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Published: Friday, 8/16/2013

Prison Awareness Day offers look at life behind bars Saturday


Community members will get a chance to look into the world of iron bars and orange jumpsuits on Saturday.

The Toledoans for Prison Awareness coalition and United Pastors for Social Empowerment will hold a Prison Awareness Day at Bethlehem Baptist New Life Center, 1430 W. Bancroft St.

Targeting the city’s faith communities, the event aims to inform Toledo residents about the prison system, the lives of prisoners, and local support groups for incarcerated people and their families.

According to the Rev. Donald Perryman, pastor at the Center of Hope Community Baptist Church, nearly all members of his Dorr Street parish have been affected by the incarceration of a relative.

“Six-hundred thousand prisoners per year are released in the United States, and they appear on the doorsteps of the community,” said Pastor Perryman, president of United Pastors for Social Empowerment.

“Even though they come back home, they’re still outsiders. They’re labeled as felons, can’t find jobs, and can’t support their families.”

The difficult reentry process will be one of the topics discussed at the event, which will be held in the gym and adjacent rooms of the New Life Center.

Five sessions consisting of short presentations and plenty of question and answer opportunities will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.

One session, “Understanding the Issues,” will offer information tables manned by Toledoans for Prison Awareness volunteers.

Visitors will learn about the lives of a prisoner, a convict’s family member, and a recently released felon.

Volunteers also will address a variety of issues such as racial disparities, prison privatization, and exploitation of prison labor.

In another session, “The Community and The System,” liaisons from the Toledo Correctional Institution, the Ohio Reformatory for Women, and the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio will talk about the prison system. The program begins at 1:30 and 3:15 p.m.

“Networks of Support,” with sessions at 2 and 3:45 p.m., will teach about prisoner and family support groups, which provide services such as prisoner education and reentry programs.

A panel of former inmates will speak about their experiences at a 2:30 p.m. session on “Testimonies of Rehabilitation.”

Ways to prevent juvenile delinquency will be addressed in another session; at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Anita Madison, coordinator of the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, will speak about inhibiting youth involvement in gangs.

The one-day event is a follow-up to Prison Awareness Week, a program held in April at the University of Toledo. Aimed at students and faculty members, the event included activities such as film screenings, conferences, and improvisational theater performances by inmates responding to their prison experiences.

Members of Toledoans for Prison Awareness are in the planning stages for another Prison Awareness Week at Lourdes University or the University of Toledo, said Cynthia Ingham, the organization’s coordinator. The event may illustrate such issues as illegal immigrants in prison, privatized prisons, and the juvenile court justice system.

The nation’s prison population fell by 1.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, continuing a three-year decline in prison numbers, according to 2012 Bureau of Justice data. It says 1,571,013 people live behind bars.

“It’s a problem that’s not limited to prisons,” Ms. Ingham said, referring to the impact of imprisonment on the community.

“It has a very human face.”

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