I’ve spent a significant amount of time in prison investing in felons who are enrolled in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) and working diligently to improve their character, personal leadership, and business skills, so they can become leaders for their families and community. You only have to spend one day in prison as a business volunteer to be hooked on the value of this program.
After many years, PEP launched its first women’s program in Lockhart, Texas. I’ve always had a heart for women and girls, so naturally, I volunteered to make the long drive to Austin to spend time with these ladies. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the women’s program. How different would it be from the men’s? I was blown away by these 70 women. Let me share why you should consider becoming a volunteer in human transformation.
Children’s Lives Are at Stake
In my conversations with these women, I learned how concerned they were for their children’s welfare and excited to finally be reunited with their kids. Rarely do I hear men talk about their kids in this way. I’m not suggesting PEP men don’t deeply care about their kids; they just don’t articulate it. They focus more on how they’ve changed, will “make it” legitimately in the real world, and ultimately give back.
Many of these men enter a PEP transition program and live in transition housing for months as a bridge to successfully acclimate into community. They need the brotherhood and support of other men making good decisions. PEP women don’t have access to transition housing, and even if they did, I don’t think they would leverage its value, because they need or want to go home and take care of their kids. They want to be moms again.
Most people don’t understand why I volunteer so much of my time and money in PEP? If I ask people to help with the orphan, they open their pocket books, but rarely can I get a new volunteer to PEP. After spending time with the incarcerated PEP women, it made me wonder, “What’s the difference between an orphan and a child who has their parent, especially their mother, in prison?” Isn’t a child of an incarcerated mother far worse than an orphan? Can potential volunteers see that helping a PEP woman is like helping an orphan?
Research (Murphey & Cooper, 2015) shows that 5 million children or 7% of all U.S. children, have had a parent they lived with go to prison. Parental incarceration has been linked with health problems, behavioral problems, and grade retention which carries into adulthood with mental and physical health problems. Although men are the majority of parents incarcerated, mothers are the growing segment of this population.
Murphey and Cooper (2015) also suggest that minimizing the child-parent separation can be facilitated by reducing the stigma and trauma for the child as well as improving communication between parent-child and making incarcerated visits more child-friendly. For most children, the first trauma is loss of an attachment figure, followed by the continued series of negative unintended consequences.
How to Help the Children
When you help a mother not to recidivate, you invest in a child. Perhaps you don’t necessarily have a passion to help adults who made a poor choice and got caught. If you have a heart for children, you can help them by helping their mothers. See for yourself, firsthand, how hard these women are working on their character, leadership, and business plans to give their families a better future. The PEP program builds their self-confidence one assignment and one Toastmasters speech at a time. Be part of a mother’s transformation and help a child.
Murphey, D., & Cooper, R. (2015). Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children? Retrieved from www.childtrends.org
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/ marriage, finances, and ministry. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com or contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org