Christmas Eve 2015

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Christmas Eve 2015

Thank you to all the folks who responded to our call for slippers and pajamas to help make it a special Christmas! Also, to those who came to the office last night to help wrap presents. Your generosity is so appreciated![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery interval=”0″ images=”6865,6866,6867,6868,6869,6870,6871,6872,6873,6874,6875,6876,6877,6878,6879,6880,6881,6882,6883,6884,6885,6886,6887,6888,6889″ img_size=”300×300″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Sister Terry Dodge 2010

Sister Terry Dodge 2010 from A Woman’s Nation on Vimeo

Profile of Sister Terry on A Woman’s Nation, an organization that works on the frontlines of humanity. Sister Terry and Crossroads received the Minerva Award by organizer and host, Maria Shriver. “We focus on the needs and wellbeing of women and their families who live paycheck to paycheck. We collaborate with creative thinkers and influential organizations to build a more informed, caring and compassionate society. We ignite ideas into action. We are A Woman’s Nation™.

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Stinging for their Suppers

Stinging for Their Suppers: How Women in Prison Nourish Their Bodies & Souls

OG-StingersStinging For Their Suppers is a collection of stories and recipes by women who have lived in California prisons. While living at Crossroads, a transitional facility, these women wrote about cooking in their cells using an immersion heater, also known as a “stinger.” These stories demonstrate the women’s creativity, ingenuity, and resilience as they find ways to cook for each other, and in the process, create a feeling of home that they can share with other women.

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The History of the Stinger

by Maureen

When I first came to prison in 1984, there wasn’t really any way to cook food. We had 20 gallon tanks under sinks to heat hot water. Once the 20 gallons had been used, you had to wait until the water heated up again. Just to get a cup of coffee or have a glass of hot chocolate took a long me. You would go out into the hallway to the TV room, and the sink would already have 6 or 7 Tupperware glasses lined up on the counter. This was a long drawn out process. On a unit of 120 women, you could end up waiting 30 minutes or more for your morning cup of coffee. This is part of the reason that the illegal stingers came into existence. At least with a stinger, you could heat up your water in your cell. The only problem was finding an available appliance that you could cut the cord off of to make your stinger. Blow dryers, fans – any appliance that wasn’t nailed down would lose a cord. None were safe. And the silverware was always disappearing from the kitchen. Spoons were the most popular, but forks were also used. In the mid-90s, the institution finally invested in putting stingers in the Canteen Store and allowing them in the institution. Most of us thought the reason was that they had to replace silverware too often in V.C. (Village Cafeteria), but I’m sure they got tired of people blowing out the sockets. You see, a handmade stinger that wasn’t well-constructed could blow out the power in every room, sometimes blowing up other TVs, which the institution would have to replace if owner processed a 602 (appeal complaint) and won.

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“O.G.” (Original) Stingers

by Sharelle

The original stingers were made from two stolen pieces of silverware from the chow hall, aka Village Cafeteria. The stinger consisted of metal utensils (spoons, forks, or knives) attached to an electrical cord that had been cut off of any appliance. The cord was stripped about two inches from the end, so that the wires could be wrapped around each utensil and covered with electrical tape, sometimes with the cap of a Bic pen taped to the side for the purpose of hanging the stinger on the edge of the cup or bowl. Any woman who worked in the maintenance department or inside day labor crew was able to get the tape for you. The utensils were taped together with a clothespin in the center, for a very good reason: the clothespin kept the spoons and wires separated so the positive and negative would not touch. You think Emeril has the corner on BAM? — just let the utensils touch.

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The Women’s Conference Honors Sister Terry

 

The Women’s Conference Honors Sister Terry

For hundreds, if not thousands of years, there has been a special group of women actively engaged in changing the world– humanitarians whose contributions have often been over-looked and under-valued. They are true “sisters of mercy,” nuns who support religious orders, organizations and institutions around the world– be they Catholic, Buddhist, Protestant, Jains or any other number of women who have dedicated their lives and work to their faith and helping others.

More often than not, these “sisters” are among the 750,000 Catholic nuns who work around the world teaching, healing and nurturing people, communities and church congregations. They are true architects of change, working in schools, prisons, hospitals, churches, orphanages, even war zones. These women have dedicated their lives to service, often without demanding or being given the recognition they deserve.

Over the past 7 ySister Terry Dodgeears of the Women’s Conference, eleven Catholic nuns have been nominated for the Minerva Prize. One of them, Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, was honored in 2006 for starting the PUENTE Learning Center in Los Angeles. Given the highly charged environment in which these Catholic nuns find themselves today, we would like to acknowledge the other women who’ve been nominated over the years as well for their work with the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the abused and the young. Our focus is on Sister Terry Dodge, because she was nominated several years in a row, but in recognizing Sister Terry, we honor all the other remarkable nuns who have been submitted to us over the years as well.

