Duane Slocum: Volunteering in the prison system

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Scattered throughout Colorado are just over 1,500 volunteers who provide many different programs to the different prisons within the state.

My wife and I have been prison volunteers for over five years. The first two years we spent working at the medium security facility in Florence.

Now, on Sunday afternoons, we take religious services to inmates at the Territorial Prison in Canon City. We've been doing it now for more than 3 years.

Territorial is the original Super Max in Colorado, located on the southern side of Canon City. It is the stereotypical prison setting with a clanging sliding door opening as you enter, then clanging shut behind you, before you can move into the next section. Tall cement walls with razor wire surround the yard area. A guard tower, which controls a sliding metal gate, overlooks the entrance to the prison with another guard station located within the center of the compound.

Upon arriving at the Territorial facility, volunteers sign in, go through the same metal detectors used at airports and are given a green badge, which allows them to go into the yard or compound on their way to the Chapel. My wife said, at first, she was a little nervous about walking through a group of male inmates. But there were guards everywhere and the inmates and guards were friendly, so she never felt threatened in any way.

Each year, volunteers are required to update their volunteer status and devote a Saturday attending a training seminar. Recently, I went with my wife to Denver to attend the annual Faith and Citizens Programs training. The meeting was held at the Colorado Women's facility in Aurora.

The update training covered issues dealing with a code of conduct for volunteers. The most serious issue had to do with contraband. The seminar leader stressed that volunteers are not allowed to bring items of any kind to inmates or take anything out given to them by inmates. Violations in this area can get a volunteer's badge pulled, denying any further access.

Appearance and dress code is also strictly enforced. No jeans or denim pants or skirts are allowed. Shoes must be closed toed and not backless. Dresses cannot be higher than three inches above the knee. No tight fitting or revealing clothing is allowed. No body piercing or tattoos can be showing. The instructor indicated there is a sensitivity to allowing anything that would appear to be gang related in color or style.

Volunteering in prisons is a rewarding calling where we can sometimes make a difference in an inmate's life. Most of the inmates in our group look forward to the Sunday service, which is so different from a typical week of being imprisoned. One of our goals is to give them hope and encouragement, while helping them understand the repentance process and the importance of making good choices in life. From what I've seen, the inmates gain this and much more.

The Department of Corrections oversees 28 public and private prisons within the Front Range and are always seeking volunteers-faith groups, support groups and others. My wife and I continue to go each Sunday afternoon, in hopes of making a difference in an inmate's life.

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Comment by Teila Tankersley on October 29, 2009 at 12:40pm
Kudos to the men and woman who volunteer to minister to those that are incarcerated!
Comment by Kecia Seyb on September 1, 2009 at 6:14pm
Good for you! I'd love to read about some of the specific individual experiences you've had! Do you ever go to Huerfano?

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