Once a month on a Sunday evening, female inmates gather in the visiting room at the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility, where volunteers set them up with storybooks and recorders. Some women — who may be mothers, grandmothers or other relatives — choose to sing songs rather than read. The women also may write a message. The recordings and messages are reviewed and then mailed to the inmates’ children. The children get to hear the voices of their loved ones, while inmates get a chance to focus on and connect with their children. Children are able to play the recordings as often as they want in the comfort of the home where they may be living with relatives or foster parents. That is especially helpful when children live far away or are uncomfortable visiting the prison. Brooke Plowthow, then a freshman at Brigham Young University, came up with the idea for the program about a dozen years ago as a service project for her LDS Young Women’s group. She sought support from United Way of Utah County and the Ashton Family Foundation, which provided a $1,000 seed grant to cover costs. Today, the program is still going strong.
The crochet program, led by volunteers, allows inmates to engage in community service projects by creating hats, gloves, scarves and blankets that are donated to those in need locally and in refugee camps around the world. Every Christmas, inmates make several hundred stockings that are donated to local hospital maternity wards as a gift to mothers and their newborns.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the first Family History Center at the Utah State Prison in the 1980s to engage inmates in genealogical data input and personal family history research. Inmates, overseen by volunteers, use computers that connect to LDS Church’s family-history research databases or dedicated, stand-alone servers. Today, there are four centers in different facilities at the Utah State Prison and one at the Central Utah Correctional Facility. In 2013, state inmates indexed more than 2 million records.
This pilot program, launched in November 2014, pairs female offenders with volunteer mentors and is aimed at ensuring the women’s success when they are paroled from prison. Mentors are assigned to female offenders who are within six months of paroling to help set up housing, jobs, education, social services, transportation, medical and, if needed, mental health services. They may continue to work with the offenders for up to a year. The goal of the program is to provide support that allows the women to restart their lives and not revert to behaviors that landed them in prison. The mentors help the offenders develop short- and long-term goals and serve as a “lifeline” that women can call upon if they are struggling.
Music programs have operated at the Utah State Prison since the 1960s, when The Wayside Choir — now known as the Wasatch Chapel Men’s Chorus — was first organized at the Wasatch Chapel. The music education program, which offers beginning piano, guitar, violin and vocals, has gone through starts and stalls but has flourished since the mid-2000s thanks to our volunteers. A similar program is offered in the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility and at the Central Utah Correctional Facility.
Prior to their release, female inmates may attend the “YPREP” (Your Parole Requires Extensive Preparation) course taught by a team of volunteers that includes representatives of other state agencies and private organizations. The program prepares female offenders to successfully transition back into society by addressing housing, employment, transportation, child care and health care needs. Organizations involved in the program include the Utah Department of Child and Family Services, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Workforce Services, United Way of Utah County and Volunteers of America.
A variety of programs offered at the state’s two prisons rely on volunteer help, including the following:
Dozens of groups volunteer at the prison, including the following:
• Alcoholics Anonymous, Utah Chapter
• Assembly of God
• True Vine Baptist
• Canines With A Cause
• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
• Calvary Baptist Church
• Veteran Affairs Center
• United Way of Utah County
• Utah Valley University
For more information about volunteer opportunities with the Utah Department of Corrections, please contact us.
Utahns interested in volunteering at the prisons must meet the following minimum requirements and submit this Volunteer Questionnaire.
Lt. Ryan Garlock: 801-576-7817