Shakopee Inmates: Their Words Teach Volumes

Post by Maureen Fischer,  MaureenInk Communications,  Twitter: @ MaureenFischer,  www.MaureenInk.com

Note:  Social Media Consultant Maureen Fischer contributed hundreds of hours of her time to Amicus in launching this blog and integrating it with our other social media.  Thanks Maureen! You’ve made “Inside Change” something we can all be proud of. You’re always an Amicus in our eyes!

Last month, Bridget Sanders, Amicus Community and Family Connections Manager, took three 16-year-old girls from the Radius program to meet with inmates at the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility, to show them the realities of prison life and strengthen their resolve to stay out of the system.

Radius is one of the few programs nationwide serving girls in every level of the juvenile justice system–through intervention and counseling, neighborhood partnerships, an internship program and leadership training. “It was powerful,” says Sanders. “Three inmates told us their stories. They didn’t  hold back. The girls learned so much.”

One inmate was charged at sixteen with strangling her newborn.

“She was pregnant so young and didn’t tell anyone,” says Sanders.  “Her child was stillborn and showed signs of suffocation. She couldn’t prove her innocence and ended up with a ten-year prison sentence. Now this inmate is eighteen, pursuing her GED and hoping for parole in 2016. Though she kept from crying, her message to the girls came in a trembling voice. ‘Be careful. Tell someone if you get in trouble.  Find help before it’s too late.’”

Another inmate’s boyfriend was a pimp.

At eighteen, she connected him with underage girls to work as prostitutes, thinking she was doing her friends and  boyfriend a favor. She was naïve and hardly aware of committing a crime. When free again, she’ll be branded a sex offender.

Sentenced at Sixteen to Thirty Years

A third inmate spoke with the girls about entering prison at sixteen. Though convicted of murder as a minor, she received a sentence of thirty years. For the past decade, this young woman has not only regretted her actions, but lived with the knowledge her life is on hold until her 40s.

“Lives can change forever with one wrong decision.  Now the girls know how real the dangers are,” says Sanders, whose own life experiences strengthen her credibility as a mentor and group facilitator. In her twenties she took off in the middle of the night, jumped on a bus and came to Minnesota.  Her friends and family had no idea of her whereabouts. Sanders was basically homeless, living with her young son for three months in a friend’s basement.

“I’m doing this work for them, because somebody did it for me.”

That was 1995, when a violently abusive relationship led Sanders to leave her home, family and job working with gangs in Chicago. Determined to change, she enrolled at  Metropolitan State University and slowly rebuilt her life. For the next decade, she worked with local schools and nonprofits educating youth about gang violence. North High School, the Urban League, Family and Children’s Services, Minneapolis Public Schools and Soar benefited from Sanders’ insights.

“My whole thing with Radius and Sisters Helping Sisters is that I come from where they came from. I can speak from experience. I was affiliated with a gang when I was young  . . . my best friend was killed when I was 16. . . I’ve never been involved in prostitution but I know a lot of girls who traded sex for clothes.”

Bridget holds a BA in Family Studies from Metro State and is currently pursuing a Masters in curriculum development.   “The women at Shakopee gave a lot to the girls that day we visited.  I try to do the same–the girls and women I work with know I’m going to be there for them any time of day or night.  I’m doing this work for them because somebody first did it for me.”