The Fourth of July. Freedom, Liberty, Independence. As we celebrate all these things with the required explosives and overeating and hopefully a lot of laughter and love in your life…maybe a category for potential volunteering might suggest itself from the day’s theme. Or as the opposite of the day’s theme. As we laud all things free, have you considered that what may strike up your volunteering spirit (like striking up the band to hit it with the “Star Spangled Banner” one more time) would be working with prisoners and those who are incarcerated?
Jails and prisons make use of volunteers in so many ways, and your work can truly change the life of someone who doesn’t have the freedoms you enjoy today. Habitat for Humanity does Prison Partnership volunteering to get some of their most important house building projects done. So many prisons use volunteers from the community for workshops, lectures, re-entry training and job interview skills for rehabilitated prisoners, and more. San Quentin, for instance, has a spearheading program that is also in place among other prisons throughout California, called the California Re-Entry Program. California is not alone–volunteers do important work in the prison systems in pretty much every state and community, so surely there is an opportunity near you. PVS (Prisoner Visitiation System) tries to set up volunteer visitors to federal and military prisoners throughout the nation’s systems so those who don’t get contact might be able to reach out and be heard. This is a program bringing visitors in to Death Row, solitary confinement, and long-term/life sentence prisoners or others whose family/life circumstances might mean they don’t have regular visitors. The Prison Book Program stocks and staffs with volunteers, the libraries at prisons around the country. Prison Pet Partnerships does fantastic work with visiting dogs programs as well as pairing prisoners with dogs to train as guide and service dogs (there are plenty of other fantastic dog programs with youth in jails as well).
Here, randomly, are some more programs (and the links tot heir volunteer information pages)–I promise you can find one in your area if you’d like to be a prison volunteer: New Mexico Corrections Department, Pennsylvania Prison Society, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Tennessee Department of Correction, Chicago Books to Women in Prison, Arizona Department of Corrections.
Whether helping someone study for their GED or other schooling, ministering via your spiritual tradition, job training, life skills teaching, drama or writing or other arts programs, working with youth, volunteer visiting, animal visits and training, or that giant mountain of volunteer administrative support (especially as states cut back on budgets and employees), you can be of tremendous service to the prison system–a nice way to ponder freedom today, and tomorrow…