January is National Mentoring Month, and it’s a time for us to celebrate and appreciate the tremendous work of the mentoring program here at the Prison Society and the volunteer mentors who make it possible. Mentoring is a key component in our Family and Community Support programming, addressing critically needed social connections for people who are preparing for and experiencing reentry.
The goal of the Prison Society’s mentoring program is to build a network of support for formerly incarcerated people and their families. We do this through reentry preparation workshops, peer-support group meetings, and one-on-one mentoring relationships. Well over 100 people participated in these programs in 2022.
Joe Robinson, our Mentoring Associate, regularly checks in on participants’ progress and is a listening ear for dozens of people each week. Joe said, “mentoring is about showing people that nothing is impossible…that they can change their life around by doing something positive—and that could be going to school, driving trucks cross country, or just becoming a mentor and giving back to people and their community.”
Research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that the relationship-centered approach of mentoring fills a need for human connection after the inherent isolation of prison, and notably enhances the mentee’s capacity to effectively identify and access critical resources, such as housing, employment, and healthcare.
In addition to providing support after people have come home, Prison Society mentors are uniquely able to visit mentees while they are still incarcerated to establish a supportive relationship in the lead up to their release. The recidivism rate for people who receive regular in-prison visits is 20% less than those who do not receive visits. Even a five percent reduction in recidivism would save PA taxpayers approximately $1.9 million each year. Increasing social connections for people while they are incarcerated is an extremely cost-effective way to reduce recidivism, though in-prison mentoring is not currently funded by the Commonwealth.
In 2022, we had 36 active mentors who have dedicated themselves to routine and compassionate support of a fellow citizen. Over half of our mentors are formerly-incarcerated themselves and many more have had their family’s lives directly touched by the criminal justice system.
Virginia Hammond has been a mentor for over a year and is a member of our Community Advisory Council. When asked why she chose to become a mentor, Virginia responded “Often we don’t utilize the small things, like a kind word, a small suggestion, or the gift of time. Those things can make a real difference.” She went to share that as her son pursues a commutation “he is going to need a helping hand and that is a motivating force for me and why I reach out to others.”
We are committed to expanding our mentoring program in 2023, and will continue to focus on the nuanced work of meaningful social connection and relationship-building. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer mentor with the Prison Society, visit our website for more details. We especially welcome individuals who are formerly-incarcerated or have supported family members in their journey of coming home and reuniting with their community.
Be the support someone needs. Apply to become a mentor HERE