At first glance, the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, located between Frederick Avenue and Faraon Avenue in St. Joseph, looks like any other correctional facility of its kind - brick, barbed-wire fencing at many different levels, metal detectors, visitor’s pass – you get the idea.
Wednesday afternoon was the first time I had ever visited a facility of this type. Oh yeah, I had driven by the correctional facilities in Cameron and Jefferson City a few times, but I had never stepped foot inside of one. So when InterServ received a call last week from the recreational director at the WRDCC and she stated that the “Restorative Justice” group had raised some money and wanted to give it to InterServ, I didn’t think anything of it really. I thought it would be a bunch of administrators who had formed a group, got the “tenants” of this facility to do a fundraiser and give the money to a local group for the good of humanity and I was to have a little talk about InterServ, accept the check and head back to my desk.
That was before the door opened up that led us through the “common area” from one building to the other – through a small mass of inmates that were heading in the same direction. What before was an uneventful Wednesday, became much more interesting as my attention to detail became keener even though it was explained to me that I would be among a group who were “close to getting out” and that there wouldn’t be a problem. My anxiety, and possibly stereotypical response, towards this situation was all for not as I learned more about the people in the group and addressed them about InterServ. I explained what we do, and how the money that they generously donated to InterServ would help a number of people. Everyone in the group was fixed on what I was saying. They were hungry to know that the funds they raised were helping people, especially the elderly people that InterServ interacts on a daily basis. They had seen television stories and read about the need to help seniors during the summer months due to heat and hunger issues.
I sat through the rest of their meeting, taking an obligatory “check presentation” picture at the end, shook hands with everyone and left them with a sense of camaraderie that I hadn’t felt in a while. The folks who live in this facility are just that – folks. Sure the majority of them had done something that they probably have regretted at one time or another to get in there, but they are folks, just like you and me, who at some point in their life felt that giving to others was more important than receiving.
The State of Missouri calls this “restorative justice” and to some extent it is a successful program fit for this type of facility, but to me it just seemed like people caring for the well-being of others, even if some are behind a bunch of barbed-wire.
Check out the Missouri Restorative Justice Coalition at http://associations.missouristate.edu/morjc.