<h1>Blog & News</h1>
April 25, 2013

Meeting Women I Could Know: My Visit to Indiana Women’s Prison

by Women's Fund

By: Becca Hanson, OPTIONS Class 13
14 Districts

I had heard that the visit to the Indiana Women's Prison was simultaneously an inspiring, heartbreaking and unforgettable site visit (it was). I so looked forward to our OPTIONS class visit, but I was very anxious driving through the prison gates. And I was petrified when those heavy metal doors slammed shut as we moved from one "zone" to the next.

"I am not happy to be in prison, but I am thankful to be here." These words were echoed again and again by the women we met at Indiana Women's Prison (IWP), the oldest women's facility in the country - founded in 1873. These women are thankful for the opportunities at IWP that have allowed them to create healthy blueprints for their lives. IWP has inmates as young as 14 and as old as 87 - serving terms for as little as one year to six life sentences. Some women are pregnant when they arrive.

Daily activities and programs include GED classes, yoga classes (that came as a surprise!), One Net-One Life, a mosquito net project–finished pieces are sent to Africa as part of a malaria-prevention program, and volunteering in the Community Outreach program, which includes making bed rolls for homeless veterans. Everyone works at IWP – as part of the kitchen staff, on the yard crew, training ADA dogs or as a nanny in the Wee Ones nursery (initial funding for which was provided by Women’s Fund). Women are paid $0.12/hour, earning approximately $25/month. Opportunities to pursue a college degree are slim, given budget cuts. Access to counseling is almost non-existent – 1 counselor is available for 1000+ women. This will ultimately impact successful reentries into our communities. Women at IWP need support once their finish their terms. The women were frank about the need for counseling and support from mentors, counselors, and therapists both while incarcerated and once they “reenter” life outside of prison.

My biggest take-aways from our visit:

  • For many of these articulate, sensitive, compassionate women, the cause of their incarceration was "the first time I was ever in trouble." These are truly cases of a single bad decision.
  • For most, two common threads have most negatively impacted their lives, and ultimately led to their incarceration: unstable, troubled childhoods (moving from foster home to foster home, teen pregnancies, abandonment by a parent) and volatile, unhealthy relationships with men. Yet, there is almost no access to counseling in prison.
  • Of the six women we met, most had been imprisoned during their 20’s. Almost all were pregnant when incarcerated or had children that were left with parents or grandparents. As we’ve discussed in our OPTIONS class, there is a gap in services for 20-something women who have “aged out” of programming for girls, yet who desperately need guidance in creating a plan to pursue a college degree, finding a job (and ultimately build a career) and improving parenting skills.

Prior to our visit, I spoke with Jennifer Dzwonar, Co-Chair of the Women’s Fund Communications Advisory Committee, who had already visited the prison, and she said something that struck me – she shared that these women could have been in our high school class; they are women we may interact with at the grocery store or while waiting in line at the post office. She was absolutely right.

The women we met are dynamic, optimistic and compassionate. They accept responsibility for their actions and all are focused on serving their communities both inside of prison and once they are released. They talked most about their kids, their parents, their challenges and their dreams. This is the type of conversation I have every day with my friends.

Photo credits: inumc.org; The Indianapolis Star (Danese Kenon)

