Last fall, Deacon Gay Romack launched a new prison-related ministry: Mentoring Beyond the Gates. Working in conjunction with her 501c3 corporation, Bridges Reentry, Gay was to connect ordinary people in our communities with women about to be released from Perryville Women’s Facility, a state-run prison located in Goodyear, AZ. The purpose? To provide one on one support as they navigate the challenging and terrifying transition back into society.
The first cohort of mentors is reaching the end of their one-year commitment. One of these first mentees and her mentor agreed to share what this time together has meant for both of them.
(To preserve the privacy of the individuals, their names have been changed.)
Kay and Julia were matched up based on location but both agree that it was a match made, well, in heaven! Both Kay and Julia learned a lot from each other and from the program. Although Kay describes herself as being “green” when she started the training, these past months with Julia and meeting with her cohort of mentors every 6 weeks have confirmed that she has what it takes to be a great mentor…compassion.
Julia shared, “Going into prison can be devastating to anybody. I thought there was something really wrong with me and that [mindset] came with a lot of shame. But when I was in prison, I was one of 24 women out of 4,000 who were selected for a special program that taught coping skills and a different way to handle life’s problems rather than simply trying to escape them. That’s when I realized that I did have value as a person. This whole experience of working with Kay has reframed my relationship with society…here was this unbiased person with no knowledge of my crime and yet she was willing to take me under her wing. That was the first moment I realized that I could be accepted by the rest of the world. She was that one constant that I needed every day for that first month. Kay’s phone calls were like a safe place for me to share what was really going on in my life, things I couldn’t share with my family because of past traumas and all that has happened. Kay was my sounding board for so many of the things I’ve had to navigate through during these past months, she helped me find my way when I was questioning myself. I just don’t know how I would have been able to do it all without her.”
The impact on Kay has been profound. “Although my daughters weren’t in favor of me participating in this program, my husband was really excited about what I was doing and very supportive and happy for me. Now my daughters ask about how Julia is doing and are supportive of my involvement in the program. Mentoring Julia has given me a better understanding of the hard road they travel when they are released. I didn’t realize how many obstacles Julia would be facing. We broke it down step by step to help her overcome all the roadblocks. This mentorship has made me a more patient and caring person. I think it also made me realize how inhumane and inappropriate our prison system really is. Julia made me so much more aware of what those in prison go through and what they face when they get out. I’m just so proud of all that she has accomplished!”
When asked what they would say to others who might be thinking of becoming involved in this program, Kay emphatically stated “Go for it! I underestimated my ability to do this. When I was taking the courses, it seemed like everyone had more knowledge than I did and I doubted myself. But I learned that what I originally thought wouldn’t mean very much to someone, means a great deal after all.” Julia offered, “Don’t underestimate what you have to offer…just do it! There are so many people getting out of prison every day and the more we can offer them support even in the smallest of ways, like knowing that there is one constant in your life, is very meaningful.”
To find out more about this program attend an orientation offered via Zoom on Sept. 15th at 3 or 7 PM and Saturday, Sept. 17th at 11 AM. Sign up at the Bridges Reentry website. The next mentor training session begins on September 29th and will meet via Zoom every Thursday from 5 to 6:30 PM through Oct. 20th. You can help erase the stigmas attached to women released from prison and help them realize their goals and dreams. If she can see it, she can be it!!