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“The Ripple Effect” of the Conference

Initiated in 2009 as a project of Community Solutions of El Paso, a nonprofit grassroots organization then providing services to children and families impacted by the criminal justice system since 2001.  The parent  organization addressed three critical factors preventing success for far too many returning citizens and their families:

  1. Shame, embarrassment and fear silenced the prison family. Upon leaving prison, most returning citizens (and their loved ones) wanted to bury the entire traumatic experience. Their resulting silence denied the larger community the opportunity to know the outstanding individuals comprising the prison family.
  2. Hiding in shame and fear created an Empathy Gap, a protective shield that impedes, and in many cases prevents successful community reentry and family reintegration for those affected by incarceration. Unknowing community members worked alongside of former prisoners; sat right next to prison family members in their houses of worship; attended school together with a silent barrier preventing community members from ever knowing their circumstances – their pain.
  3. All persons affected by the criminal justice system are traumatized, and we are all affected and most people don’t even know it.

People fear what they don’t know.  The inability to personally know prisoners or their loved ones prevents the community from embracing the exceptional intelligence and talents of those directly impacted by incarceration personally and/or professionally.

It was believed the conference could and would have a Ripple Effect opening various avenues for bridging that important Empathy Gap. 

It has. 

In fact, community members with no personal connection to criminal justice were the first to bring the powerful impact of this conference to our attention.

Two sisters with no previous ties to criminal justice authored a book on finances under the pen names of “Red and Black.” Very unexpectedly their book landed in a prison with the thought it could  enlighten inmates on financial management, especially in a crisis.  In the process, the sisters had two moving experiences that bridged the Empathy Gap:

  1. They had direct interaction with prisoners. While unplanned, this interaction burst many erroneous myths and stereotypes about incarcerated persons.
  2. In promoting their book as a useful tool for prison families, they attended several of our conferences. Meeting many prison family members and secular and faith-based professionals serving the prison family, their direct interaction burst many erroneous myths and stereotypes about families and supporters of incarcerated persons.

In a keynote address to conference attendees, Red and Black noted their prior lack of knowledge and understanding of the incarceration experience.  They were honest about why they had attended the conference in the first place – they wanted to sell books.  Then they noted how stepping out of their comfort zone into the conference and prison swept them into an undulating Ripple Effect of awareness and even empathy for an entire population they would never have otherwise known.  They expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to know the truth about prisoners and their loved ones.

Never minimizing the trauma experienced by victims of crimes, but recognizing the power of the Ripple Effect the conference created, we took stock. 

Acknowledging the detrimental Empathy Gap created by a vicious cycle of incarceration, shame and hiding, the organization took the bold step of encouraging those directly impacted by incarceration to tell their stories; to enable the community to recognize them as intelligent; talented and valuable persons forever lost to our communities by perpetually shunning entire families due to the incarceration of a family member.

The conference comfortably provided a desperately needed public venue that has remained:

  1. a safe and healthy place to openly discuss all issues related to the traumatic impact of incarceration;
  2. a credible place to provide and receive validation and support for the traumatic impact of incarceration, not only on the prison family, but on the community as a whole;
  3. a resource for best practices not simply to survive, but to thrive throughout the entire incarceration experience;
  4. a primary initiator of partnerships, collaborations and friendships strengthening all services to those traumatized by incarceration personally and/or professionally, across the nation and internationally.

In 2019 the Board of Directors made the decision to incorporate the conference as a standalone nonprofit organization.  Today, as the conference heads into its thirteenth year it is recognized as a leader in effective advocacy and is instrumental in the development of effective resources and services for the humane and effective treatment of all persons affected by incarceration and that is all of us.

Far more than merely a traditional conference, the annual event provides information and valuable resources in a non-judgmental, welcoming setting, whether live or virtual,  where it is safe to share openly about having been affected by incarceration. 

