The official WorkerAnts’ Colony
Two years ago, I was standing outside a Starbucks drinking coffee and chatting with a co-worker, when a man walked up to us and asked for money. People asking for money is fairly commonplace in New York City, but what stood out about this man was the sheer burning intensity of his gaze and the fact that he introduced his request by saying: “I just got out of prison, I was in for murder, and I am trying to turn my life around. Can you spare some cash to help.” Needless to say, I did not know whether to be terrified or just impressed by his total no-holds barred honesty. I also did not have any cash on me at the time, but I probably would have given it to him just because I admired his seeming disregard for putting on any pretenses. I often think of this man and this moment as the almost perfect example of the struggle many people, including myself, have with helping others. Most people have no hesitation about helping kids, animals, trees or oceans, but we second guess helping adults, especially if we cannot neatly categorize them as a “victim”. We want to help, but are quite confused as to how to help and, at least in my case, how to help without feeling that I am somehow being taken advantage of by others.
I do not have a grand answer to this problem, but I do have the ability to recognize and honor people who have found ways to help adults that are truly inspirational. This is why, as part of WorkerAnts.com focus this November on helping others, I want to share with you the story of Crossroads, Inc. This California program assists women who have been in prison with transitioning back into society when they are released. This group of strong and loving people, both volunteers, clients and founders, are clear proof that while we may at times struggle with how to help others, there is always a way to do so if we look hard enough and the result is completely worth it.
Crossroads, by Vicki Claudius
Crossroads was established in 1974. It is a comprehensive six month residential program which provides housing, education, employment services and counseling, at no cost, to formerly incarcerated women. Our goal is to empower women as they exit the prison system and to assist them in becoming contributing members of the community.
Many of the women who come to Crossroads have been incarcerated for over 20 years. The Agency provides training and support as the women integrate back into the community. The community and the volunteers are vital to what we do. Social skills can only be learned and perfected when practiced. Working with volunteers provides a chance for the women to interact with a variety of people in an accepting environment. Both groups learn from each other and understanding and knowledge replace stigmas and stereotypes. The volunteers and supporters of Crossroads are a variety of ages from diverse backgrounds, providing services such as assisting in the office, Saturday work parties, special projects, help with the preparation of special events and the events themselves.
A recent survey of the volunteers asked if their experience was what they had expected. Almost all of them said they wanted to volunteer because they thought they had something to give, but ended up receiving much more than they gave.
One volunteer shared that her experience impacted her life immensely and that she learned a great deal, in particular she told us that the most rewarding aspect was “the times when I have worked alongside the women at community events and gardening. They have educated me on life in and out of prison that I was not aware of.” She noted that her volunteer work has been “a humbling experience” as she learned from the women in the program about “personal journeys and struggles that the women endured and continue to endure which have touched my life greatly.”
Interaction with the community is also critical for integration. ‘Fallen Fruit from Rising Women’ is an example of teamwork between Crossroads and the community. In conjunction with our Scripps College collaborators, Crossroads women produce food products such as jams, granola, kombucha, herbed lemonade, dried fruits and specialty salts that are sold at local stores, gift shops and the Farmer’s Market. The fruit is donated by members of the community. While this experience provides the women of Crossroads valuable job skills, it also helps provides education to the larger community regarding the many difficulties that formerly incarcerated women face as they integrate back into society.
Kathleen, a graduate of the program, believes the Food Justice component of Crossroads, which includes ‘Fallen Fruit from Rising Women,’ is representative of the experience there. She compares her own cycle through the program to taking care of a little square of soil in the Crossroads garden. Kathleen feels that the whole process of growing food is reminiscent of being able to start a new life on a different path, much like she did while transitioning to Crossroads. From planting the seed all the way to composting, everything is a metaphor for the continual regeneration Kathleen experienced at Crossroads, for which she is extremely grateful.
Kathleen is quick to explain that “Words cannot describe what this program has given me. It has presented me with opportunities that wouldn’t be available to me otherwise. I cannot express how sub-human I felt before and during my time in prison. Crossroads has allowed me to start feeling human again,” and to her, that is priceless. This renewed sense of self is largely attributed to the community that Crossroads encourages. Kathleen says, “These women are my family. They have given me things that my own family isn’t capable of giving me, emotional support and encouragement to be successful.”
For forty years Crossroads has been providing second chances to women who had nowhere else to go. Through love, hard work, commitment, a firm but fair philosophy, and the incredible support of surrounding communities, this Agency provides hope where it is most needed.
Crossroads, Inc. provides a loving, elegant solution to many women in need. Please join us this month in honoring their program and dedication to helping others. Visit their page on WorkersAnts.com and read more about them or, if you are a volunteer or supporter, write a review so others can learn from your experiences. Also, check out their tasty food products, I can personally attest to the fact that their five spice loquat preserve is delicious.