Guest Post by Mila Sanchez
It’s easy to think about volunteering in places like hospitals, food banks, schools, and animal humane societies, but some places that are commonly overlooked [and could really use volunteers] are prisons.
I know I’m guilty of neglecting prisons when I consider nearby places to volunteer myself. Maybe it’s because I used to think of prison as a place people chose to be, by committing crimes that brought them there in the first place. The thought that they deserve to be there could be in etched in the back of many people’s minds. Even if it is true that people who commit crimes have a debt to pay their society, it’s incredibly important to do our part to help with rehabilitation programs.
My dad has volunteered in prisons for over 20 years. I recently had the chance to attend a volunteer appreciation dinner with him at a prison, where I heard so many stories about inmates’ lives that changed through the rehabilitation programs volunteers helped facilitate. The warden gave a speech where he mentioned the wonders volunteer rehabilitation programs have done for inmates — specifically in helping to rework their mindsets from defaulting to a life of crime.
With prison overcrowding becoming a real concern in the U.S., and some state governments continually cutting funds, volunteer programs focused on rehabilitation have become essential.
Education can be a great tool for rehabilitation.
Many people turn to crime because their lack of education disqualifies them from being successful in most jobs, or they are frustrated by their educational struggles and chose to act out — often the case for juveniles. Through volunteer services that tutor inmates, you can help an inmate learn valuable skills like reading and math, and even assist them with earning their GED.These opportunities give inmates a better chance to find work once they’re released.
You can also support educational services by donating books to prisons, which undoubtedly aid in their learning.
Religious ministries are a popular way to volunteer in prisons, too.
My dad has volunteered in prison ministries in our city, and helped many inmates learn to reflect and pray in lieu of turning to crime and violence. Teaching love and forgiveness that comes from a higher power can be great solace, especially for those inmates who feel abandoned by people who they were once close to, or feel they have done too much wrong to change.
Teaching inmates alternative ways of dealing with anger and finding peace can be essential to their rehabilitation. Many inmates were arrested for violence and anger-related issues; issues that they can learn to channel in different and more constructive ways. Volunteer programs that focus on mindfulness and relaxation, like teaching yoga, are excellent ways to help refocus and rehabilitate inmates.
Any volunteer program that focuses on changing criminal and inmate behavior and mindsets are sure to be extremely beneficial to a prisoner’s rehabilitation process. There are many different programs in different cities, so check VolunteerMatch.org to find a program that matches your skills near you.
Author Bio: Mila Sanchez is a writer and recent college graduate, with a B.A. in Linguistics.