A long road of planning and preparation
Twice a year the CDCR partners with the Center for Restorative Justice Works (CRJW) for the Get on the Bus events, which help thousands of children, along with their guardians, to visit their mother or father in prison.
For many of the children this is the only time they are able to visit the parent all year. It’s a rewarding experience, but it comes through months of preparation by CDCR staff.
For four to six hours, children can visit with an incarcerated parent in a more relaxed environment than regular visiting hours. Inmates and their children are allowed to embrace, walk around, and eat pizza while they visit. These events occur as a result of months of planning by institutions’ community resource managers and public information officers, along with other CDCR staff.
At the California Institution for Women in Corona (CIW), Community Resource Manager Randy Samson began last October planning for the Mother’s Day event on May 5. In November the inmates began filling out application forms to include their children in the event.
In the months before the Mother’s Day or Father’s Day events the institution runs security clearances for hundreds of guardians and volunteers.
“Each application needs to be processed to be sure the visitors are approved,” Samson said. “It takes a lot of time.” Once the application is approved it is sent to CRJW, which makes contact with family members.
As with most events there are always last-minute issues. “Last minute details can be tough, sometimes there’s paperwork filtering in up to days before the event,” Samson said.
At California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo, there were more than 300 applications submitted for participation in the Get on the Bus event. Also after months of preparation, there were 96 inmate participants, 71 parents, 40 adult children, 193 children, and 104 volunteers processed for the event.
CMC’s Community Resource Manager Jim Bonnifield stated the most difficult part of planning the event is processing the hundreds of clearances.
This year marked the eighth Get on the Bus event for CRM Randy Samson. When asked how he feels about the event, he stated, “For a small institution, this really stretches us, the whole time stresses me out but when it’s over I feel it was incredibly rewarding.”
The program has grown to be a huge success as a result of the hard work and preparation by CDCR staff who coordinate with CRJW.
“Everyone at the Get On The Bus program sincerely appreciates the support and assistance from CDCR staff at every prison we visit. From the guards all the way up to the Wardens, we are dependent on their support for this program,” Kathy Culpepper, Executive Director of the Center for Restorative Justice Works said. “We realize that it is one more responsibility on their very full plates and we don’t take for granted all that they do. The preparation, the event day problem-solving and the patience they exhibit are all observed and appreciated.”