We call them "frontline workers"— doctors, nurses, firefighters, US Postal employees. They're the people whose services we depend on. Amid the pandemic, they have received and continue to receive well-deserved honor and gratitude.
But one group of essential workers is all but invisible to most of society: correctional officers. With a lower-than-average life expectancy and high rates of stress and PTSD, departments of corrections employees make great sacrifices in the line of duty in normal times. During COVID-19, the restrictions and complications have taken a significant toll.
"It's a difficult path, and they don't have the same types of recognition that other first responders have," explains Cody Wilde, national director of Prison Fellowship Academy® operations. "The Scripture passage that we [at Prison Fellowship] often refer to, 'remember those in prison,' is so profound because you’re talking about a population that's largely forgotten. That forgottenness carries over not just to incarcerated individuals but also to those who work there."
To change that, in September 2020, Prison Fellowship Academy staff and volunteers began hosting Department of Corrections appreciation events at prisons around the country—often supporting local businesses in the process. From boxed lunches to snickerdoodles to gourmet potato chips, the various offerings all communicated one thing: You are seen and appreciated. To learn more, check out the photos and reports from Prison Fellowship staff below.
RICHARD J. DONOVAN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
SAN DIEGO, CA
On behalf of the entire RJD Family, I extend to you my deepest and sincere thanks for the wonderful gift you gave us in sponsoring the Staff Appreciation Day on Sept. 30, 2020. Your efforts demonstrated your commitment not only to being extraordinary community partners, but also the gracious and exceptional care you have for us as people, who all too often feel forgotten or criticized for doing work that is remarkably and increasingly difficult, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. You provided much more than doughnuts, coffee, hand sanitizer, as well as the signs and posters of encouragement. These seemingly small tokens became icons of hope during a very trying season. I heard numerous employees … express their heartfelt gratitude for the thoughtfulness and efforts you all went to in sponsoring this incredible event. Your kindness was not only warmly received but also the timing was as impeccable as it was providential.
Chaplain Russell Martin, Community Resource Manager,
as reported to Don Caballero, Academy Manager
LEW STERRETT JUSTICE CENTER*
It has been a great honor to provide lunch to the staff at the Dallas County Jail, as spirits were uplifted, and smiles were brought to faces. This has been a wonderful opportunity, during this season, when everyone is having to maintain social distance and the officers are working unexpected extended hours to cover the shifts of their fellow coworkers.
[One officer] stated, 'Everyone is so caught up in trying to stay healthy that we have forgotten the times when we could come together to enjoy lunch.'
Janice Roberson, Academy Manager
*Also known as Dallas County Jail
MUSKEGON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
I had the opportunity this morning to go with Prison Counselor (PC) Tim Antes and shop for water and snacks that were needed for the staff at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. Due to the COVID situation, the company that services their vending machines is not able to enter the facility to provide water and snacks in the vending machine.
Chip Hackney, Academy Manager
LEXINGTON ASSESSMENT AND RECEPTION CENTER
Oklahoma Prison Fellowship staff had a great time putting together meals for local DOC employees. We had such fun blessing those whose work sometimes goes unnoticed. Lunch was catered by local small business owners Clarabelle’s Restaurant in McLoud and Happy Camper Cafe in Purcell. …
Oklahoma Prison Fellowship is so thankful for the partnership we have developed with DOC and those who do the hard work of keeping everyone safe.
Aaron Cosar, Academy Manager
MINNESOTA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY-SHAKOPEE
On Dec. 22, the staff of MCF-Shakopee (was) greeted with Christmas treats and coffee and a hearty 'thank you' for their service in 2020, courtesy of Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers. It was bright and early at 6 a.m. that we blessed the night shift coming off duty. It is amazing what a cold-pressed Frappuccino and some sugar cookies with sprinkles can do to a face. Those weary eyes (lit) up with joy and smiles appeared. … The same thing happened as the program staff arrived and as the afternoon shift and night shifts passed through the doors. The administration was grateful for both the thought by Prison Fellowship and the timing. You see, this year, there would be none of the typical potluck holiday gatherings of staff in the various break rooms. COVID had shut those gatherings down. A memo had gone out that eating together was absolutely not allowed ... but the memo also included a bright spot from the warden: 'Tomorrow we will have Prison Fellowship Academy share coffee and treats with everyone in a very safe way.' … For a day, Shakopee Prison was a much more joyful place to live and work.
Pamela Rubash, Academy Manager
MABEL BASSETT CORRECTIONAL CENTER
On the 18th we took 200 staff lunches to Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. Lunches were purchased from a local small business called Clarabelle’s. To the left is the link to the video an Oklahoma Department of Corrections videographer made of staff appreciation day. The video says it all.
Tammy Franklin, Academy Manager
GOOSE CREEK CORRECTIONAL CENTER
I wanted to use locally made products to help local business during this time and chose two of my favorites. The Alaska Chip Company uses Mat-Su grown potatoes to produce four tasty varieties of chips that are quite addictive. And Sophia’s Café in Palmer makes some of the best snickerdoodles I’ve gotten from a café. I’m a bit of a snickerdoodle snob and other than homemade, it’s hard to find a proper snickerdoodle. … We assembled a crew and put a “thank you” label on the cookies and chips. To cover all four shifts of correctional officers, we are providing these treats on two days this week and two days next week, setting the table up at 5 a.m. each day. To cover all the staff and make sure everyone can get at least one cookie and one bag of chips, we labeled 864 bags of chips and 800 cookies. Everyone is enjoying the little treat and the sentiment behind it. I want to say thank you to those who helped pull this off.
Todd Stafford, Academy Manager
NEBRASKA STATE PENITENTIARY
I coordinated with the administration at the Nebraska State Pen to provide boxed lunches for the staff from Lulu's on N. Each staff member was provided with a sandwich, chips, and a cookie. Terri Grewell (Academy Manager at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women) and Vince Grove (Prison Fellowship volunteer at the Nebraska State Pen) and I picked up the boxed lunches and delivered them to the facility. We set up in the employee lunch area and helped the administration distribute the meals.
Danielle Wilson, Associate Director, Academy Operations
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTION FOR WOMEN
Even though the Academy program has been delayed because of COVID-19, we provided the staff Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts to let them know they are appreciated and thought of during this time. The team greeted the staff early in the morning by letting them know they are appreciated and that we were there to thank them. We were able to be present at each shift to ensure all staff was greeted and offered coffee and donuts. The leadership at CIW was present and voiced their appreciation of our efforts. As we are reminded in the Word of God to be the light in a dark world, that day, Prison Fellowship was a glimpse of light!
Maria Amaya, Academy Manager
Thanks to the efforts of Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers, some of the "forgottenness" of corrections officers is being erased. And more appreciation events are planned for the weeks and months to come!
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