Soap Is Hope
We all just got the soap delivered during the count. It was the absolutely most beautiful thing. Some of the women were crying they were so happy. God bless you! They want to at least send a thank you card. Could you please furnish me with an address as soon as possible so that I could send the card out? It is the least we could do. We are all so grateful. What a miracle!
Thank you very much for thinking of me and my sisters here at Taconic Correctional Facility in the midst of this pandemic crisis. It is a very welcome and humbling gesture. Often times us women are forgotten, so I highly appreciate you! As a college student here at Taconic, I have been low on hope and supplies and your gesture has cured both things. I really cannot express my gratitude enough.
About the Program
Above are two of the many thank-you notes received from the women of Taconic and Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities. They thanked each and every one of you in this community, and other communities, who have reached out to help them during a time that is anxiety-producing for us all; and which to them, is terrifying. Please scroll to read all of the thank you notes from the women. They will warm your heart and remind you that we are all better than the worst thing that we have ever done. We all deserve grace. We all deserve mercy.
When Hans Hallundbaek, Director of the Interfaith Prison Partnership Program, had the idea that a community has a moral obligation to adopt its local prison, no one imagined how the Town of Bedford and its residents would step up. A community came together and realized that the women in these two prisons are also their neighbors.
Out of a successful community event bringing together over 100 town residents and eighteen organizations which work in prisons in the Fall of 2019, Chris Burdick, Town Supervisor, proposed the establishment of a Prison Relations Advisory Committee (PRAC) to the Town of Bedford to advise the Town of prison issues.
When established, its Chair described the Committee as a "Soap to Sidewalks" effort, working on micro to macro issues. Little did she know that soap would soon become "the" word of the day. Because the soap issued to the women in our two prisons is lye-based, and we are all required to do frequent hand washing, there was an immediate need for non-caustic soap.
The outpouring from the community has been generosity at its best. Over 20,000 bars of soap have been collected, with one company, Michel Design Works, donating 1000 bars, Mt Kisco Presbyterian Women donating 1000 bars, Kellogg's and Lawrence donating 300 bars, Antioch Baptist Church, Katonah Methodist Church, the Bedford Hills Women's Club, the Dobbs Ferry community, the First Presbyterian Church of Ossining, the First Presbyterian Church of Palisades, and many hundreds of individual donors, to name a few. Each of our neighbors in prison now get a weekly "gift" of a bar(s) of soap, and we are still collecting non-alcohol-based, sealed soap.
The First Presbyterian Church of Katonah has been kind enough to offer its front porch as a drop off location. Donors can drop off the soap there without any human contact, or mail boxes of soap there from a big box store (see address next sentence). Members of PRAC, Anne Lloyd, Carol Parker, Bobbi Bittker and Mark Sindeband, have been picking up the soap from the drop off location on the porch of The Church House of Katonah Presbyterian Church at 31 Bedford Road, Katonah, NY, counting it, and taking the appropriate number to each of the two prisons. Joining this community effort, the High School Youth Group at Katonah Presbyterian Church has offered to help with pick up, counting and delivery to the prison.
But the generosity did not stop there. Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Mahopac offered to start sewing masks for the inmates and staff in the prisons. Soon, three other groups also jumped on board to sew masks to help to keep the women, who live in close quarters where social distancing is not often possible, safer. One of the groups is led by a former member of Katonah Presbyterian Church who has moved to Oregon; while living here, she visited an inmate in prison. Other groups are led by a registered nurse, a second DAR group, and another is the Bruderhof community. All of the mask-masking groups have been coordinated by PRAC member Carol Parker, who has also delivered all of the masks to the prison for both inmates and staff. Carol is also working with a group who has volunteered to make plastic shields to cover the masks for those working in the medical units in the prisons.
A request was made for twenty hot plates so that inmates could socially distance and cook in their units rather than eat in the dining hall; twenty-three were donated by the community. A community resident donated a plastic fork and spook for each inmate at both facilities so that she could have her own eating utensils, which she could then wash and reuse just for herself. Another request was for wipes to use after each phone call to clean the phones; packages arrived within the week. A request was not made, but an individual in the community took it upon herself to order 1000 bottles of hand lotion for her neighbors in the two prisons when she heard how the lye-based soap was hard on their hands. Those lotions were counted out and delivered to the two prisons by the youth of the Katonah Presbyterian Church, under the direction of High School leader Debra Lang.
This is an extraordinary example of the best of us in the worst of times. What started as a hope to maybe get 1000 bars of soap led to 7000 bars of soap and counting, to masks, to hot plates, to wipes, to hand lotion, to plastic ware, to face shields. This is a community that has come together to support each other. This is a community that understands how lucky we are to have these women in prison in our midst because they give us the opportunity to be our best selves. In healing others, we heal ourselves. Thank you to the residents of the Town of Bedford for standing up for our neighbors.