Certainly being in prison is extremely challenging and life changing for incarcerated prisoners. But, think how difficult it is for families and children on the outside who have a family member or loved one locked up in prison? Very often, the incarcerated prisoner may have been the primary bread winner and sole source of income, adding huge financial stress on families. Children may not understand why their parents are behind bars and may receive peer bullying about having a parent in prison. And then there is the fact of how a family re-adjusts when the incarcerated prisoner is released into society.
In the state of Virginia, there is a program called Assisting Families of Inmates. Their primary mission is to help prevent the breakdown of relationships among inmates and their families. Assisting Families of Inmates provides education and counseling services, support and very importantly, a means for regular visitation-keeping the bond of relationship and family strong.
Our services help families and loved ones throughout the period of incarceration and also prepare families for a successful transition when the inmate is released from prison back into our community.
Some of the services that Assisting Families of Inmates provide include:
• A Transportation Program which provides regular visiting-day transportation on Saturdays to many of Virginia’s prisons, correctional centers,
correctional units and work centers
• A children’s visitation program for children with an incarcerated parent
• A hot meal when buses return at the end of the visiting day, coordinated by our dedicated volunteers and partnering groups and organizations
• Individual and group services that help families cope with issues associated with having an incarcerated loved one
• Assistance to families, and inmates, with resource referrals to other agencies that aid with education, legal issues, reentry, housing, employment, transportation and childcare, etc.
• Information on prison rules and regulations including visiting procedures and proper dress code policies
• The Milk and Cookies (MAC) Children’s Program which provides supportive group services and programming for children with incarcerated parents, and their caregiver.
• A Video Visitation Program which provides the opportunity for families to visit with their incarcerated loved ones via video visitation technology.
• Other collaborative, community efforts including the All God’s Children Summer Camps through the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Richmond
• Many opportunities for community involvement through volunteering
Assisting Families of Inmates began in 1978 as a volunteer program helping low-income families that lived in isolated or rural areas obtain transportation to the prison for regular visits with their loved ones in prison. After a long and emotional day of riding to and from the prison, families can be emotionally over whelmed. One of the lovely services that Assisting Families of Inmates provides, is a hot meal for family members after returning from a visit. Included are supportive outreach organizations that can help with mental and emotional health issues.
Assisting Families of Inmates provides very important resource information such as dress code etiquette while visiting in prison, chaperones for children visiting incarcerated mothers, children’s support groups and organizations and resources to help families with reentry issues.
A very strong program that Assisting Families of Inmates provides is called the Milk and Cookies Program. Included in this program are support groups within elementary schools to help children who have incarcerated parents. The primary basis of the Milk and Cookies Program is to help and support these children’s emotional needs. In addition, there is a strong support group for the many grandmothers that become primary caretakers for children when their parent is incarcerated.
From the children’s point of view, the Milk and Cookies Program gives children tools to help control emotions, to learn how not to fight, how to speak up without insulting someone, help control anger at school and at home and how to be nice to people who wish to help you and be nice.
Many of the families involved with the Assisting Families of Inmates program have very low incomes, as low as $15,000 per year. These vital services that Assisting Families of Inmates provide, help keep family bonds strong throughout the incarceration period and help with the difficult path to reentry. These programs can ultimately keep recidivism rates lowered and strengthen community bonds as well.