As the Deputy Warden of the Piestewa Unit, I am tasked with providing security to staff and inmates alike but also ensuring the safety of the community in which we live and work. In addition, one of the tasks that I take seriously is ensuring that the inmates/women released are prepared for life outside these gates. I am always looking for ways to create an environment in which inmates/women learn from their mistakes, learn to conduct themselves in the best possible way, and can ultimately become a valued member of society. One of the programs I am proudest of is Gina’s Team. This program was launched at my unit and I have had the privilege of being involved since its inception. I have seen the evolution of the program and the difference it has made in many of the inmates that have participated in the program.
There are two reasons that I believe this program has been so successful, the first is the dedication of the volunteers and their commitment to deliver curriculum/content that is appropriate and meaningful for the inmates. These volunteers are respectful in the delivery of material that sometimes can be difficult to receive. The second is Athena International. While this program was not created to support the incarcerated population, the principles (Live Authentically, Build Relationships, Give Back, Foster Collaboration, Act Courageously, Learn Constantly, Advocate Fiercely and Celebrate) should be the guiding light that drives them during their remaining time on the inside but should absolutely be the basic principles they live by once they leave here.
The importance of this program is hard to elucidate however I respect the program and am grateful to have it on the Piestewa unit.
C. Neese, Deputy Warden
ASPC-Perryville, Piestewa Unit
Gina's Team means so much to me. Gina's Team has so much to offer women in prison who want change. The day you were there meeting with the graduates of Gina's Team, it finally came to me. Something clicked in my heart, mind and soul. I had been praying for this for a very long time. That is, I finally felt a place of peace in my heart, mind and soul. I could actually say for the first time in a very, very long time that I loved myself, was okay with myself, and everything was going to be okay. I felt no more anger, no more shame, no anxiety, just peace, peace within. I felt like I could breathe. I'm at a point in my life where I felt the weight of anger, shame and hurt lifted off my heart and soul. Yes I was very, very broken at one point. As a matter of fact, I was at the lowest point in my life. In prison, I felt no self worth, a hole in my heart, angry, ashamed, hurt, embarrassed and no self esteem. I've since picked myself up, dusted myself off and acknowledged any wrong. I've grown from my mistakes and the wrongs in my life. I've figured out what broke me and I've forgiven myself for those I've hurt along the way. I've also forgiven those who have hurt me. I've learned that my own heart had to heal first before everything else could fall into place.
The day I met you while speaking to you, Bill, Martha, Jeanne, Karen and Patricia I actually felt whole again. I thank Gina's Team for this. Thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your dedication to helping those of us who want change. Most of all Thank You all for believing in us. I believe that everyone deserves to have someone who believes in them and Gina's Team is our someone. I can't come close to expressing the gratitude I feel towards you, Martha, Jeanne, Karen, Bill and Patricia for your dedication and time you have put into us women who so desperately want change. Thank You so much.
I am no longer ashamed of what I've been tough, because I didn't let it define me. I can talk about my journey and hold my head up high because of what all my experiences have taught me and where I'm currently at.
Will I fall again ? Maybe, just not down to the ground or in the same way. Problems will come my way, only I now have the tools and confidence it takes to pick myself up and dust myself off when things get rough. I've learned to deal with ups and downs in life instead of not dealing with them at all.
Because of Gina's Team I learned the most important thing in life. That is that we are all broken in different ways. Some more than others and it all comes down to choosing to fix those broken pieces or let those broken pieces crumble into more pieces. I choose to fix my broken pieces before they crumble into more pieces. I'm still a work in progress and I'm going to be a masterpiece when this journey is complete. No words come close to letting you know what Gina's Team has done for me.
I look forward to being a return graduate of Gina's Team.
All of you are a true inspiration to me. I hope someday to help others heal and to help others that are in the shoes I was in, to be at the point where I am today of feeling at peace within and whole again. Thank You for believing in Me.
I really believe that God chose Gina's Team to help and heal us broken women, and you chose me. How blessed I am.
Francis (current inmate at Perryville)
"Gina's Team, and their partner The Athena Organization, provides the incarcerated women at Perryville an invaluable opportunity. There are few other programs that foster an environment in which these women are valued for their opinions and their life experiences, as well as their goals and dreams. Far too much energy in prison is directed toward keeping these women "down". Gina's Team focuses on lifting them up, fostering their confidence and providing them with the tools they need to succeed after release.
The guest speakers are by far the high point of the program, as so many of them have been through similar struggles and have emerged on the other side as strong and successful women. They provide a shining beacon of hope to women who often have given up on the prospect of a better future. "
Shari (Inmate at Perryville)
One participant said that the program was her "Pot-of-Gold" at the end of a rainbow. She said that all she had to do was walk though the door. It did not happen overnight; it took 6 weeks. Six classes that unburied what was inside all along and gave her permission to think, a reason to hope, a chance to dream. The first night she says that she was hot, tired, hungry and angry, but the class made a dent in her armor. The second class cracked it, and she started to think. By the third class she shared that she dared to dream. Some days she said that she would get so excited about the prospect of "becoming" that she could hardly contain it. She was a heroin addict, in prison for the third time. This class was helping her replace that addict with an intelligent women who was making plans for her future.
She has been out 3 years and continues to live by the principles of the program conducted by Gina's Team in her happy, clean life.
I use to be embarrassed because both of my parents were alcoholics; my house was small and run down; we had a shortage of food, and my clothes were hand me downs, never new. I would watch television and flip though magazines and notice these attractive girls who seemed to have it all. I wished I was someone else, had different parents and a whole new life. Looking back, I am thankful for the troubles I was given. We cannot change what we were born into, but I do hold the power to change the customary routine of my own life. I've learned what matters most is the genuine person I am inside. I conduct myself in what I believe in and the morals I stand for. Inventory yourself until you find and truly understand who you are.
This lady has been out of prison almost 3 years and works with a non-profit that helps homeless people in the community.