Many of the men Ms. Ruth Carey, a 1976 alumna of the University of Michigan’s Master of Public Health program, visits monthly have no other visitors. The men come from too far away, or from dysfunctional families, or they’ve been in prison so long that relationships with loved ones have withered or disappeared. Ms. Carey visits because the men have asked for her to come — and because she feels it is vital to overall community health.
Ms. Carey, whose profile was published in Findings magazine, is a volunteer with Prisoner Visitation and Support, a national organization headquartered in Philadelphia, which trains volunteers to visit inmates in federal prisons. For the past 13 years, she has driven once a month to the Federal Corrections Institution in Milan, Michigan, to spend the day visiting four men. Research by the Bureau of Prisons shows that inmates who receive visits from Prisoner Visitation and Support have lower rates of recidivism. It is one reason prison administrators welcome volunteers like Ms. Carey.
Some men talk to her about family, others about life inside prison, and many about the lives they hope to lead outside of prison. “The thing that strikes me over time,” Ms. Carey says, “is that many do a great deal of inner work—how did I get here? How am I not going to come back? What do I have to change in order not to be one of those that return?”
A former public health nurse and educator, she views her prison work as a public health service. “Everything I learned in public health was focused on the aggregate population groups of which communities are constituted—and what, about a particular aggregate, is important for the health of the general population. How prisoners are treated when they’re in prisons, psychologically and physically, has an impact on the health of the community when they return. To me it’s a classic public health issue.”
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