A couple of years ago, I saw a post about prisoners who wanted mentors. Without any exposure to the criminal justice system, I wasn’t going to give it a second thought, so I don’t really know why I decided to go to an informational meeting. Maybe it was because I had convinced myself that the next chapter of my life was going to involve delving into some slices of life of people who I otherwise would never have a chance to meet.
I had successfully added volunteer opportunities to my weekly routine which involve Hispanic kindergartners, Somali refugees, underserved teens, and the homeless. So why not consider a prisoner as well? I quickly learned about the high percentage of people who end up returning to correctional facilities but also how that number dramatically drops for prisoners who have had a mentor. I know that fear is often what prevents many individuals from walking through the fenced-in facility, but once inside, all that’s needed is to offer a friendly face to someone who may really be in need of one.
When I went to visit Audrie at the prison where she had been for more than a year, I had the distinction of being her first ever visitor. She later called me her “link to the outside world.” During the last two-and-a-half years, we met monthly and exchanged letters and emails to keep in touch. On Monday, Audrie got out of prison, and I was there to celebrate her entry back into the real world.
We never know what impact we might have on others, but I know that I have gained a tremendous appreciation for those who make mistakes, pay their dues, and sometimes become better people because of it. I also know I gained a friend in Audrie.
NOTE: Two organizations in which I have been involved are:
Amicus — https://www.voamnwi.org/community-justice
Twin Cities Prison Ministry — http://www.stjosephcommunity.org/prison_ministry.aspx