For at least fifteen years I've avoided becoming a mentor for JPC. I had ten very good excuses:
1. Mentoring would take too much of my time, especially since there was a one hour a week commitment for perhaps a year or more.
2. I would become a slave to my mentee, who would call me day and night.
3. My mentee might not demonstrate adequate gratitude for my sacrifice.
4. I don't have the expertise to guide a mentee through myriad re-entry steps.
5. My approach to solving problems has always been from the policy, not hands-on, angle.
6. The training - two days! - was too long.
7. Once I signed up, I'd never get a break from the obligation, even during vacations.
8. I can't solve the severe problems that ex-offenders face, so why frustrate myself?
9. There is nothing special about my life that can serve as a role model to a mentee - we have nothing in common so they'll resent me.
10. Ok, I admit it - I was a little bit afraid of going into the jail.
On December 8, 2010 all of this changed. Having been trained by the JPC staff as well as deputies from Monroe County, I entered the Correctional Facility in Henrietta. With sweaty hands and a nervous demeanor, I joined the line that gathered for visiting hours at 1:30 that Wednesday afternoon. I waited among toddlers, girlfriends, husbands, and parents who congregated to meet with their loved ones for one of two hours that inmates are permitted visitors during the week.
My mentee came out a bit later than the others. She was just as nervous as I, but we hit it off. My hesitations began to dissolve as we spent an animated hour getting to know each other. Now, it's a month later, and hard to remember why I ever faltered. Sure, I sound like a Pollyanna, a born again convert to the mentoring process after a short time, but for now I'm enjoying the honeymoon. To quote my mentee,
"Suzanne, you and I are in this for the first time together. We'll learn the ropes and see if we're a match or not. So far, so good. But I don't expect you to remain with me if you don't see progress and I know you'll understand if it doesn't work for me. Actually, I have a good feeling about it. I think we'll make it."
Now, how are my excuses looking today?
1. One hour a week is nothing when I see how I spend the rest of my time.
2. My mentee does not and will not have my phone number. She will call JPC staff members in emergencies.
3. It took three weeks before my mentee vocalized a thanks, but before then the thanks I received was the look in her eye when I walked in. She hasn't had a lot of folks in her life that she could trust.
4. I don't need any expertise to help - the JPC staff knows all there is to know. I just tag along, offering an ear and a shoulder.
5. My connection to mothers, a passion I have long held, will be more effective as I witness first hand how systemic changes can help mothers in my mentee's position.
6. The training was flexible - don't assume you can't manage it.
7. Whenever I leave town, my mentee feels supported by the JPC staff so does not need my weekly session.
8. I can't solve my mentee's problems, only journey with her as she does this herself.
9. The fact that I am successfully living a drug-free, crime-free life infused with my individual brand of spiritual life is all I need to be a role model.
10. Going to the jail (downtown Rochester) and/or correctional facility (Henrietta) is a breeze, especially for a JPC representative. Parking is easy, deputies are cooperative, and inmates and their visitors are friendly. JPC's track record makes the facilities welcome us with open arms. And the people who live there? They've made mistakes, some serious mistakes, but deserve the "Second Chance" that the women's project affords.
The least I can do is pitch in my time.
I'll be back with a subsequent report as my mentee re-enters the real world and we continue our relationship.
Meanwhile, the next JPC mentor training is Jan 17-18.
Do you have any excuses?
(The Women's Project is a federal grant that JPC was awarded along with RIT to work with pregnant women and mothers of young children who are now or have recently been incarcerated. This grant began its second year on January 1, 2011).