Some remote prison volunteers travel more than 100 miles
Editor’s note: In honor of National Volunteer Month, Inside CDCR looks at the essential work of volunteers at remote institutions.
BLYTHE – With today’s prices, consider the cost to travel to a grocery store. To get to work? To volunteer?
At institutions in remote locations, such as Chuckawalla Valley (CVSP) and Ironwood State Prisons (ISP), volunteers often live more than 100 miles away, traveling up to three hours to donate their personal time.
Their efforts make possible a host of academic, vocational, and other rehabilitative programs offered through long-standing community partnerships.
Some of these include:
- book clubs
- computer literacy
- parenting classes
- trades like electrical work, plumbing, and welding.
Most participants are retired or involved with a faith-based organization that already has a relationship with the prison.
CRMs build relationships
Supported by grants, Community Resources Managers (CRM) build relationships between prisons and people residing around them. Through these relationships, prisons provide rehabilitative services to the incarcerated population.
CRMs Kenny Kalian (CVSP) and Carey Ochs (ISP) have each worked at their institutions for well over a decade. While they receive similar grants, their programming is not identical.
The two greatest challenges are being remote and, like all other facilities, the COVID-19 pandemic. Conquering these hurdles requires community partnerships, maintaining relationships with long-standing volunteers, and proactively restructuring programs.
To engage new volunteers, ISP and CVSP do extensive community outreach. Examples include holding citizens’ advisory committee meetings and involving community stakeholders in fundraisers and other events. Prison staff and the incarcerated population also frequently raise money for cancer research, child abuse awareness, and other causes.
Born and raised in the area, Kalian leverages local ties, recruiting by word-of-mouth in the community. Leaders of the chaplaincy and various faith-based organizations in the community are also invited to provide their services.
Both CRMs said they’re grateful for volunteers who make the long drive to their institutions. For some long-standing volunteers, they make the drive multiple times a week.
Never taking volunteers for granted, Ochs said she appreciates their generosity each time they travel to the facility.
“I never just assume that it’s their job or they’ll be here next week,” she said. “I think the second you do that, they feel that. And we’ve got to be thankful.”
Meet some of the volunteers
Buddhist monk Ven. De Hong has been bringing his lessons to ISP for nearly 10 years. Teaching Buddhist psychology and mindfulness meditation, he also leads day-long meditation retreats.
Other frequent ISP outreach programs are The Prison Fellowship and Kairos Ministry. They work with the incarcerated, their families, and wardens to form lasting bonds and advocate for those in the prison system.
At CVSP, Bobbi Van Sant and Cindy Johnson lead the Self-Confrontation program. For more than 25 years, they have provided religious mentorship training, teaching how to look to scriptures for answers to life’s problems. To bring their program to the institution, they travel an estimated three hours to CVSP on a weekly basis.
Like any other institution, the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted programming and their volunteers. Class sizes, which were reduced by more than two-thirds, are now slowly being increased. New HEPA filtration systems have been installed in group meeting areas to safely accommodate more people. Staff and volunteers are being retrained to become familiarized with policies and procedures for proper supervision when working with an incarcerated group. As programs pick up again, ISP is also planning multiple events including an art contest and a walk for child abuse awareness.
To learn more about programs at CDCR institutions, visit the Rehabilitation page.
By Tessa Outhyse, Public Information Officer
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications