffer from "symptoms of anxiety, confusion, violent outbursts, and even hallucinations" when segregation practices are implemented.

Read more on this topic at:

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Alternatives to Prison Are Working

Substance abuse treatment saves lives and taxpayer dollars according to an article by Matt Kelley on

He says, "Put aside the fact that substance abuse treatment saves the lives of people plagued by chronic addiction. The savings to taxpayers ought to be enough to force a reconsideration of policies that haven't worked: It costs $48,000 a year to keep an addict in prison, compared to $4,000 to $5,000 for outpatient treatment."

Read the full article at:

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