When a mother goes to prison, her children are in crisis. They have done nothing to deserve their fate, but their lives are often disrupted in painful ways. Few people understand, and they do not usually get the same kind of sympathy that children of divorced or deceased parents might get. Yet the same issues of loss are there.
Aid to Inmate Mothers (AIM) provides programs for incarcerated mothers and their children. Each month, AIM brings about 100 children from across the state to the prison for a three hour visit in the prison chapel. The children are transported by church vans and church volunteers. A meal and art activity are provided, and photos are taken. The atmosphere is one of bittersweet joy, and a sense that time is precious. "My visits with my children are what get me through the month," said one young mother. After I see my children, we count the days until the next AIM visit."
In addition, AIM has a monthly reading program for the mothers called the The Storybook Project. AIM brings a few hundred books to the prison each month, and volunteers help the mothers record a DVD of themselves reading a book of their choice to their child. The books and DVDs are then sent to the children--and the children get something they can't take away from a visit--the sound of their mother's voice, and the image of her reading to them, to watch whenever they feel lonely.
At AIM, we feel that a part of helping the children succeed is helping their mothers learn to be better parents. Since most of the mothers will be going home (most serve about 3 years) AIM provides rehabilitative classes such as Parenting Education, Domestic Violence Education, Women's Health, HIV Prevention Education, as well as a reentry program, Project Reconnect that offers Life Skills and Job Readiness Programs (for women that are 18-24 mos. from release). Home plans and Life Goals are mapped out with each individual.
After release, AIM offers one year of follow up, provides clothing and basic hygiene, referrals to social services, and help with their job search. We stay in close contact with the mothers so that we can quickly address any barriers to their success.
At AIM, we believe these mothers deserve a second chance. It makes sense to help these families reestablish themselves, so the mothers can come home to stay, and be good mothers to their children.