Volunteering in Prison (Part 1 by Guest Blogger Maria)
This is the first guest blog written by a prison volunteer.
Maria is a Cuban refugee who has been volunteering with Latinos in the U.S. for over 30 years and in prisons for 2 years.
In 2007 I decided to apply to become a volunteer at the prisons in our suburban town, which has one maximum security and one minimum security facility. My motivations to volunteer were various, and among them was anger at the smug, wealthy suburban town I lived in and how they practically pretended the prisons did not exist. I am also Latina, speaking excellent Spanish, and I knew that a large proportion of the inmates were also Latinos. My acceptance as a teacher in Insights was not automatic. I had to attend a 1 1/2 day insight training course, and a two hour volunteer course required by the Department of Corrections. At the end of the Insights training, they could have refused me as a volunteer, yet I was sure I would be accepted -only a small minority, those who are clearly unfit or have ulterior motives are turned down.
I made it clear that I was available especially but not exclusively to the Latino population. Of the six men I taught, three were Latino, two were white, and one was black. Pablo was the man who left the greatest impression on me. I was not as aware while I was teaching him that he would leave such a mark on me, and only over time have I come to realize that my experience teaching Pablo stood out from the rest.
Here's more background info on Maria:
Maria was born in Cuba and immigrated to the US at age 5. She has done a variety of volunteer work since she was in high school and through adulthood, much of it with refugee or poor Latinos, primarily from Puerto Rico but also from El Salvador and Cuba. She graduated from Princeton University in 1977 with a degree in English, with something of a concentration in the Elizabethan Period. She worked for 18 years in banking. Maria has been married 32 years to Scott, and they adopted two children from Latin America. She has worked for two non-profits, one that finds jobs for the disabled and also the statewide Parents Teachers Association. She was laid off each time due to the financial stresses felt by the non-profits. Through the Insights, Maria has tutored/ taught 6 students from the Daniels Correctional Institute individually, and probably 30 or so during the group teaching sessions. Daniels is a minimum security prison, mostly for drug related crimes, although a number of inmates come from the "Big House" maximum security prison as a transition as they complete their prison terms.
As this is Maria's first guest post at Jon's Jail Journal, your comments would be greatly appreciated.
For the previous guest blog click here.
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