Last Saturday, I, and about 10 other people who attend the same church as I do, volunteered for the F.L.I.P program (Free Lunch in a Park). I brought a loaf of whole wheat bread to the Graffiti church on seventh street. Other volunteers brought other lunch food. For the next hour and 45 minutes, we were all in the basement of the church preparing lots and lots of bagged lunches. Some of us were washing apples and oranges, and the rest were making sandwiches. Each sandwich had two pieces of meat, one piece of cheese and either mayo or mustard. The process was like an assembly line. After putting the sandwich in a zip-loc bag, and putting that and a piece of fruit in a brown paper bag, we added two hershey’s kisses. We made about 225 lunches. Once it was over, we put all the bags in a trash bag, and carried them to the park, where we set up tables. First we gave the lunches to the disabled people who couldn’t wait in line. Then the line started moving and each person got a lunch and a small cup of coffee.
I think the most satisfying part of that day was looking at the empty bags of lunches and remembering how many we had made originally. We helped a lot of people in need get a meal. After we finished making the lunches, the preacher of the church spoke to us all about the program and his church. The program is weekly and it helps get a lot of food to the needy. I didn’t know any of the other volunteers very well, but I enjoyed working with them and getting to know them better.
This past summer I volunteered at the Correctional Association of New York. It is a not-for-profit organization located in Harlem. The Correctional Association works to create a more humane and effective judicial system. It is the only private organization that has unrestricted access to prisons. The organization uses this power to expose abusive practices in prisons and to educate the public as well as policy makers about the conditions of prisons. For example, through this unique power, the organization found that the medical and mental problems of prisoners were being ignored. The Correctional Association has three principal projects: the Juvenile Justice Project, Prison Visiting Project, and the Women’s in Prison Project.
While at the Correctional Association, I worked on the Women’s in Prisons Project. Currently. The Women’s in Prison Project is working with women who have survived abuse and incarceration. The vast majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence. These women have been sent to prison for defending themselves against their abusers. Other incarcerated women were forced to engage in criminal activity either to survive or out of fear of being harmed by their abuser. More often than not, these survivors of domestic violence are viewed at perpetrators rather than victims, resulting in longer sentences without a chance for parole. The Women’s in Prison Project works to ensure that domestic violence is taken into account during all stages of the criminal justice process. The project is also working to make sure prison programs are more humane and sensitive toward the trauma and abuse suffered by these women.
The work I did at the Correctional Association consisted of working on a number of integrated and strategic efforts of the Women’s in Prison Project. I helped coordinate a mass mailing to women who are incarcerated in New York’s five female prisons: Bedford Hills, Albion, Taconic, Bayview, and Beacon. I also worked on two research projects. The first project involved parole practices in New York and the manner in which they are carried out. During the parole hearing of a prisoner, he or she, presents his or her case before a panel of three members of the parole board. However, more recently parole hearings have been conducted via online videoconference instead of in person, which creates an impersonal distance the inmate and the board. I researched the nature of these hearings while at the Correctional Association. For my second project I researched the legislative representatives of domestic violence and social justice organizations that support the Coalition’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. Additionally, my work included outreaching to members of the Coalition for Women Prisoners.
Although I enjoyed all the work I did at the Correctional Association, the highlight of my experience was sitting in on a meeting with Assemblyman Aubry. Assemblyman Aubry is the chairman of Correction in the New York Assembly and has worked to improve its justice system. Aubry came to the Correctional Association to discuss the upcoming year at the Assembly. It was interesting to hear the perspective of someone who works in the system. At the meeting, I also heard about all of the other projects that Correctional Association is working on.
Working at the Correctional Association has shown me how important it is to fight injustice, even in a system that is supposed to enforce justice. It was inspiring to help these women who were sentenced unjustly and do not receive proper treatment. This experience has taught me how women are treated unfairly and how to stand up for them.