<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
Owner
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)



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6 Comments

Ruby A. RICHARDSON
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.