Sister Terry works with one of the most unpopular, forgotten populations: women being released from prison. Often they have committed terrible, unspeakable crimes, have histories of severe substance abuse and been institutionalized for decades. They are damaged souls in many ways. And when they are released, most are ill prepared for life outside prison, many ending up right back behind bars. They are released from prison with a couple of hundred dollars in their pockets and a bus ticket back home-usually right back into the environment in which their troubles began. Many don’t even make it past the first bus stop, where predatory drug dealers are waiting for women with cash in their pockets.

That’s where Sister Terry Dodge of the Order of St. Louis steps in. She wants to end the revolving door back into prison by providing newly released women with a safety net that stops the cycle. It can start with a simple step: picking up a woman at the prison gates, by-passing the drug dealers at the bus stop, and driving her to one of her three transitional housing units this nun runs. Step two takes more time, sometimes years, and involves getting a woman to adjust to life outside prison walls– a big world that for many seems frightening and indifferent.

Those feelings of not belonging can be the reason these women don’t adjust to life outside, and that is why Sister Terry is determined to address them. She knows how hard it is for people to be given a second chance at righting their lives. Her brother served time in prison for his many drug-related crimes. Time and again, he would end up released, then back behind bars. There came a day when he said he wanted to change his ways, but there was no person or program to help him learn the small but critical acts expected of law-abiding citizens: how to fix his credit, sign up for an apartment, get back into school and integrate into society.  Sister Terry stepped up to the plate. She signed him up for an apartment, helped enroll him in vocational school and talked and counseled him for months on end. Tragically, he was killed in a motorcycle accident a year and a half after leaving prison, but by then he’d finished school, found a vocation and job as a welder, lived in his own apartment and had a healthier sense of self. In the act of helping her brother succeed on the outside, Sister Terry found her calling.

Today she is the executive director of Crossroads, Inc. which provides transitional housing, education, career and counseling services and support to women released from prison.The accommodations are modest, but the mission and the program’s success rate spectacular and grand. This is a long-term transitional facility where women are taught how to adjust to life outside prison and its regimen. They attend AA, are taught to read and write if they don’t know how to do so,  learn how to apply for jobs, how to open bank accounts, how to engage in communal living, how to cook and socialize. They are shown how to get their birth certificates, a driver’s license, and any of the other pieces of paper that legitimize those of us who have not spent years in prison. They open up emotionally, sometimes learn how to engage with their families again and are encouraged to build new lives away from their old haunts and habits. Many of these women live with tremendous guilt and heavy hearts, but as Sister Terry says, as a community, we owe them some mercy to help get them back on their feet. And, as she points out, we certainly owe it to ourselves to make sure they don’t end up back on the streets or behind bars, given that is the one scenario in which everyone loses. And losing souls is not what Sister Terry is about.

Turning a Pool Into a Garden

Turning a Pool Into a Garden

Elizabeth D. Garcia (left) and Mary Farrar (right) show off the fruit of their labor.
Elizabeth D. Garcia (left) and Mary Farrar (right) show off the fruit of their labor.

This story has been published in tandem with a segment for KCET’s award-winning TV show“SoCal Connected.” Watch it here now.

After two decades of managing Crossroads’ residential rehab for newly released female prisoners, Sister Terry Dodge was ready to expand the program. She found a spacious home for sale in her Claremont neighborhood, but there was only one drawback — a swimming pool in the backyard. Knowing the women in her program weren’t likely to sunbathe or go for a dip, she decided to transform the pool into a garden. The idea wasn’t out of thin air. The women of Crossroads had already established a thriving garden at their main home just minutes away.

In the beginning, a contractor was hired to break up the bottom of the pool, but for the following six months, it was all hands on deck. On some days, up to 60 volunteers helped the Crossroads team dump gravel and dirt into the massive hole. But the hard work paid off. “It gave us something to nurture, take care of, to love,” says former Crossroads resident Elizabeth D. Garcia. “To be able to see everything it gives back is like watching your child grow.”

The pool garden now serves as a key source of organic herbs, fruit and vegetables for daily meals cooked by the women of Crossroads. And what doesn’t get used for dinner goes into a variety of jams, marmalades, and herb mixes sold at nearby farmers’ markets and specialty stores as part of Crossroads’ social enterprise, Fallen Fruit for Rising Women.

Any One of Us: Words from Prison

Any One of Us: Words from Prison by Eva Ensler played at the Padua Hills Theater in Claremont in February 2015.

anyone of usThis piece is a collection of stories from the raw voices of fierceness and honesty written by the original 15 women combined with writing from women in prisons across the nation moving forward toward healing, understanding, and change with the ultimate goal of using their writing and voices to impact policy, laws and treatment of incarcerated women. Together these writings reveal the deep connection between women in prison and the violence that often brings them there. Because of the subject manner this show is not intended for children.

