Civil rights advocates are celebrating the revamp of a program to help incarcerated men and women prepare for parole hearings and create strong plans for after their release.
The mission of the “PREPARE: Prepare for Parole and Reentry” program is to connect incarcerated individuals with volunteer advocates to help them complete their parole paperwork, loop families into the parole process and link incarcerated people to reentry programs before their release, like those provided by Marian House Women’s transitional housing in Baltimore City.
“Because if you’re on the outside, it’s much easier to go online and see what’s out there, pick up the phone [or] talk to someone who’s done a reentry program,” said Elizabeth Finne, who cofounded the initiative with Mary Joel Davis.
The PREPARE program is the next evolution of Davis’ Second Chance for Women project, which was created more than a decade ago to assist women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women who had survived domestic abuse or were serving life sentences. Her intention was to help them push them through the parole process.
Over the years, the program grew to include men in search of guidance and support.
“To me, the whole point [of the project] is to recognize how impressive you all are and what potential there is for growth,” Finne told graduates of the program at a launch party at Marian House on Sunday.
She is currently putting together curriculum through a series of YouTube videos to teach the incarcerated what parole is, how it works and how a parole packet, the file submitted to the parole board, is put together.
There are also lessons for advocates and family members.
Finne anticipates training two types of volunteer advocates: people with no connection to the incarcerated person they’re assisting, and family members seeking to support their loved ones.
David Blumberg, chair of the Maryland Parole Commission, attended the launch to support the program.
“This is a wonderful program with proven results,” he said.
Blumberg called the success of these initiatives “a real testament” to the years of dogged work put in by Davis, an octogenarian, to help those preparing for life outside of the wall.
“I’ve never seen anything like it — certainly in Maryland, or any other place for that matter,” Blumberg said.
Davis, who has worked with incarcerated men and women in Maryland over the last several decades, fought back tears as she addressed attendees of Sunday’s launch party.
Many in the room were people she’s helped before.
“The reason today is really, really different is because I am looking at the most successful people on this planet are,” Davis said, holding back tears. “You have overcome hardships in your life before you even came to prison.”
“Life has dealt you a big challenge. You had to succeed or fail,” Davis said. “Today, I am looking at what success looks like. I am so proud of you, and I love you, for your struggle.”