OUR TEAM

  • Board of Directors

Barbara Allan – New York

It is somewhat fortuitous that Barbara Allan (alphabetically) heads the names of the conference Board of Directors, as in fact she is considered  to head up the longest operating organization serving prison families.  Barbara was a school teacher, a wife, a mother who had no contact with the criminal justice system until 1968 when her husband was incarcerated.  Then, alone, devastated and confused she began talking with two other women in the prison waiting room.  Together, recognizing the benefit of their support for one another, they formed Prison Families Anonymous as a nonprofit organization which is  now believed to have been the first-ever prison family support group in the United States.  For the past fifty years, Barbara has remained at the helm of the organization, dedicated to easing the pain of all families affected by the incarceration of a loved one.  Through the years she has become increasingly involved in criminal justice reform, especially in the State of New York where she has taken the message of how the prison system has grown and succeeded by its failures to legislators and social service leaders and the general public time and again.   Barbara successfully raised her two daughters and until today continues to facilitate prison family support groups.  She has represented Prison Families Anonymous before two reentry tasks force and the Suffolk County Criminal Justice Council and is on the board of the NYADP.   Widely recognized for her many years of consistently loving and dedicated support and service to those affected by incarceration, Barbara was honored in New York as the Public Citizen of the Year.  She has attended and supported the conference since finding it in its second year, referring to those she has met there as her “extended family.”

Ro Clausen – Nevada

Rosanne “Ro” Clausen is the founder of Strong Prison Wives & Families, a 501 c3 non profit organization with close to 100,000 members. Ro has provided extensive support and private counsel to wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, and family members who have an incarcerated loved one since 2009. During that time, she has also become an expert in dealing with Bureau of Prison’s policies, procedures and staff.  Drawing from her own experience and the experience of thousands of Strong Prison Wife members, Ro has incomparable experience in providing expert guidance and support to women who are in a relationship with someone incarcerated. She has helped countless families find a healthy balance in their lives while dealing with the inherent challenges associated with a long-distance relationship. In addition to private coaching, Ro has produced and starred in hundreds of videos that document strategies on how to deal with nearly every conceivable situation, emotion and experience shared by all those who have a loved one that is incarcerated. Additionally, for more than five years she has collaborated with myriad prison advocacy groups/organizations, political activists, and media representatives to bring attention to the needs of citizens supporting incarcerated loved ones.  Ro presented a life coaching workshop at the 2016 Prisoner Family Conference and lead a meet and greet for “Strong Prison Wives and Families” at the conference in 2018.  On the personal side, Ro has a passion for her family, exercise and fitness and has a degree in Sports Medicine.  Husbands and wives looking to emerge from this experience successfully, will greatly benefit from Ro’s support.

Kimberly Dearman – Texas

Kimberly C. Dearman is a non-practicing lawyer/landman who lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, Craig.  She received her B.S. from the University of Southern Mississippi in Psychology and her law degree from University of Mississippi (Ole Miss -Hotty Toddy).  While practicing law in her hometown she grew a heart for incarcerated persons and their families.  While in Hattiesburg, MS she served on several boards for transitional living facilities.  She found the conference during such time as a participant and joined the board upon her move to Dallas, Texas in 2016.  She is our behind the scenes advocate.

Armondo De Pina – California

As a youth Armondo DePina  struggled with many problems that could easily have prevented him from becoming the  successful advocate for parents he is today.  Hired by the Alameda County Parent Engagement Program as one with lived experience, Armondo developed into the Fatherhood Engagement Specialist he is honored to serve as today. He has served as a member of the Alameda County Child and Family Strategy Process and Training Committee and the B.A.C.A.I.R. Committee focusing on  reducing the number of American Indian children in the child welfare system.  He was facilitator for the Parent Caregiver Advisory Group targeting services for children with an incarcerated parent. The father of three adult children, Armondo is currently the full time primary parent for his nine year old daughter, a role he cherishes.  He says “My Father was a great Man who taught my siblings and I the importance of being a responsible Man.”

Kirstin Eidenbach – Arizona / New Mexico

Kirstin Eidenbach is an attorney at Hallinan & Killpack Law Firm in Arizona, who focuses her practice on prisoner civil rights.  She is also the co-founder and Executive Director of ATLaS Justice Center, a reentry and prison reform non-profit organization.  In her spare time, Kirstin runs Honey Girl’s Café, an eco-friendly café in Carrizozo, NM.  Kirstin serves as the Board Vice President.

 

Jacquelyn Frank  Illinois / New Mexico

Jacquelyn is a professor of Aging Studies and Human Services and Community Leadership at Eastern Illinois University. She earned a PhD in Anthropology from Northwestern University and a Master of Studies in Law from the University of Illinois College of Law.   Jackie is the Board chair of activities related to the annual prison art competition.

 

Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson – Washington, D.C.

