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Published: Tuesday, 7/3/2012

Waterville women share pain of loved ones in prison

2 friends start support group for families

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Joyce Pierce, left, and Carol Michel, both of Waterville, know what it's like to have a loved one incarcerated, and they wanted to share their knowledge and feelings with others in the same situation. Joyce Pierce, left, and Carol Michel, both of Waterville, know what it's like to have a loved one incarcerated, and they wanted to share their knowledge and feelings with others in the same situation.
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At times, it felt as if Joyce Pierce, not just her daughter, was in prison during those two years.

She mourned the loss of her daughter the most at holidays, when it was time to do the family tradition of baking Polish cookies or go to midnight Mass.

But in her circle, few understood what it felt like to have a loved one incarcerated -- except her friend Carol Michel.

Ms. Michel, whose adult son served five years in prison and was released six weeks ago, knew all too well those feelings of anguish, loneliness, and worry.

"There's a bereavement process," Mrs. Pierce said. "For a family who has never experienced having a loved one in the prison system, it's overwhelming."

It's also hard for people to talk about because of the stigma associated with it, said Germaine Kirk, who oversees the jail and prison ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.

"What I've found is there's an element of shame. There's definitely an element of isolation," said Ms. Kirk, the diocese's social ministry program coordinator. "It's not something we talk about openly."

And not many resources are available for the families of the 50,000 prisoners in Ohio state institutions, she added.

That's why Mrs. Pierce and Ms. Michel said they felt compelled to start a nondenominational Christian support group for families this summer.

The group, which is to hold its second meeting this month at the Waterville Branch Library, is open to the public. The prison ministry is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, Sept. 10, Oct. 2, Nov. 5, and Dec. 3 at the library, 800 Michigan Ave. in Waterville, according to the support group's organizers.

The support group is primarily for families, like the Pierces and Michels, dealing with the prison system for the first time.

Both women said they come from well-respected families. Ms. Michel, 67, is a retired registered nurse from Monclova Township. Mrs. Pierce, 69, is a retired employee of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Maumee and lives in Waterville.

They plan to offer a question-and-answer session to help those understand the rules ranging from visiting hours to sending mail and to following the prison's strict structure, which can be confusing to families thrown into that world for the first time.

The two women also plan to share their stories and to remind others they are not alone.

"We share our story, our experience, our fears and hopes, and the fact you get through this," Mrs. Pierce said.



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