Leave a Comment



Carla Pearson
Friday, September 26
I am new to this whole jail& prison thing. I had gotten sick almost 11 yrs. ago & in order to get better& my bby girl's not see it due to the fact I never believed in letting my angel's ever see any thing bad,scary,or heart breaking so I knew I had to get them settled with a person an make sure they was o.k with where they was & not being hurt or any thing bad ever be in front of them while I was gone. I worked soo hard on getting better that in 4 month's I came back to Indpls. from Ky. the 1st. thing was to go straight over & get my bbys. & some hoe in those 4 month's tht so called friend had brain washed my bbys into hating me,lil did I know tht she was getting checks for them & selling their ssn's to ppl @ tax time. I almost died hearing my girl's,the very angel's tht I literally died for having them in the delivery room,but was able to be brung back though all I cared about was them saving my bby's. Well its been 10 of the longst yrs. of my life& more hell then u could ever imagine,Now I have found my youngest she is 19 & told me every thing & that my oldest Alysianna Martin is in womens prison because when she turned 18 she was tired of being bearen,slaved,& much much more& this so called woman had heard her ask for my mom's number because I'm going home and so will my sister & now Alysianna is in prison due to this well I cannot say what she is,but I know that I need to try & get a hold to my bby & tell her that Catherine lied to her when she said that she told my bby tht she came over to my house & I slammed the door in her face saying I never wanted any thing to do with either of the girls & to never bother me again, which was an is such a lie, well it's severley demented what she has done to my bbys lives. I have turned her& her 2 grown daughters in for stealing my kids ssn. getting checks in others names because they had too many coming to their houses from a few slightly retarded woman who has kids as well an they some how got her an her kids info. an is recieving checks for them an they dont live there with this bunch my youngest daughter Shauneisa Martin & I went to the disability office and turned all that info in on these 3. I dont know how to get ahold to my baby girl,nor has she had any money put on her books,nothing bought for her at all& she's been in for almost 3yrs. & for that lying winch Catherine Haynes setting my daughter up to look like she's doing things that she has no ideal how to do or would ever do all due to the fact because Catherine didnt want to loose that check on her so she then brung in this 1 boy trying to get with my youngest & get her pregnant to get a check on my grandbaby,but that didn't work bc she wouldn't let him an she was in a shelter for battered women when she found me do to what that winch has done to her an Alysianna. I need Help on how to also get in an see her,talk to her,give her thigs she needs and money as well as talking to the warden,& the Parole board to see about getting my bby out of there & back home with me her mom where she belong's. Please help me I am 39 now & I am terminally ill, & I want my bby's to have the life they should have had an put them on the right track. Can ANY ONE PLEASE HELP ME?
Monday, April 7
My name is Ruby Richardson, I am a member of a senior line dance group.The name of the group is Young at Heart Senior Line Dancers. The members must be 55years old and up. We would be happy to dance for the womenfund.org.
Scott Servoss
Friday, February 14
I am writing you today to discuss the prison system. I am a volunteer at the Indianapolis IREF facility as a mentor and also teach a class at the Indiana Women’s Prison The class is called "Spoken Word" and is a spoken word poetry class. I can't tell you enough how therapeutic this form of art is for the prisoners in the Rehabilitation process. We have made tremendous strides already. The students get to voice their emotions and thoughts and it ultimately becomes a healing experience.

I really can't put into words how talented some of these women are and how much some have changed throughout the process. Please Please get the word out to the program as we do have the need for more media publicity to create more and expand the programs

Scott Servoss
Abigail Coleman
Wednesday, December 11
Hello Deborah: Very many thanks for your interest! The program is run by ICAN. ICAN works with some women at Indiana Women's Prison to train service dogs. To learn more about their program, visit icandog.org.
Deborah Baker
Tuesday, December 10
I would like more information about the ADA dog training program. Specifically where you get the dogs, how long they stay at the facility and where do they go after training???
Sue Swayze
Monday, April 29
We have a grant to teach healthy relationships skills to both singles and couples, and my all-time favorite place to teach is IWP in the PLUS Unit. Whether as children or with their husband or partner - these women have been through so many unhealthy experiences, from violence to verbal and emotional abuse. They say that this is one of their favorite classes (PREP or Within My Reach), which I also teach in Marion County jails and various re-entry programs in Indy. How to de-escalate an argument, how to fight 'fair', how our expectations set us up for failure, how to express our needs and how to choose a partner wisely. Evan how to break-up carefully yet with finality. I've taught almost 1,000 women behind bars and in the community and the one thing we ALL have in common is the need for a secure, safe, stable, loving relationship. I'd love to tell you more about it as our grant is running out, and our community partners like Healthy Families, Julian Center, PACE, Jail 1 and CCA are all wishing we could do more in the future.
Anne Vanderlaan
Monday, April 29
I work at Rockville prison as a substance abuse counselor, I would like to know personally about your organization. I am inspired that other people are trying to make a difference in the lives of these women.