Frequently Asked Questions about Volunteering

 

What is it like to volunteer in a Concord prison?

Prison volunteering is a powerful and rewarding experience.  The needs are so great and the men are deeply appreciative of our efforts. Volunteers often find they experience personal growth through the enriching work and mentoring.

The challenges from a prison sentence can continue well after an inmate is released.  Your volunteer role helps inmates return to society as productive citizens and better cope with the daily challenges of incarceration.  And, by bringing the community into prison, volunteers help reduce the inmates’ isolation.

 

How do I get started?

There are a number of steps, including attending an orientation at the prison, filling out an application that includes a CORI check, and submitting personal references. If you are looking to volunteer over winter break or during a few weeks in the summer, prison volunteering may not be for you. We are looking for volunteers who can make a longer-term commitment with ongoing involvement in the programs.

We encourage you to browse this web site to get an idea of the types of volunteering that interests you. Before going through the orientation process, we ask that you arrange to visit one or two classes inside the prison to learn more about the program and the students, and get a sense of whether this work suits your interests.

When you’ve found a program of interest, you will need to attend an orientation at the Department of Correction. After a wait for processing the paperwork, you will be cleared to enter the prison and CPO will help you find a class that needs volunteers. There are also opportunities to design your own program once you are familiar with the institution and procedures.

 

What programs are open to volunteers?

Many of our programs welcome new volunteers regularly. In particular, some of our larger programs like the Alternatives to Violence workshops, the BEACON Emotional Literacy class, and the Kids Corner program always have room for new volunteers. We also post our most urgent volunteer needs in the “News” section on the front page of the web site.

If you’d like to help outside the walls, here are some other ways to get involved:

- Join us for our annual Caroling Night at NECC (‘The Farm’), which happens about a week after Thanksgiving every year.

- Help with the filling of Holiday Gift bags for all the inmates.  This event happens every year in December.

- Participate in a special project such as mailing newsletters, writing articles, helping with special events, etc.

 

What qualifications are necessary to volunteer?

Volunteers come from all walks of life; educational background and specific work experience are not important. What is important is the sense of professionalism. Volunteers go into the prison to teach skills, model good behavior, and offer respect and humanity in an otherwise difficult environment.

It is important to establish and maintain effective personal boundaries. Contact with inmates outside of volunteer work is prohibited, and friendships within prison are counterproductive.

If you are visiting or corresponding with an inmate within the Massachusetts prison system, you will need special permission to become a volunteer. If you have a history of incarceration, you will need to make a special application to be allowed to volunteer.

The capacity to adhere to rules, set by the Department of Correction, is a key qualification. For the safety of volunteers, prison staff, and inmates, the prison staff has the authority to deny admission to a volunteer on a particular day or even ban a volunteer for more serious noncompliance.

Volunteering in the prison is not for everyone. If you seek to work with an inmate on a one-to-one basis, CPO does not provide these types of programs. You might look for opportunities to correspond as a pen pal or look for other organizations that do one-on-one mentoring of inmates.

 

Is any training provided?

While we do not offer training outside of the prison workshops, you will readily learn all aspects of volunteering by participating with one of our program leaders or longstanding volunteers.

Our quarterly meetings, which are open to volunteers, are a great way to informally gain more skills. These meetings often include outside speakers whose backgrounds are relevant to our work.

 

What are the prison’s rules?

For the safety of the volunteers, staff and inmates, there are many rules and limitations on what you can wear and what you can bring in and take out of the prison. You will learn the rules and expectations for conduct at the Department of Correction’s Volunteer Orientation.

 

Is this work dangerous? Is my safety guaranteed?

Those of us who volunteer feel safe working in the prison. Inmates come to our programs because they want to learn and grow. They are grateful to interact with outsiders who care enough to come in, and are nearly always welcoming, polite, and helpful.

There is always an officer near by, within shouting distance, and volunteers typically work in pairs. At the prison orientation, however, you will hear that the prison cannot guarantee your safety; if you have concerns about your safety, this is probably not the work for you.

Occasionally there is a “lock-down” and you will be asked to leave at once, or you might need to wait until the situation is resolved before leaving.

 

Are there problems with being a female volunteer?

The many women who volunteer behind the walls find it a comfortable and rewarding experience.  The inmates appreciate that outsiders care enough to give their time to work behind the walls, and are respectful and polite.

 

How do I get in the prison for my volunteer program?

Once you are approved as a volunteer and assigned to a program, you will go to the prison at the designated time (some time before the class start time so you can be processed and be escorted to the classroom.)

Each prison has its own procedures for entering the prison. In all cases, you present a picture ID such as a valid Driver’s License. You are given a visitor’s pass, and at the end of the visit, you return your visitor’s pass and the prison returns your Picture ID.

At MCI Concord, you must go through a metal detector. A Corrections Officer inspects you and any materials you bring into the prison.

A Corrections Officer or staff member escorts volunteers to the classroom. Entrance and exit procedures are explained at Orientation.

 

Is there a religious connection with CPO’s work?

All of our programs are non-denominational, and people of all faiths and no affiliation participate in many of them. There is a spiritual aspect to some of the courses; with BEACON or AVP, for example, the men are encouraged to look to their own faith or inner resources.

If interested in volunteering for religious services or Bible study programs at the prisons, you should call the prison and ask to speak to the clergy. Or you can email us and we can give you contact information for these programs.

 

Who pays for CPO’s activities?

CPO is funded by faith communities in Concord and surrounding towns and many like-minded individuals who care about the welfare of the men behind the walls.

 

How do I find out more?

Call us at (978) 369-1430 or click here to email us for more information.

Through volunteering, you become part of the CPO community. We hold quarterly meetings, hosts educational events, and do community outreach. As a volunteer, we welcome you to attend these events, join our Steering Committee, or consider sitting on one of our committees.