Dr. Hart- Johnson is author, educator, and researcher. She is the president and co-founder of DC Project Connect (DCPC), a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization located in the Washington, DC area that provides crisis support, psychoeducational services, and advocacy for families of justice aligned individuals. Hart-Johnson oversees the portfolio of DCPC programming and reentry services provided to constituents and Washington, DC’s only residential reentry center (halfway house) for women. The critical underpinning of DCPC’s work is aligned with empirical research and her theoretical framework, Symbolic Imprisonment, Grief, and Coping Theory (Hart-Johnson, 2015). This theory holds that family members of the incarcerated can suffer their own vicarious imprisonment, grief, and strive to find ways to cope or survive the loss.  Dr. Hart-Johnson’s drive and energy are evidenced in her collaboration and leadership on local, national, and international levels. She serves on advisory boards in the DC region,  including Community Family Life Services (CFLS) Speaker’s Bureau and The Women’s Foundation. She is a member of the Reentry Action Network and Rethink Justice DC social justice advocacy groups. She is the chair of the International Advocacy in Action Coalition, a working group focused on mobilizing community advocates/leaders across the nation to foster social justice reform and social change in communities. She is the vice president of the International Coalition for Children With Incarcerated Parents (INCCIP.org).  Avon chairs the conference Advocacy in Action Coalition.

Stacey Kobetitsch – Arizona

Stacey Kobetitsch has worked in the HR, Leadership and Marketing sectors for the past 20 years.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon and a Master’s in Organizational Leadership and a MBA in HRM from Columbia Southern University.  She developed a strong sense of devotion and passion for the nonprofit sector and understands it is about how well you connect to the heart-beating families and friends of those who are incarcerated whether it is in the US or world-wide.  She seeks to improve the quality of life for all of those in this marginalized and underserved population.  Every person who is incarcerated and every family member of those who are incarcerated deserve dignity, respect, and compassion.   Stacey chairs the conference Sustainability Committee.

Julia Lazareck – Nevada

Julia Lazareck is the president of Friends and Family of Incarcerated Persons, Inc. (FFIP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide resources and support to families and children affected by incarceration.  Julia is an author, speaker and advocate for families affected by incarceration. Her Podcast, “Prison: The Hidden Sentence” and Book of the same name, provide information, guidance and support to anyone who has or a had a loved one in the prison system.  Her goal is to raise awareness and to create a more empathetic society, so nobody has to serve the sentence with their loved one alone.  Julia chairs conference activities related to children impacted by the criminal justice system.

 James Prager – Ohio

With regard to his connection with the conference, James (Jim) Prager says, “It is an honor to be affiliated with the International Prisoner Family Conference for around 8 years. In addition, I am on the Board of Directors which provides more opportunities for service. Some of the most compassionate, loyal, and persistent people have become an important part of my prisoner family experience. Like many others, I am a prison survivor. One of my joys has been to share people such as Carol Howes who was the Warden of the prison where I lived. She was not what we perceive as the typical warden and this has helped me avoid making judgements by role.  I believe we need to view people as they are at the current time. I feel passionate about the need for advocacy. Mass incarceration is dehumanizing for the entire family. It creates shame and secrecy. I regard individuals and families on the Sex Offender Registry as incarcerated. The conference has a group to push and advocate for change while at the same time providing support for those impacted by these policies and also to support ourselves. We have a long road ahead to create the impetus for change in our attitudes. The U.S. has 5% of the worlds population but 25% of those incarcerated and that does not count people impacted by the Registry. Something has to change and the International Prisoner Family Conference has the courage to be in the forefront.”  Jim serves as Board Secretary.

Kayla Victor – Washington

 

 

 

 

DIRECTOR’S MESSAGE

Carolyn Esparza – Texas
President & Conference Chair

 

 

 

 

STAFF / COMMITTEE CHAIRPERSONS

 

Art & Culture – Jacquelyn Frank

 

Children’s Programming – Julia Lazareck

 

Sustainability – Stacey Kobetitsch

 

Technology & Event Coordination
Kayla Victor

 

VOLUNTEERS

Children’s Programming
Zoe Flannery – Alaska

 

Partner Links.

 

CONTACT US.  WE LOVE SHARING INFORMATION ABOUT OUR WORK.

Mailing Address:

Prisoners’ Family Conference
P.O. Box 385
Spring Branch, Texas 78070

E-mail:  info@prisonersfamilyconference.org

Phone:  (915) 861-7733

 

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