Like her earlier, world-famous and infamous work, “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler’s “Any One of Us” is completely fearless in sharing often-shocking material that exposes some of the deepest taboo subjects involving women’s search for equality, acceptance and understanding. Even behind bars.

This performance, dramatic readings by Crossroads alumnae and community members, will awaken and disturb you, as well as give you a glimpse into how some of these women ended up in prison.

“I keep thinking of the gifts of my own upbringing, which I once took for granted: I can read any book I choose and comprehend it. I can write a complete sentence and punctuate it correctly. If I need help, I can call on judges, attorneys, educators, ministers. I wonder what I would be like if I had grown up without such protections and supports. What cracks would have turned up in my character?” ― Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate.

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Beyond Bars: Prison Recipes

Beyond Bars: Prison Recipes

Original Airdate July 2, 2014; Updated September 3, 2014, KCET

stinging_for_their_suppersCrossroads is a rehabilitation house in Claremont that provides recently incarcerated women the chance to rebuild their lives. The six month program equips women with new skills and a support system to help make a smooth transition into everyday life.

Jackie White is a former inmate who has been in and out of prisons for 17 years. In this episode of “SoCal Connected,” she shares her famous potato soup recipe: A combination of potato chips, creamer, pepperoni, and a bag of Hot Cheetos.

With little to no resources to cook their meals, inmates are forced to come up with creative ways to heat up their food. White used a stinger tool made out of old electrical chords and spoons. To get even more creative, White used the lids of canned food to substitute as a knife for cutting vegetables and meat.

“In prison, I really felt lost at times. I was recovering from my addiction in prison and needed something to bring me back,” White told reporter Jennifer Sabih. “Cooking for myself and preparing something made me feel worthy and good. That brought back a taste of home and kept me sane.”

White is now the program director for Crossroads.

The women of Crossroads also teamed up with Scripps College Writing Program director Kim Drake to combine more recipes and inspirational stories in a published book, “Stinging for their Suppers.”

Find out how to make potato soup and other recipes with just the help of a stinger and a few simple ingredients in this episode of “SoCal Connected.”

 

A Garden of Freedom for the Women of Crossroads

A GARDEN OF FREEDOM FOR THE WOMEN OF CROSSROADS

Crossroads six-month transition program for newly released California inmates is not your typical halfway house.

The women of Crossroads have spent significant time behind bars — for some, nearly half a lifetime. In prison, they endured long lines at the chow hall, strict dining schedules, and severely limited food options. The only glimpse of home-style cooking came from crafty yet dangerous handmade utensils known as “stingers,” to make hot food in their cells.

Now they’re on the outside, and have access to countless fruits, vegetables, and herbs in Crossroads’ very own backyard garden.

A bird bath and stone walkway decorate the Crossroads pool garden.

A bird bath and stone walkway decorate the Crossroads pool garden.

Tucked away behind two seemingly ordinary homes in Claremont are elaborate gardens — including a converted pool — full of organic strawberries, melons, herbs, and even chickens, all tended by the Crossroads program residents. Professor Nancy Neiman Auerbach teaches politics at Scripps College, and developed the Crossroads gardening and culinary program over four years ago. She wanted to give her students a sense of community, and simultaneously equip the Crossroads women with new skills, independence, dignity, and a support system.

The women of Crossroads find peace and purpose in the necessary tasks like hand watering, pulling weeds, and planting seeds. “Even if it’s 100 degrees, we’re happy to do it because, really, this is all to take care of us. It also teaches us how to garden and how important it is to have pure things,” says Mary Farrar, a Crossroads resident who recently discovered her green thumb. She’s learned to choose fresh versions of the vegetables that would usually come frozen or in a can. “We always have fresh green salad every night of the week,” she says.

A not-so-scary scarecrow watches over the Harvard House garden beside the chicken coop.

A not-so-scary scarecrow watches over the Harvard House garden beside the chicken coop.

Many of the Crossroads women work during the day as they get acclimated back into society, so a majority of the gardening happens on the weekend. Each Saturday morning, Crossroads opens its doors to volunteers for community gardening sessions. Monday evenings are busy as well. During the spring and fall semesters, interns from Scripps College and Cal Poly Pomona work with the women to create Meatless Monday dishes made from donated produce and ingredients from the backyard.

To get even more use out of their garden greenery, the women make a variety of jams, marmalades, and herb mixes. Professor Auerbach recognized the popularity of these goods and helped launch Crossroads’ successful social enterprise, Fallen Fruit From Rising Women. Now the fruit of their labor funds other Crossroads programs including field trips and workshops for the residents. Shoppers can find their seasonal goodies at the Claremont Farmers Market, Cheese Cave, Good Eggs, and the gift shops at Huntington Library and Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden.