Friends Outside

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy facebook.com

Friends Outside, located in Modesto California was created in 1955 to bridge the gap between prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Friends Outside has been filling a critical need of the community by offering services and education to people affected by the devastation of incarceration.        

History of Friends Outside

Like many human service organizations the initiation of Friends Outside was the result of an individual reaching out because of a necessity, and compassionate people stepping into action.  

In 1955, Sheriff Mel Hawley had a conversation that marked the beginning of a 59 year expedition to improve the lives of prisoners, parolees, and their families.

An inmate of the Santa Clara County Jail voiced his distress to the Sheriff about not having contact with his family since his incarceration and wondered if his family even knew where he was.

Sheriff Hawley immediately responded to the distraught inmate by asking his sister if she knew anyone who would be willing to help the man. The friend who volunteered to attend to the inmate’s concerns was appropriately named Rosemary Goodenough. The sheriff’s sister and the good enough Quaker Samaritan, Ms. Goodenough had to visit the inmate’s family because they could not afford a telephone. When the charitable women arrived at the family’s residence they were dismayed by the poverty level of the inmate’s family. They quickly responded by gathering up emergency food and clothing from church sources and referred the family to public assistance.

Ms. Goodenough’s good deed did not end there.

Sheriff Hawley convinced Ms. Goodenough there was more work to be done.

Ms. Goodenough began her mission by visiting other inmates and connecting them with their families. The needs were so desperate that the work became too overwhelming for Goodenough alone. Friends of the indomitable woman were recruited and the grass roots project bloomed. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Auxiliary was the original name of the organization known later as “Friends Outside.”

30 years later, 8 more independently incorporated chapters have sprung up over the state of California. Each chapter offers diverse levels of services tailored to the needs of the population. 

Services Offered

Life Skills

Story time for Children is an innovative approach to connecting children with their incarcerated parents. Inmates that have been incarcerated for over three months are eligible to read stories to their children and the CD is sent home to the children. Story books and taping of the audio books are provided by Friends Outside. 

The provision is a brilliant way for the inmate’s children to maintain familiarity with their parents by hearing the sound of their mom or dad’s voice. Family visits are much less distressing for the children.       

PARENTING/T.A.L.K. (teaching and loving kids) Program

Children are the silent victims of incarceration and many times go unnoticed because of the absence of their parents and their fear of expressing their emotions. There is an array of feelings children experience in regard to their parent’s absence. The Parenting/T.A.L.K. program is another source provided by Friends Outside that bridges the gap between incarcerated parents and their children.

Parenting classes are held regularly to address the social needs of incarcerated parents and their children. Parents and children are both present and have the opportunity to intermingle with each other and practice vital communication skills. Parent education and family interaction are positive practices that help reduce stress, child abuse, and promote a safe and successful reunification when parents are released.   

Parenting/T.A.L.K., a nationwide program was adopted from an original program used in the Los Angeles Jail. The program has been publically endorsed by former first lady, Barbara Bush.

The Breaking Barriers Program

Breaking Barriers is a DVD training series narrated by an ex-inmate, Gordon Graham who has first-hand experience developing cognitive thinking skills to make positive life changes.

Graham has the unique ability to simply present rational thought process skills to inmates. He has 25-years of experience working with staff and inmates in State, County and Federal correctional institutions.  

Graham believes habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations play a key role in how our future develops. His past as an offender who was able to make the changes needed to lead a productive life provides a valuable perspective for inmates.     

The Friends Outside facilitator conducts daily workshops following each session to provide hands-on practice using the program’s concepts.

Stress Management

Stress cannot be managed without stress trigger awareness. The stress management program helps inmates recognize the source of their stress and how to deal with it. They are educated to access coping skills to resolve traumatic incidences with the goal of moving forward and creating an optimistic future

Job Development/ Employers

Released inmates that can hold down a stable job and provide for their families are less likely to reoffend. The Alliance WorkNet in cooperation with Friends Outside offers a job development program to help released inmates learn job skills and provide employment opportunities for released inmates. 

Upon completing the intense life skills program some of the released inmates are more competent than non-offenders in the workplace. Inmates with previous job skills are immediately placed in appropriate jobs.

A Variety of hiring options are offered to inmates such as: on the job training, pre-screening of job skills and aptitude, and proper clothing and tools.   

Everyone wins because the inmates are prepared to be adept employees and the agency provides continuing support for employers to ensure employer satisfaction.

Holiday Activities

Behind the curtain of the prison population is a population highly affected by incarceration known as the “silent population.”  This mostly impoverished and socially overlooked population is the children of incarcerated parents.

The size of the population is impacted by approximately1200 inmates that have children housed in Stanislaus County Detention Center at any one time. Combined with the fact that many of these inmates are transferred from local jails to serve out prison sentences the number of children with incarcerated parents grows.

Friends Outside responds to this problem by handing out special holiday gifts every year to the children who would otherwise be deprived of a parent or gift during the holidays.

Family Support Group

“Beyond the Walls” is a Christian based support group in Modesto that offers loved ones of inmates a place to pray and receive emotional support. 

The pilot program was initiated by a woman named Nita who recognized a need for support and empathy for family members of inmates because her son was locked up in prison.  

The group is encouraging to people who feel lonely or guilty because interaction with others in the same situation lets them realize they are not alone.   

 "I came to the group to overcome a lot of guilt; I found that we all share the same emotions and everyone really understands and supports you…"
- Brenda
   

Family/Inmate Communication

The crisis of incarceration has its own unique set of circumstances.

One of the most difficult aspects of this social problem is lack of sympathy from the outside community.

Family/Inmate Communication is a liaison between inmates, their families, and crisis intervention. Services the program provides range from administrative responsibilities the inmates are unable to attend to for their families, crucial referrals such as drug rehab and counseling, to communication linkage.

Family/Inmate Communication is Friends Outside’s catalyst to complete a course of action for inmates, loved ones, detention facilities, correctional programs, custody staff, and the general community.

The main objective of Friends Outside is to effectively join forces for relieving the stress and anxiety associated with incarceration to create a safe environment for inmates and their families.