Dear friend of Loaves & Fishes,
May you enjoy a splendid Easter, delighting in the yearly cycle of renewal and transformation!
In order to fully appreciate the glory of the Resurrection, we must remember the dark night of the soul that preceded it - Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial, torture and execution. Jesus knew what it was to be incarcerated, isolated and afraid; he tells us to visit the imprisoned and that, when we do, we are visiting Him.
Loaves & Fishes Jail Visitation program, like all our programs, springs from that Bible verse, Matthew 25. Our three staff members and 30 volunteers visit inmates in the Sacramento County Jail weekly for as long as they’re there. They converse with them and offer to contact their families. They talk about what’s happening at Loaves & Fishes, the weather and sports. They send letters and birthday cards. They advocate for the persons they visit, calling social workers to arrange needed medical attention and public defenders to find out the status of legal charges.
Some inmates are at the jail for years, awaiting trial. They typically are in their cells for 23 hours a day. They are disproportionately black or Hispanic, often long estranged from those they knew on the outside. Most have committed relatively minor crimes; some are accused of the most horrific offenses. Gerrie Baskerville, Co-Director of Jail Visitation, is writing to five people on death row whom she first started visiting when they were awaiting trial in Sacramento.
The Loaves & Fishes visitor is a compassionate, non-judgmental friend to the inmate. Many inmates find God very quickly once in jail. One of our volunteers leads a Bible study class. The visitors believe everyone deserves a second chance. Their message is “I value you as a human being and I want you to know that.” They know that their visits create hope, even if just the hope that they’ll come back next week and the next and the next.
The visitors in turn are inspired by the inmates who manage to find hope in a hopeless situation, trust a total stranger, and use humor to endure daily indignities. Suzi Ettin, Co-Director of Jail Visitation says of her work, “I have the chance to see the face of Jesus every day.”
The support of Jail Visitation has changed many lives. “Amanda” was young, pretty and running with a fast crowd. She held down a full-time job but partied hard on weekends. A string of misdemeanor arrests culminated in much more serious charges. She spent her 25th birthday in jail, charged with four felonies - possession of drug paraphernalia, marijuana, rock cocaine and amphetamines.
A friend of hers called Loaves & Fishes and asked that we visit her. When Angie from Jail Visitation showed up to visit her, Amanda told her to go away; when she again came a week later, Amanda again refused to talk to her; the third week, Amanda began to trust Angie. Each time, Angie said, “I know you asked me not to come, but I’m here to help you through this. Tell me what you need.” Amanda’s own family was so ashamed of her, they never visited or wrote to her the entire time she was incarcerated.
Amanda spent from June to November in the Sacramento County jail awaiting trial and then, after a plea bargain, 22 months in Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. Amanda says of Angie, “She kept writing me even when I went to prison and most of the time I didn’t even write back. She showed me so much support and care. My parents gave up but here was this stranger who sent letters and birthday cards, ‘Hi, I’m thinking of you, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, how are you?’ “
Amanda gradually realized she wanted a better life. She went to AA and NA classes; she worked for 14 cents an hour; she went to every pre-release class offered. She avoided the drugs readily available in the prison and the drama and feuds of so many women packed in together. As her release date neared, she didn’t even leave her cell to go to the yard or meals she was so fearful something might happen to delay her release date.
Angie’s influence was constant; Amanda says, “Her trust in me was the encouragement to better my life.” When Amanda was released Angie put her to work as a volunteer office assistant at Jail Visitation. Step by painstaking step, Amanda has built a good, decent life for herself. She served her parole time, started college and completed an associate’s degree in Business. She now works full time as an accounts payable clerk. She will attend Sacramento State University next year while continuing to work full-time. She has gone through the lengthy legal process to have her offenses expunged and has received a certificate of rehabilitation from the courts. She was turned down three times before it was granted. She laughs as she credits the example of Jail Visitation for her persistence. “Even though I turned them away, they still kept coming and coming.”
Ten years after her awful arrest, Amanda is now the proud mother of a very active six year old son. She and her significant other own their own home and the long distance truck he drives.
Why Jail Visitation Matters
Suzi Ettin puts it like this: “Everyone deserves a second chance, to be seen as someone of value, someone who can change. Jesus came because we’re all sinners. We all do things we’re not proud of but we can be redeemed. Jesus loved the Good Thief and He loves us.”
Thank you for your understanding of the importance of hope and redemption and for supporting the Jail Visitation Program’s ministry of hope.
Peace and Love
Loaves & Fishes