UI program to be honored for expanded efforts to offer solace to those in need

UI program to be honored for expanded efforts to offer solace to those in need

CHAMPAIGN — Since 2008, the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois has been working to transform the lives of incarcerated people and their families through higher education.

Since the 2016 presidential election, it expanded its reach to another marginalized group — immigrants.

"When Trump was elected and started to speak about policy changes that would leave other portions of our community feeling vulnerable and threatened, we could not ignore that," said Rebecca Ginsburg, a UI associate professor and founder and executive director of the college-in-prison program.

"We recognize the similarities between incarcerated people and those who have been separated from their families through deportation or other circumstances," Ginsburg continued, pointing out both groups are subject to stigmatization, limited opportunities, social exclusion and policies that often disregard what individuals have to offer their communities, among other things. "So we decided to extend what we do to not only help those behind bars, but also those who are impacted by immigration policy."

For those efforts, the EJP is one of two organizations that will receive a Community Impact Award at Saturday's annual Immigrant Welcome Awards ceremony in Urbana.

Through EJP, inmates at the Danville Correctional Center can take transferable 300- and 400-level courses. The program also offers a computer lab, radio program, writing and science workshops, reading groups and lecture series, among other things.

It also offers outreach programs, including the RIPPL — Reaching Inside Prisons with Purpose and Love — Effect. Family members and friends of people in prison and other volunteers come together once a month for food and fellowship and to support one another. They also write letters to their loved ones and others behind bars.

Since November, volunteers have also written cards and letters to undocumented families in the community, UI students and refugee families who are newly settled in the U.S., and worked with local organizations to distribute the cards and letters to the affected populations.

"I thought it was a wonderful expansion of this already wonderful thing that they do," said Rachel Storm, one of several people who nominated the EJP for the award.

Storm added it's a simple, yet powerful act — reaching out through the written word. And volunteers are encouraged by the feedback they've gotten.

"It lets them know there are people who care for them, and that they're a valuable part of our community."

Ginsburg said the EJP also has been adapting its successful re-entry guide for parolees, called "Mapping Your Future: A Guide to Successful Reentry," for deportees including undocumented Mexican immigrants and those who are naturalized and run a high risk of being deported after completing a prison sentence.

Many were brought to the U.S. as young children, grew up here and have no meaningful knowledge of any other country, Ginsburg said.

Upon their release, they're taken to the U.S.-Mexico border and dropped off.

"It's a very dangerous situation, and they're exceedingly vulnerable," Ginsburg said, adding sometimes the deportees are still wearing their prison uniform, making them easy prey for gangs who are waiting at the border to recruit them.

The guide, which will be available in October, will list shelters, soup kitchens and other agencies and organizations that can help orient them and know what's available in that country.

Ginsburg said she's honored by the award and hope it shines a spotlight on the EJP students, staff and many volunteers. She also hopes it prompts others "to ask themselves what they can do beyond what they usually do.

"We need to think creatively about what we can do to support the most vulnerable among us. Everyone has something they can offer."

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Bystander wrote on September 22, 2017 at 7:09 am
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Getting dumped at the border is the price you pay for sneaking into the country in the first place. It's mystifying why all these do-gooder groups bend over backwards to help criminals.

CallSaul wrote on September 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm

And of course the rightwing reactionaries have nothing to contribute to the discussion --- or to society --- but hatred, bigotry and xenophobia.

Can anyone say they're truly surprised by this comment...?

Thankfully, there are people who, despite your deeply felt objection, do good things in the world anyway. 

So you can post spittle flecked rants about hating immigrants to your little heart's content but people will keep doing good no matter how much you screech that you don't like it...