The fondest wish of many prisoners is to see their children. The Get On The Bus (GOTB) program has made that happen for thousands of California prisoners.
One of its leaders is former inmate Michelle Garcia, who is the new regional director for Ventura County, according to The Simi Valley Acorn.
“Once I left prison, I knew I wanted to do something to help in the community. What better way than to help other moms who are in prison?” Garcia said.
She met a volunteer for GOTB, the nonprofit program that provides free bus transportation to prisons for children. That convinced her she had found a new direction for her life.
Garcia spent five years in Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla and said she understands the loneliness and despair inside a prison.
“They are hurting and feel isolated. I want to make sure that they know that their kids are not alone,” she added.
Last year Garcia worked for a program that sent buses to visit fathers at Salinas Valley State Prison and moms in Chowchilla for Mother’s Day.
This year two parishes are scheduled to send a bus load of children to San Quentin State Prison for Father’s Day.
“When you watch some of these reunions with the kids and the parents, it’s just amazing,” said Brian Clements, a deacon at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. “It really makes it all worthwhile.”
GOTB was started in 1999 by Sister Suzanne Jabro of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. It is run by the Center for Restorative Justice Works, a North Hollywood nonprofit.
On the trips, children are given pillows and blankets, a kind of comfort bag for the journey. They are also given a stationery kit to encourage them to stay in contact with their parents. They also get to take a picture with their parent.
“It’s to encourage the children to keep in contact,” Garcia said. “Being previously incarcerated, I know how important those letters from home can be.”