Federal FORUM Helps Women And Children

For the eighty Minnesota women incarcerated in Pekin, Illinois, distance and finances may no longer be a barrier to seeing their children. For the 200 Minnesota children whose mothers are incarcerated in Illinois, hope may come in the form of a yellow school bus.

The determined women of Federal F.O.R.U.M. based in St. Paul, Minnesota are fighting to bring these mothers and children together for an entire weekend. Federal F.O.R.U.M. (Federal Females Organizing and Restorting Unity for Mothers) is a spiritual-based social change organization that offers a range of support services for children and caregivers whose mothers are incarcerated in the federal prison part of their sentences in FCI Pekin Camp. Mary Gaines understood from personal experience the growing needs of female federal prisoners and the impact of prison sentences on children and families.

As we have been reporting in the Razor Wire, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women serving federal prison sentences of 5-15 years for first-time nonviolent offenses since mandatory minimum guidelines were established. Children suffer the most during this separation - most children and mothers do not see each other of the entire time the mother serves her sentence. This is because of the distance to travel, and the expense of the trip, as well as the fact that many children are living with fathers or other family members, or even foster families who may not wish to trasport the children to the prisons.

Federal F.O.R.U.M. is responding to the needs of these mothers and children in a very concrete way. During this year, Federal F.O.R.U.M. intends to provide transportation and lodging for bus loads of children to visit their mothers in Pekin Women's Prison. This has been in the planning stage for over two years, and the Federal F.O.R.U.M. is now awaiting permission from the Bureau of Prison bureacracy in order to put their program in place and transport their first load of children. Each bus will also have a number of screened adult volunteers who will accompany the children and provide support and supervision during the visit.

Federal F.O.R.U.M. also offers other services to women either facing incarceration or already incarcerated. These services include wellness and health sessions, where a trained volunteer guides the children and mothers (prior to sentencing) to work through the difficulty of the incarceration process. They offer a guardian and caretaker network, youth mentorship programs, referral and placement resources, legal advocates, community liaison and spiritual support for families.

The November Coalition applauds the efforts of Federal F.O.R.U.M. and urges readers to contact Mary Gaines if they are interested in replicating the types of programs, particularly the bus program, that Federal F.O.R.U.M. has developed. It is critical for children that they be able to see their mothers on a regular basis, in a caring environment.

To contact the Federal F.O.R.U.M. call 615-646-2408 or Mary Gaines at 651-646-2483.