I cannot thank Aid to Inmate Mothers’, Executive Director, Carol Potok enough for taking the time out to answer my questions. Please if you are looking for an organization to donate to, after reading all that they do consider donating to AIM. I am a donor, because I do believe in their cause. This is an organization that I volunteered with during my college years and their mission and dedicated staff made an impression on me immediately. When I started thinking about doing Working Women Network, this was the first place I wanted to highlight.
What inspired you to do the work you are currently doing with your organization?
- The need is so great, and no one was doing much for incarcerated women and their families. AIM provided an opportunity to really help them both while they are in prison and after they leave.
What are some of the misconceptions you’ve had to dispel when telling people about your efforts?
- People wonder why we would want to help inmates–that inmates have committed a crime and deserve what they get.
- We try to educate people about the reasons women go to prison–that many of them are victims of domestic violence or childhood rape. Often, their addictions can be traced to abusive backgrounds. This is not to apologize for anyone’s crime, but it helps to understand how they got where they are. Then there’s the children–who have done nothing but are left to cope with the painful disruptions in their lives when their mother is incarcerated.
- Most of the women will be coming home after 3 or 4 years. It makes sense to prepare them so that they can stay home and be a parent to their children. It will cost the taxpayers less to help the women than to incarcerate them.
What have been some of your greatest accomplishments, personally,working with this organization?
- We take pride in the hundreds of families that we have reconnected and the impact that has had on all of them in the long run.
- We are very proud to have been able to expand our program to include our Storybook program (a video reading program for mothers–in which they read a bedtime story to their children, books and DVDS are sent tot he child) rehabilitative classes and reentry. We have also been proud to open our group home for women transitioning from prison, Genesis House.
- I am also proud to spread the word about the organization and to open people’s eyes to the problems incarcerated women have, and the very different problems they face both in and out of prison.
What are some of your greatest accomplishments as an organization?
- We have been able to maintain a good working relationship with the Department of Corrections for almost 30 years, and consequently have been allowed great access to incarcerated women in Alabama. In addition, we are proud our our ability to help women plan and transition as they reenter the community.
Do you have a story (or stories) of individuals you have helped that have impacted you greatly ?
- Last December as I was picking up gifts being donated by a local agency, I was met at the door by a nicely dressed woman who offered to help me carry my gifts to the car. As we walked out, she asked me if I remembered a photo that we used in one of our brochures (see attached B & W photo). I told her, yes, that I did remember that photo. She said, “That was me 25 years ago. Today, I supervise a department of 10 accountants. My daughter is a pediatrician.” I thought to myself, “This is why we do this”.
What are some of your greatest challenges working with this population?
- Sometimes we see the guardians struggling to support the additional family members–struggling with bills, struggling to put food on the table–grandmothers with health problems raising young boys. The kids are like any other kids–they want the nice sneakers or the video games, and sometimes there’s no way. It’s heartbreaking.
- As they leave prison, women who have had addictions often have a hard time dealing with the stresses of trying to readjust to the community without relapsing. Also, the community is not always so welcoming to a former inmate–especially those who have served a long sentence. We have had a very hard time placing some former inmates in jobs–especially those that have not been able to finish their GEDs. There are laws in our state that prevent a woman with a drug felony from accessing public benefits–so she cannot get food stamps or live in public housing. (There are some exceptions in the state–in Birmingham, there is a housing program called Shelter Plus which allows a former addict to live in section 8 housing if they submit to random drug screens).
If someone wanted to help your organization, what areas do you need the most assistance in currently?
- We need financial support. It’s not easy to fund a prison program–because people don’t understand the need. There are also donations needed: Jeans, sizes 12 &14, new underclothes, all sizes (to give to women leaving prison), full size hygiene items (shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, hair gel/grease, perms, combs/brushes,), hotel size hygiene items (given to women who complete our classes), paperback children’s books (picture books for ages 4-10) for Storybook, board games for visit (can be used) especially Trouble, Game of Life, Checkers, Scrabble, Battleship.
- There are volunteer opportunities to help with visitation or storybook, or to teach a class in the prison; such as yoga, teaching interview skills, Spanish or financial literacy.
Burnout in the nonprofit world is pretty high, how do you stay refreshed and plugged into the mission?
- Our staff is very close, and we vent with each other at meetings and by going out to lunch together. We know that failure is not an option–the mothers and children really need us to be there.
Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the organization?
- I am proud of the amount of work our tiny organization does with a small budget and a staff of three. We make an impact, and we know that Alabama’s incarcerated mothers and their children are helped through our program. However, we could do more if we had more resources. If we help these families, we will all benefit and we will make Alabama a better place to live for all citizens. Please visit our website: www.inmatemoms.org or our Facebook page: Aid to Inmate Mothers to learn more about us.