By Chris Dowling
As an advocate for households of the incarcerated and returnees, I work for free. At times I dig into my pocket to pay for services I propose. Why do I do this? So when my feet hit the floor in the morning, I don’t think so much about my one loved one in prison and another loved one home from prison. I keep moving.
The advocacy work I give away for free takes me out of myself and the chamber of my thoughts. How my loved ones fit into the stereotypical template of predictions of what happens when someone goes to prison and what happens when someone returns home. It helps to shutter my mind against the revolving door action of people coming home and people going back to prison.
A mouthpiece for people coming home and friends and families of the incarcerated, I make available my resource gathering skills and work alongside government salaried employees. Employees battling to stay afloat to scan and secure the horizon for grant funding sources to remain employed and in operation.
Recently in response to my work proposal, a business owner informed me, “This is not a paid position.” I replied, “I know.”
“Why do want you to do this?” Emphasis on ‘do’, he asked.
“It helps to bring information to people.” I responded.
‘We’ve come a long way Babe.’ To echo that old commercial slogan. Today the federal government promotes and encourages programs that prepare individuals for successful reintegration into the community after release. Because, dang! The hand to forehead light bulb wake up call filters down to all levels of government. The spill of taxpayers’ dollars into the growing abyss of yesteryear’s lockstep practice of shoving lawbreakers at the clang of the cell door, then process them onto the street when the timer dings; time served, was a kind of random grab bag end product.
Maybe not so random. Whopping numbers of released would return to prison, reoffending and victimizing citizens. Recidivism numbers today are somewhat impacted by programs.
Occasionally experiencing first hand the glacial movements of change in connection with the world of incarceration, I have felt at moments frustrated. Sometimes muzzled by organization entities where I have volunteered. When I peer over my shoulder and in my mind’s eye see my now deceased brother growing up in the 70’s and 80’s of the revolving door tread of incarceration, I know, ‘We’ve come a long way Babe.’
To decry organizations’ actions across the board would be wrong. Organizations forced to work in a more community minded approach because of draconian budgets cuts makes for safer communities for all of us to live in.
I arrived at a coalition meeting last week and much to my surprise spotted for the first time a sign erected at the south west parking lot of 100 Colonia De Salud, Cochise County Government offices. The sign was a result of my efforts to raise the profile of households of the incarcerated as a population that contributes to strong communities. And help break the generational cycle of incarceration in families. My idea for the sign was to offer an opportunity for children escorted by their caretakers to various appointments with the criminal justice system a way to identify with pride that they can make a difference in our communities.
A year and half ago I had contacted the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Cochise County Water Wise program. I mentioned I was interested in implementing programs for juveniles. The Cochise County Juvenile Court website addresses the culmination of my work for my population.
CJCS in collaboration with the Water Wise program set up water harvesting sites around Cochise County. This program educates youth on water preservation, develops skills in the construction of water harvesting sites and serves as community restitution. Youth learn about passive rain water collection, skills for employment in landscaping, and environmental concepts in hydrology and erosion control.
As seen below, youth, under the direction of the Juvenile Probation staff, and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Water Wise program, will manually dig a shallow (4 – 6” deep) and wide (approx. 12’) basin or series of smaller basins, and construct a dry stream bed that would hold roof runoff and allow it to infiltrate the ground for landscape vegetation use. This system is called “passive rainwater harvesting”. Excess water not contained by the shallow depression will be diverted via a rock lined dry stream bed, to other vegetation.
Loved Ones of the Incarcerated (LOI)
We are people who have a loved one waiting to be sentenced, or have a loved one incarcerated, or have someone released from incarceration. We meet for discussion and education exchange and mutual support.