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Women's Conference Offers Second Chance for Former Illinois Inmates

August 19, 2010

CHICAGO - Women who have been released from prison in Illinois will get a chance on Saturday to receive the help they need in order to successfully re-enter their communities. "The Women at the Well" conference in Chicago will hook them up with parenting classes, counseling and job search support through the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois Connections Program.

Program director, the Rev. Valerie Everett, says many of the women found themselves in prison partly because of poor choices stemming from a life of poverty and abuse.

"When they come home, you see that they feel and look defeated. They're feeling like they're an imposition on the family, and also feeling like they are unwanted in the community."

Everett says the conference will focus on re-connecting families and getting the women the resources they need in an atmosphere of support and acceptance, so that they can learn to trust and to be trusted.

Starting over can get complicated, Everett adds.

"While the mother was in prison, a grandmother or aunt has been the sole support for the children. It is hard for the caregiver to relinquish that position, because she wants to protect the children."

And if the woman has made mistakes more than once, Everett says, many times the children have to learn to trust their mother again.

"It is this dance they have to do, and a proving has to take place. It's up to that woman to demonstrate that, yes, I am serious about making this life change. Yes, I want to be a mother to my children."

Getting the community to trust the woman again is often the most difficult thing, Everett points out.

"It is very difficult, but it is possible. We always want to leave the women with a sense that there is possibility, there is hope, and there is a future for you, but you have to do the work."

Connections transports Chicago-area children and their caregivers to Decatur, Dwight, Greenville, Lincoln and Pekin correctional centers. It also offers a support group for caregivers who accompany children to the Decatur and Lincoln prisons.

Conference details are available at http://tiny.cc/108bf.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL