The CDCR and the Center for Restorative Justice Works (CRJW) worked together on Friday May 7, 2010, so that hundreds of children were able visit their incarcerated mothers to celebrate Mother’s Day.
This was the 11th Annual Get On The Bus event.
Thirty buses and three airplanes filled with more than 700 children and their caregivers traveled early Friday morning from major cities across California to one of three female institutions: California Institution for Women in Corona and Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women, both in Chowchilla.
The buses arrived between 8 and 10 a.m. to accommodate the greatest number of visitors in visiting rooms with limited space.
“Get On The Bus brings incarcerated mothers and their children together for a memorable visit,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “Keeping family bonds strong helps these women when they are released successfully transition back to their homes and communities.”
Approximately 200,000 children in California have an incarcerated parent and live with relatives or in foster care, according to CDCR. Approximately 75 percent of female inmates are mothers.
“Seldom do people ask, ‘What about the children?’” said Get On The Bus Executive Director, Sister Suzanne Jabro. “These are the hidden victims of crime and punishment.”
For many of these children, this is the only time during the year that they will see their mother. Children with mothers in prison are usually cared for by relatives, often grandparents, who are unable to make the drive due to distance or expense.
Get On The Bus provides children and their caregivers with travel bags for the children, comfort care bags for the caregivers, a photograph of each child with his or her mother, and meals for the day. The meals include breakfast, snacks on the bus, lunch at the prison and dinner on the way home.
On the bus trip home following the visit with the mothers, each child received a teddy bear with a letter from his or her mother as well as post-event counseling. The program is funded by donations from churches, schools, family foundations, grants and other organizations; and the transportation provided by Silverado Stages Inc., funded by CDCR
“A child needs to see and know their mother is safe, to be held by her and told they are loved,” added Sister Suzanne, who has spearheaded this event for 11 years. “A child needs to see their reflection in a mother’s eyes.”
The Get On The Bus program sparked the weekly bus service known as the “Chowchilla Family Express” for the families and loved ones of women incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison for Women. This program, also a partnership with CRJW, is funded by CDCR to promote family reunification.
Get On The Bus will also reunite children with their dads for Father’s Day. Thirty five buses carrying children and their caregivers will visit four men’s institutions: California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo on Saturday, June 5 and Saturday, June 12; and Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad and California State Prison-Sacramento on Saturday, June 19.