To battle the devastating effects of incarceration on loved ones, the Family Connection and Awareness Program at the Westside Health Authority held an informational meeting Saturday to discuss services that are available. The group also talked about the importance of communication and unity while someone is in prison and later returns home.
The Westside Health Authority’s Community Support Advisory Council re-entry and employment program offers services such as career training and case management for the formerly incarcerated. There’s also family recovery coaching and mentoring available to the ex-prisoner’s loved ones, including children, during the monthly meetings.
“The relationships are truly strained,” program director Dara Lewis said at last weekend’s gathering.
Lewis said the family meetings, which take place on the third Monday of every month, usually attract 11 to 13 families seeking re-unification resources and counseling. “If (relationships) are already fragile, putting prison on top of that makes it easy for people to give up.”
“We’re trying to minimize the impact incarceration has on families,” she said.
Drawing from personal experiences of having a loved one incarcerated, Lewis said family relationships should be addressed during the re-entry process.
“By nature, communication is limited, relationships are strained, and this program is trying to help provide ways to keep their relationships healthy.
“We work with the guys to get them ready to come home, and to think about how they can better communicate and motivate themselves. Then on the outside we’re working with their family members,” she said.
The father of Lewis’ daughter’s was incarcerated at the Forrest City Federal Correctional Complex in Arkansas for 60 months. She said the negative effect prison had on her family was especially evident in her daughter, because contact is not allowed during visitation.
“This is so important for families,” said Charles Perry, outreach coordinator for the advisory council.
Perry served more than 19 years in federal correctional facilities and has been involved with the Westside Health Authority for two months.
“If I would not have had my family’s support for that whole period of incarceration, I probably would not be sitting here.”
For slightly more than a year, program supervisors, such as Lewis and Perry, have been meeting with incarcerated individuals at Sheridan Correctional Center twice a month and holding open meetings for family members once a month.
At the correctional center, Lewis and Perry, along with two others from Target Area DevCorp. host classes to provide education about the re-entry process to up to 360 offenders. They help keep the inmates and their loved ones connected by collecting photos and letters written at the family meeting, which are then sent to the the inmates via the mail.
“I look at all the men I’ve met over the period of my incarceration that had nobody, had no services available to them, had something taken out of them each year,” said Perry. “When it came time for them to be released, they had nobody, they had no hope. A program like this gives hope.”
The voluntary program started with providing transportation to family members so they could visit their loved ones. But that part of the program was cut in August due to liability reasons. Program directors met with correctional facility administrators about three weeks ago to discuss alternative options.
“We need to bring people together,” said Barbara Titone, workforce investment act program coordinator for the Westside Health Authority.
Titone also works with the Recovery Education For Family Organization, and often brings the two organizations together. Through this partnership, relatives of incarcerated individuals can receive communication and family togetherness support, as well as substance abuse education and counseling.
“Re-unification in the community is a very important resource and support system for anyone coming in from any kind of change. We can do our part as a program to reduce recidivism,” Titone said.
The Family Connection and Awareness Program holds open meetings the third Monday of every month at 5816 W. Division St. Organizers encourage involvement from relatives of incarcerated individuals serving time in any location. For more information, contact Lewis (773) 633-1503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.