GOODYEAR, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Community leaders and nonprofits turned to an unlikely source Wednesday to find out what makes a thriving family. They sat down with female inmates.
The Arizona Town Hall conducted the discussion at Perryville Prison, and it included dozens of inmates as well as individuals from social services, various nonprofits, lawmakers, faith leaders and some law enforcement.
Participants were given questions before breaking off into group discussions. Part of those conversations included overcoming adverse childhood experiences like sexual and physical abuse, drug or alcohol abuse in the home and domestic violence.
“Experiences that you have before you become an adult that have a profound impact on how you develop as a person,” said Arizona Town Hall president Tara Jackson.
Having a family member who is incarcerated is also considered an adverse childhood experience.
Jackson says Arizona Town Hall decided to tackle these issues after another town hall revealed a common theme among inmates.
“When we asked the question, 'What can be done and what could have been done to keep you from entering prison in the first place,' the answer that we heard was if someone had just cared about me,” said Jackson.
That sentiment was part of a personal story one inmate shared with the town hall.
“I ran away when I was 12 because my mom was selling my body for drugs,” said inmate Latrina Byers. “I had to steal and do all that to eat and survive."
When Jackson asked Byers what would have made a difference at that point in her life, Byers responded, “If people cared. Nobody cared.”
Inmates talked about solutions for healthy families and youth facing difficult challenges. They discussed employment for felons, affordable afterschool programs, quality education and parenting courses to help moms as they enter back into society.
Some inmates were very concerned about stopping the cycle of incarceration within their own families.
“We shouldn’t convey to our children that they will end up in prison like their parents but instead say, 'Hey, you know what, it starts with you to make a difference and do better,'” said inmate Melissa Soqui.
Jackson says notes from the Perryville town hall will be part of a report that will be shared with elected officials and groups that can make a difference.
“Those community leaders learn from the discussion and the powerful stories and they take it back to the organizations they work with, the organizations they volunteer with, and even their neighbors and friends,” said Jackson.