Female reentry facility hosts special visiting event

Story and photos by Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Bright decorations and a Candyland theme added to the festive atmosphere of the Female Community Reentry Facility (FCRF) in McFarland during a recent special visiting event in which incarcerated women were reunited with their children.

Through a partnership of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Center for Restorative Justice Works, Get On The Bus provides free transportation for children and their caregivers to visit incarcerated parents. Each of CDCR’s female institutions and many male institutions hold Get On The Bus events.

This year the event expanded to include FCRF. The 300-bed facility is owned by The GEO Group and staffed by both GEO and CDCR employees.

“Get On The Bus provides a valuable service for the incarcerated,” said Warden Wanda Wilson. “Family unification is a big part of the rehabilitation process. Having family support increases the odds of success greatly.”

Amalia Molina, Executive Director of Get On The Bus, said even though FCRF is small, the amount of work put into the event was worth it when she saw the faces of the women and their children.

“I don’t want to leave any child behind,” Molina said. “If we can save one life, we’ll do our part. Whatever it takes – that’s our mission. Whatever it takes to make sure these children have the opportunity.”

Seven women and 14 children participated, along with the children’s caretakers and a host of volunteers and staff. Even inmates who did not have children visiting spent time the night before decorating the visiting room with paper lollipops, candies and icicles to make it an inviting atmosphere for all.

“I was thinking, ‘It’s like going to the fair,’” said Patricia, whose husband, two children and little sister traveled from Fontana to visit her. “It’s an event. It’s different environmentally, visually, and it has a lot to do with the colors and the people.”

As she waited for her family to arrive, Patricia reflected on the challenges both for herself as an incarcerated mother and her children.  She has missed out on several of her children’s’ important life events and compares events like Get On The Bus to the fable of a man saving starfish washed up on the beach, one by one, even though there was no way he could save them all.

“There are almost 300 women here,” she said, “and those one or two visits that they do get make a big difference.”

Renai was ecstatic to see her daughters, niece and mother, who caught the bus in Riverside County. She said she’s grateful for Get On The Bus, which allows her an extended visit with her daughters. During normal visiting the conversations tend toward urgent matters like grades and behavior, but these visits allow room for deeper discussions about life.

“It’s just things that I’m missing and I don’t want to miss,” Renai said. “It’s really hard sometimes to get all these things that I want to do and say out.”

Her mother, Fredericka, takes care of the girls while Renai is incarcerated. She has participated in numerous Get On The Bus events and said that there’s a benefit to the caretakers as well.

“I feel such a blessing,” she said. “I’ve met other mothers, other grandparents who had no way to get their grandkids to visit except through this.”

FCRF puts a strong emphasis on family reunification, in addition to many other rehabilitative programs designed to prepare women to return home.

Offerings include classes in substance abuse treatment, anger management, criminal thinking and family and relationships, along with arts programs and physical fitness programs like basketball, volleyball and yoga.

There’s also a focus on education as women can participate in Adult Basic Education, GED coursework, Office Services and Related Technologies and English as a Second Language.

“The event was a wonderful experience for staff and participants,” Warden Wilson said, indicating mothers she spoke with after the event were all grateful for the experience.

“Get On The Bus is a wonderful program,” one woman told the warden. “If it wasn’t for this program, my family wouldn’t see me. My children are comfortable and feel at ease during our visit – they look forward to coming every time.”

CDCR Capt. Patrick Kehoe thanked the volunteers, staff and inmate participants after the event for bringing such a positive activity into the facility. He pointed out how important family connections are as the women prepare for parole.

“As you move forward in your reentry out into the world,” he said, “keep those kids and your family members your number one goal.”