Forum to address costs of incarceration

ContributedTRUMBULL – If it weren’t for programs like Chrysalis, Christine Brooks said she probably wouldn’t have made it out of prison.

She was angry, unforgiving and hard.

But when she met Rev. Valerie Dixon and the other prison ministry volunteers, her life began to change. Chrysalis is a faith-based housing program for women where residents are teamed with teachers and prayer partners.

The program gave Brooks a chance, she said, to be whole again.

On April 24 the “Costs of Incarceration and Care of Volunteers” forum will be held in Trumbull to address issues facing the prison system and will offer information on how to get involved with various prison ministries.

The event, sponsored by Faith Behind Bars and Beyond, the prison ministry committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $10.

Brooks said the forum is important because many people don’t understand what prisoners go through.

“You don’t go to jail because you’re OK, something’s wrong. For some people it’s drug addiction, or mental issues, everybody has something,” she said.

Dixon said the faith-based programs help prisoners work through those issues.

“At some point they’ve got to forgive themselves for what they did…they have to deal with those wounds that drove them to the addiction they chose, they did something to numb the pain in old wounds,” she said.

For Brooks, it was a childhood filled with vivid memories of the sexual abuse she endured.  Brooks had flashbacks and nightmares and was filled with rage.

She landed in prison in 2002 for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. At first her life at York Correctional Institution in Niantic was about surviving. But then she got involved with the hospice program, a  dog-training program and Chrysalis and she began to feel “worthy,” Brooks said.

Her moment of change came, she said, when she realized she couldn’t ask her two children for forgiveness if she couldn’t forgive her own parents.

“How could I go to my children and ask for forgiveness after going to the grocery store one day and not coming home for six years?,” she said.

“Prison is not a nurturing environment. Most people leave as bad, or worse, than when they first got there,” she said. “It’s really hard to get help.”

Dixon said one reason it’s hard for prisoners to get help is because of state budget cuts. Fewer rehabilitation programs are available to them, which is why volunteers need to step up.

“They have to keep the lights on, pay the officers and everything else is up for grabs,” she said. “It’s (volunteering) so rewarding. Most people who get involved don’t ever want to quit.”

Brooks spoke about her experience at last year’s forum in Gales Ferry and said she would do anything for the Faith Behind Bars volunteers. She was released in 2008 and is working as a cashier, trying to earn enough money to raise her children and her younger brother, who has Down syndrome.

Those interested in attending the “Costs of Incarceration and Care of Volunteers” forum are asked to register by April 14. For information call Dixon at (860) 691-1522 or e-mail her at valeriedixon1@yahoo.com.

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