Sister Terry Dodge, Executive Director of Crossroads in Claremont, California, a six-month rehabilitation program for women returning from incarceration, was the recipient of the 2010 Minerva Award for women of California “who serve on the front-lines of humanity.” Notable Minerva Award recipients include Oprah Winfrey and Sandra Day O’Conner. Sister Terry was awarded for her courageous efforts in reducing recidivism and for giving aid to a population that is largely forgotten and unforgiven.
Jesse Duthrie: With the holidays coming soon, is there anything special you do with the women inmates to help them celebrate?
Sister Terry Dodge: We look for all opportunities to celebrate. We need to find the good in life. I’ve had women who’ve never had a Christmas tree or a wrapped gift. I remember picking up a woman on Christmas morning and in the stockings we had were little boxes of See’s Chocolate. It’s the specialty chocolate in California. She was so excited she sat down and ate the whole box of candy before moving on because it was such a treat.
Duthrie: How does the community get involved?
Dodge The community has been extremely generous with providing for the women during Christmas time. I’ve got a grammar school in El Monte that collects toiletries and towel sets and they’ll deliver that so we don’t have to buy those things for the women. Another group of women buy new towel sets for when women come into the house.
My board members and their friends take on a person and purchase gifts for them so she has gifts to unwrap under the tree. There will be Christmas dinner. The graduates are invited to come back and have dinner with them. The family situation is not always an option for them. Everyone must be here for the holidays, and if people have family that is suitable for them to go visit, it would be the following weekend where they can go visit and celebrate with them.
Duthrie: How did Crossroads get started?
Dodge Crossroads started in 1974. It was incorporated by a group of men and women who were Match 2 sponsors. Match 2 was a visitation program where they would match a person on the outside with a person on the inside. This particular group would go together to visit women at the California Institution for Women. I think it’s interesting that two of those members were dairy farmers and they raised four foster boys along with their own four children. One of their foster boy’s mother was in CIW at the time and when she was released she was brought to the farm and she was able to stay there and work until she could get on her feet. That shows how long ago it was because you’d never have a foster mother and his mother at the same place now. They were there when it started and they were instrumental.
Duthrie: How did you get involved with Crossroads?
Dodge I came in 1989. When I arrived it was a group home with supervision. The women were required to work and attend twelve step meetings. It was basically a group home where women could get on their feet and we could help find resources. We had a state contract that provided a per diem for women. But in 1998 or so we were notified that there was going to be a change in the parole boundaries. All of Los Angeles County was going to be one parole region. My worse case scenario would have been completely losing the funding.
We went through the difficult process of being a certified drug and alcohol program. We had to create a formal curriculum for the women. The Crossroads I came to in 1989 is very different than the original Crossroads. It is now a licensed drug and alcohol residential facility.
Duthrie: And that makes sense because the national statistic is around 80 percent of women entering correction facilities have some sort of alcohol or drug addiction.
Dodge In California it’s even higher than that.
Duthrie: There are now currently three houses up and running. What is the selection like in getting a spot?
Dodge It is first come, first serve. It’s difficult because the first come first serve process goes back to 20 years of letters from women in prison asking to come to Crossroads, and now some of these women are finally being released.
Duthrie: How did you get involved in the prisoner reentry community? What was your motivation?
Dodge My bachelors degree is in education. I was a teacher for 12 years. On a personal level, my brother was in and out of jail and prison. When he was serious about making a decision to change his life, I did more than just visit him and buy him cigarettes. I looked into what resources were available. What I found was a tremendous amount of judgment. They looked at a person’s history, not on how they wanted to change and what their hopes and dream were. I was terribly frustrated with the process because I knew there was a change in my brother but I knew it was different this time. It was out of this experience that I wanted to work with reentry, and be the contradiction to everyone by believing in their hopes and dreams. Believing that change is possible.
Duthrie: We do face a lot of those social stigmas as well here in Connecticut. When you’re working with the women, how important is it to develop a personal relationship?
Dodge We’re a small agency. We’re basically working with 12 women in the primary program. They can’t fall through the cracks. We treat women as women. We don’t work with murderers, prostitutes, burglars, felons, whatever label you want to put on a person. We work with women. It’s that mentality that makes a tremendous difference. We create family for women so they can see the choices in life. It’s one thing to tell them what to do, but another thing for them to see their options. That’s what makes the difference with our program.
We walk a fine line between being compassionate and empathetic. Definitely the majority of women are from a lower socio-economic status. It’s simply taking time with a person. It’s those small steps. How to get to point A to point B. Because a person’s an adult, we make assumptions. It’s taking the time to make sure a person knows how to go about doing everything. How do you make dinner? How do you clean the house? Many of these women didn’t get that type of training growing up.
Duthrie: Some people seem to develop a prison mindset after years of incarceration. What is the reward when you see women coming out and changing their mindset?
Dodge I disagree with that statement. I think that’s the image that the media puts out there, not that there’s an element of it. My experience working with the women going inside the prison and getting to know them-- anyone of us could be in their situation. Yes, there is an element of standing off and not being taken advantage of. But the images being portrayed in the media is not what I find when I go in the prisons. We work strongly on changing that image. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t verbal violence or difficulties, there definitely are. But what I’ve found going in the prisons is women no different than myself. Had I been in the same circumstances, I can’t say that I would not have made the same choices they’ve made.
Duthrie: If you had a word to say to our readership out here in Connecticut, what would it be?
Dodge I say this all the time that people give me so much credit. I think it’s misguided. I don’t think I’m doing anything exceptional or out of the ordinary. Granted it’s not always an easy situation to be in. We all want a place to live. We all want someone to care about us. We want an opportunity to work; we want an opportunity to go to school. The work I do is not exceptional. If it seems that way, it’s because not enough people are doing it.
It’s sort of the mass causality nature…that calls us to action in a way that other things may not.