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SMC symposium to address incarcerated women

Emilie Kefalas | Monday, November 25, 2013

Next Tuesday Saint Mary’s College will shed light on an often-unheard community within South Bend: incarcerated women.
The College is hosting a Symposium on Female Incarceration on Tuesday, December 3 that will highlight the work of men and women who serve the incarcerated.

The symposium will take place in Vander Vannet Theater in the College Student Center, Dr. Adrienne Lyles Chockley, visiting assistant professor of justice education said.

“Many of the people who are going to be presenting are individuals who came to serve ex-offenders through a very long and kind of winding life journey which I include myself in,” Chockley said. “I have an organization called social justice services that provides re-entry services for ex-offenders, and so many of the people have this very interesting life story that brought us to serve this population.”

She said she hopes the all-day, non-stop event will open the floor for dialogue and discussion about the challenges faced by female ex-offenders, what it means to be a woman incarcerated, and the challenges women and their families face as they exit incarceration.

“One of our most vulnerable populations in the South Bend community [is] our female ex-offenders, and so we are gathering ex-offenders, advocates, professionals [and] members of the faith community to take a look at what the challenges are and have a discussion about how we can collaboratively address those challenges,” she said.

The symposium will feature 15 speakers tied to the South Bend incarcerated community and Chockley will deliver the opening and closing remarks.  

“I’m excited about every single person [speaking],” Chockley said.

Father David T. Link, former dean of Notre Dame Law School and newly published author, will be the keynote speaker. His new book, “Camerado, I Give You My Hand: How a Powerful Lawyer-Turned-Priest Is Changing the Lives of Men Behind Bars,” is about the value of human life and the transformative power of friendship and compassion, according to his website.

Chockley said his life mission is to walk with the incarcerated, especially with those facing the death penalty or on death row, and people who are imprisoned for life.

Pat Hosea, a female ex-offender who will speak to a variety of the challenges faced by incarcerated women including sexual violence, addiction and issues with children and child custody, is delivering the second keynote speech.

Chockley said she transformed her life after being released from prison; she is now a small business owner and a personal friend to her.

“She really speaks to both what the challenges are and real concrete ways to transcend those challenges,” Chockley said.

Though incarceration is a relatively well-discussed issue in society, the unique challenges it poses to women are often overlooked, Chockley said.  Many institutions will address incarceration but from a male’s perspective and ignore female-intersected challenges involved including sexual violence, addiction, child-care, and economic concerns, she said.  

Now an ex-offender going on 11 years, Hosea said she can attest and identify with theses hardships, but she has used them to shape herself into an advocate for those struggling as she did.

“My story never ends because I’ve been a survivor of a lot of things,” Hosea said.

With regards to her incarceration experience, she said she recalls the “horridness” of being separated from her children and how that worry weighed upon her during her imprisonment.

“It was horrible.  There’s no explanation other than it’s horrible, especially if you have children.” Hosea said.  “[Fortunately] all four of my boys are doing very well.

“It was hell.  Never, ever do I ever want to do it again, because if I get off try off track for one second, the enemy will try to take me out.  I’m doing well through the grace of God.”

Father James Bracke, C.S.C., staff chaplain of Campus Ministry, said his experience on the other side of prison bars within prison ministry last year led him to see what he could do to help stem the flow of folks falling back into the cycle of incarceration.

“I am a beginner student in this maze of re-entry, but I feel called to do something to serve these my sisters and brothers, having paid the price for their mistakes, to have a second chance,” Bracke said.  “It is what Jesus came to give all of us after our fall from grace, and faith says that redemption is real for every one of us.  700 of my brothers and sisters in Christ come back into St. Joseph County each year, and after being warehoused for years are told basically good luck from the system as they go back.  

“Many said, ‘Father, I never intended to come back here but I could not find a job to support me or my family.  I had too many stressors and I went back to the street.’  The costs for food, housing, shelter, no transportation and the costs of paying for probation are there with little assistance on job creation.  People are reluctant to hire ex-offenders and the economy is still not back yet for the poor in our country.”

Bracke has been in the priesthood for over 33 years, Bracke has visited parishioners in Illinois, Colorado and Indiana.  He said his longtime friend and fellow priest, Father Tom McNally, C.S.C, who is also speaking on the subject of spiritual response to the crisis of incarceration, inspired Bracke to serve those in prison Bracke aims ty embrace the symposium’s importance in drawing attention to voices unheard in the incarcerated community.

“Female incarceration is somewhat underreported as to how it has an effect on community and family life,” Bracke said. “My reason for speaking at this symposium is to advocate for folks who have few if any voices to encourage and support them.  Jesus came for the folks on the margins and for those cut off from the rest of society and I feel I want to speak on behalf of them.  It’s all about service and the Lord.  

“I feel called to walk the talk, and I hope that students will come to listen and grow in of this critical issue that is not addressed or on the priority list for politicians.  Come with open hearts to hear and see with new eyes.”
 

Contact Emilie Kefalas at ekefal01@saintmarys.edu