COVID-19: How a Community Adopted its Local Prison
When IPP proposed the concept of a town adopting its local prison, little did we know how life-saving that idea would be. Out of a strongly supported community event, Adopt-A-Prison, came the creation of the Prison Relations Advisory Committee to the Town of Bedford, chaired by IPP's Program Coordinator. As a direct result of a town adopting its two local NYS women's prisons, a community has responded resoundingly to protect its neighbors in prison during COVID-19.

  • Soap The NYS-issued soap for those in prison is lye-based and can be caustic to skin with repeated and frequent hand washing. From March until today, we have collected over 11,000 bars of soap for our neighbors in prison, with people in other communities, such as Dobbs Ferry, learning of our program and collecting soap for us in their communities. Michel Design Works, a very high-end soap line, contacted us, offering to donate 1000 bars of soap to our effort (pictured left). First Presbyterian Church of Katonah generously offered their covered front porch for donors to be able to drop off soap with no human contact.
  • Masks. We organized a group of mask sew-ers, as well as contacting dress factories in CA, that were now making masks during COVID. To date, we have been able to obtain 10,000 masks, with women as far away as Oregon sewing masks for us to donate to the inmates and staff in our two local prisons.

  • Hot Plates. Recognizing the need for social distancing, we provided hot plates so that the women could cook in their units, rather than going to the mess hall.  

  • Hand Lotions. A woman took it upon herself, when reading in the Town Supervisor’s Newsletter of our Soap Drive, to purchase 1000 bottles of hand lotion for the women in prison, given that they had had to use lye-based soap until we started supplying name brand soap.

  • Wipes. Realizing the need for wipes to use to clean the phones after each phone call an incarcerated woman made to her family, we provided 2400 wipes.  
  • Plastic Ware. A donor stepped up and donated 1000 sets of plastic utensils, one for each woman, so that each woman would have her own set of eating utensils, which they could then wash and keep to re-use, just for themselves.  

  • Yarn. One thing that many of the women enjoy doing is knitting. The local Katonah Thrift Shop, closed due to COVID, had just received a very large donation of yarn. IPP was able to procure all of that yarn as a donation to the women in prison. 
  • Stationary. Katonah Thrift Shop also donated many boxes of stationary which had been given to them just before COVID when the local stationary store, Fine Lines, closed. Again, writing was one of the few things that the women could do. IPP was also able to procure all of that stationary for the women in prison to use during quarantine.

  • Stamps. The women now had cards to send, but no money to buy stamps. In stepped St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, NY, who donated stamps so that each women would now be able to mail their cards to their family.
  • Operation Neighborhood. PRAC was asked by the Superintendent of the women’s maximum-security prison to join a task force with another organization, Hour Children, to supply some “luxuries”, such as coloring book and crayons, to the women in prison. Because so many of their families lost jobs due to COVID-19, the families have been unable to send “care” packages to the women in prison. We solicited donations and assembled over 600 bags of “luxuries” for the women, such as shampoo, deodorant, a granola bar, a packet of instant coffee, etc. 

  • Children's Masks.  With discussion of visiting beginning again in the Fall, we realized that children will be visiting their parents and they need to do so safely. We reached out to our mask makers, and added some new makers, to sew masks in children’s sizes. Fabric was donated from as far away as “People, Places, and Quilts” in South Carolina. Within two days, we had promises of over 700 masks that will be ready by August for the children in “fun” fabrics.  The first 100 masks were delivered to the women's maximum security prison today, Aug 4, as visiting begins tomorrow, Aug 5.

  • Sidewalk. We are working with local, state and federal governments to build a sidewalk from the train station to the prison. It is currently unsafe, and both visitors and staff walk along a road with no sidewalk and a deep ravine.

  • Bedford Rides Project. We are working to develop the “Bedford Rides Project”, modeled on the program in Beacon, NY. Visitors to the prison often find it very hard to scrape together enough money for the train to Bedford Hills. We would provide volunteer drivers to pick up the family and take them to and from the prison, saving them the $12 cab fare each way.  

  • Bright Hope.  We are organizing “Release Bags” for the women upon release, as they currently leave the prison with all of their belongs in a garbage bag. No one should start anew being treated like “garbage”. We are collecting totes/bags and have already received donations of hand sanitizer and masks, so that each woman will now leave prison carrying a bag, and ready with hand sanitizer and a mask. We call this project "Bright Hope" (pictured below).
We have done all of this in four months with the help of a wonderfully supportive community and invaluable members of the Prison Relations Advisory Committee to the Town of Bedford. The ashes of COVID-19 has brought a community alive to adopt its local prisons and the women inside.

We hope you and yours are safe and well.

With deep gratitude,

Hans and Sharon

Special thanks to the Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC) of the Town of Bedford:
Sharon Griest Ballen, Program Coordinator, Interfaith Prison Partnership; Chair, PRAC  
Aileen Baumgartner - Program Director, Bedford Hills College Program, Marymount Manhattan College
Bobbi Bittker, Bedford Town Councilwoman; Attorney at Law
Rev. Karen Blacks, Associate Minister, Antioch Baptist Church 
MaryAnn Carr, Bedford Town Councilwoman
Kitley Covill, Westchester County Legislator
Randy Florke, Bard College Initiative; Design and Real Estate Development
Hans Hallundbaek, Director, Interfaith Prison Partnership
Nada Khalifeh, Upper Westchester Muslim Society
Fr. Ron Lemmert, Author, Refuge in Hell
Kathaleen Linares, Hour Children
Anne Lloyd, Rehabilitation Through the Arts
Claude Millery, DMV, Returned Citizen
Carol Parker, Woman2Woman
Mark Sindeband, Veteran's Association
Gloria Gilbert Stoga, Puppies Behind Bars
Jamie Tortorello-Allen, Cantor and Director of Education, Temple Beth Am
Bart Tyler, Owner, Kelloggs and Lawrence Hardware Store
Cheryl Wilkins, Columbia University Center for Social Justice, Returned Citizen                                      
Interfaith Prison Partnership | Website