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Mothers in Prison Interview - Diane Swaim

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Second Genesis started with the interest of a woman named Jean Cohen, who was a Chaplain at the time at Tucker Prison in Pine Bluff, the women's unit and Jean continued to see the women who would leave and they would say, "We're never coming back. We're going to make it this time" and within months they'd be back in and she kept asking, "What is why are you coming back? Why is it that you can't make it out there?" And generally their answer would be, "Well, if we just had some support." We go right back in to the same family, the same neighborhood, the same friends and we get back in the same situation which almost inevitably included either drugs and/or alcohol and/or abuse. And so they wouldn't have to create a new crime or perform a new crime, they would simply have to break their parole and they could use any drugs, alcohol, that would break their parole. So, they'd go back in. So, she came up with the dream of if there was a place that you could go that would change your environment and give you a stay for a little while and just give you a boost and that's really what I think we try to do is just give them a boost.

Basically we only take the women who are in prison. We don't ever take them from jail. We just take them from prison and basically what we're looking for are women who really are determined that they're going to change their lives and then we want to help them to do that. The only reason we deny them is if we feel like we're not able to really help them. They may have a mental illness that we're not equipped. They may have too much of a drug problem. We are not a certified drug treatment center. We are an encouragement and a booster program. So, if we feel like that they have more needs than we're equipped to handle, then we don't accept them.

In the house they are required to work. We ask them to work as close to 40 hours a week as possible and that is a service in itself because what we're trying to teach them to do is be independent and we want them in the work force and many of them have never worked before in their life and so just getting them up in the morning, getting them to work and maintaining a job, that part is a service in itself. Then in the evenings we have classes every evening. We have art and that sounds like, well, how does that help them with life skills? But they've been a prison, in an institution for so long that they don't know who they are inside. They don't even realize their own creativity. So, the art is really for them to just release themselves. And it's good self-esteem builder and then we have a class that we call "Boundaries" to help them learn how to establish their own boundaries, protect their own and know other's boundaries. We have parenting on one night. We have computer classes. We have a therapy group led by a psychotherapist that works for us and then we put in different classes. There is a prayer group that goes in to the prison. They come here on Friday nights and have prayers for those that want to. There's a bible study for those that would like to go to that on Wednesday night and then one night a week they must go as a group together to AA or NA. Most of them have a drug or alcohol program, not all.

Another one is just how to make a budget, how to write a check, how to balance a checkbook, that you don't still have money in the bank because you have checks left in your checkbook and that's what some think. And so it's just basics, real basics. We've had one lady who would take them to the grocery stores and give them lists and she'd take them to several stores and help them to understand how to really what's on sale. Does that really mean it's on sale? Do that mean it's a good buy? Help them to understand how to shop. Just a multitude of things.

What we try to provide is security and safety here and that's a lot more than just physical. That's knowing that there is a place, a program in place that gives them boundaries and makes them feel protected and then the different attitudes vary. So many, we've had many who have just done so, so well and have been excited about getting their children back and then work towards that. We have others, quite frankly, who see us as a place to parole out to and then go. They know that they have to have a place to parole out to and they see this as an easy way out and from the time they get here, they don't intend to follow rules. They just wanted out of prison but I'm glad to say that those are really, those are rare. Most of the time the ones who come here really do give it a try, give it their best.

We have had volunteers who have taken them out for job interviews and have helped them find places to go interview. A lot of it is word-of-mouth with one another. They'll go where they know somebody else is working because again, they'll go where they feel safe, where they know somebody will hire them even though they have a prison background. That's what they don't want is to get out and be rejected because they have a prison background. And so if we know there are places like that, we tell them, "You don't need to go there because they won't hire you" so that they don't have to go through that humiliation when they get there.

We have limited phone time. We have curfew. We have passes that they can have. After the first 30 days they can have a one day pass to go somewhere, see family even out of town if they have parole pass. After 60 days, they can have a weekend pass and go somewhere from 7 O'clock on Saturday morning until 9 O'clock on Sunday night. The first level of 60 days and then the first 30 days of that, they can't go anywhere by themselves, even to the neighborhood store which is two blocks away and that's for their safety because our neighborhood here is one that there's good many drugs available and so we tell them that for their safety, they have to go with one another and then after 30 days they can take a 15 minute trip down to the store alone. Then they can go shopping on the weekend. The weekend is theirs. Saturday, Sundays we require that they either go to church or a spiritual group or an AA group, somewhere of their choice but they must get up and go somewhere and they can do that after 30 days on their own or with a friend. We have a mentor assigned to every woman and that person is not to be used for transportation or just for to, you know, to help them, things that they can do for themselves but to just to be an encourager and to be a person they can call when they need to talk. So, they all have an assigned mentor. Also they cannot have a vehicle here and they're required to use the bus system. Again, that is so that when they leave here, they are independent. They can go where they need to until they're able to get a vehicle. So, our whole goal is to make them as independent as we possibly can. Instead of giving them a fish, we'll teach them to fish and that's really what our goal is. They pay rent here and because again, they'd have to pay it somewhere else. So we want them to be independent.

We also require that they save money. So, they have to save every week, a certain amount every week and then they have chores that they all have to do. That's probably pretty much the rules. Of course, no alcohol, no drugs, no men. That's another rule we have here. No relationships at all because we tell them that if we are trying to tell them, help them know what's good for them and help them and a man is telling them something else, they're going to listen to what the man says and so we just tell them, "No men while you're here. Work on yourself, focus on yourself and your family and then you'll have time for a relationship later."

We also go to the Dorcas House to help them with their clothes when they first get here. So, just to help them feel comfortable. Their children under ten can come here and spend the night and we've had several mothers who have brought their children here. We had one who brought a baby every weekend. Another one who brought her nine year old every weekend and stayed here. So, we encourage visitation with their children but we do require that they come the first two weeks without any visitation.

We are really to give them, kind of a safety net back in to society. Society is so hostile to people who have been in prison. We believe they have served their time and now let's give them a fair chance and a fair shake and so we're trying to give them, again, I go back to the word "safety" but it's not just physical safety, it's emotional safety. They know they can say what they need to or want to here and not be judged for that. They can talk with one another because they've all been there. Our whole goal is to, rather than letting people continue to just be a drain on society through the prisons, that we help them come be a part of that society that actually works and supports itself and that's what we're trying to get them to do is to look at life in a different way and quite frankly that's hard. Sometimes they've never known anything but welfare and prison and somebody taking care of them. Sometimes it's very hard to convince them that they can and they should take care of themselves and so we're constantly trying to make them independent.

Once we do that, once they become independent, then they don't have such a need for the things that get them in trouble because that usually is attachment with somebody who's not good for them. Usually a man in their life that's not good. We help them understand they can do it on their own or the drugs or the alcohol. They work past all of that have-to-have-that and that addiction and say I can really do this and so, again, more than anything we are an encouraging agency for them. We feel like if we can help their mothers turn around, then that's going to help their children turn around and we may just see right now the women that we are touching and the women that we may be helping but what we really hope to see is the children who have steady lives and don't ever go to prison because their parents were to prison.

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