Every day, we get dozens of phone calls from people asking for help. Sometimes, the callers are looking for basic information about visiting or contacting a loved one in prison. Often, they’re concerned for a son, a daughter, a father, or a friend who is suffering behind bars.
Our Customer Service Associate, Lara Bros, answers the calls that come in to Prison Society’s Family Support Helpline, a resource for incarcerated people and their loved ones when they have nowhere else to turn. That puts her on the frontlines of our work fighting for humane prison conditions and gives her a unique view of the endless need for support with navigating correctional systems. “A lot of folks who call us are at the end of their rope and don't know who else to speak to,” Lara says. We asked Lara to share how her work with the Prison Society makes a difference in people’s lives. Your support allows us to keep doing this crucial work. Read Lara’s story below, and donate today.
Picking up the phone when no one else will
Just last week, a gentleman who had just been released from state prison called in a total panic and near tears. He was sure he was going back to prison that day--he had been given only enough money to get him to the bus stop in Philadelphia and still had to get to his halfway house, which told him if he was not in by 6 p.m., they would have his parole officer serve a warrant for absconding. I helped him find an emergency ride with the city, and he actually called back the other day and said, “Thank you so much, I really think if I had not called you, I would be back in prison. ”On another call, as soon as I picked up the phone, the incarcerated gentleman on the other end of the line said, "I am so incredibly grateful you even picked up the phone, everywhere I call they hang up because they hear it's from a penitentiary, and like, people think I'm not a person just ‘cause I'm in here, like I don't need help." He really stuck with me. A lot of the calls I get are from people who have tried to contact prison administration, and they either get brushed off or they're not getting any response at all. I've unfortunately heard stories of people who have had guards laugh at them or tell them that they don't care about their loved ones. To hear that from somebody who's supposed to be taking care of their loved one, I'm sure is just absolutely terrifying. Every person who calls me gets a response within two business days, and I do my best to find the right resources for them. Often, folks are shocked I even called back at all, and express how grateful they are for someone to at least speak with them. I grew up experiencing that separation from friends and family who are incarcerated, but a lot of people don't know what that’s like, which is a major frustration that almost everyone I speak to voices. I spend a lot of time on the call reassuring people that I don’t care what the person did to get into prison, but I do care that they're getting proper treatment and they're being treated in a dignified way that human beings should be treated. The fact that people have the need to say, “This person did something bad but I really think they deserve to be treated like a person," breaks my heart. So it's really powerful when we have the ability to talk to people and listen to them about their situations, and reassure them that regardless of what someone has done, they are still a human being, and we will try to make sure to the best of our ability that they’re being treated as human beings should be. I feel like my job really shouldn't be all that special, but the lack of transparency and assistance for folks makes it necessary. I shouldn't have to be the connection between a mom finding out if the child she hasn't heard from in six months is alive or not. I shouldn't have to type up detailed instructions on how to sign up for video visiting and what to do when the audio cuts out in the middle of your visit on a platform that is not user friendly. I think that the gratitude I hear from folks who call for simply doing my job is indicative of just how great a need there is for services that the Prison Society provides, as well as better practices to make sure that families are not overburdened and overwhelmed when trying to do something as simple as check on their loved one.