Reunification Ride unites children with incarcerated moms for Christmas

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HAPPY FACES SHARED hugs and kisses with their moms this summer during a Reunification Ride trip to the Logan Correctional Center. Over 130 children, caregivers, and incarcerated mothers will repeat the happiness and joy the Ride brings as families celebrate this Christmas together with another Reunification Ride. Started by a coalition of three organizations in response to the cancellation of bus program services due to the Illinois budget impasse, the Reunification Ride will highlight the holidays for both the children and their mothers. To date the three organizations have raised enough money to host nine bus trips, including the upcoming Christmas trip.

On December 17, 2016, two buses will take over 100 children and caregivers to see their mothers at Logan Correctional Center, over 180 miles from Chicago. Families will make Christmas arts and crafts, play games, take photos with Santa, eat lunch, and children will receive gifts. Most importantly, mothers and children will spend crucial quality time together.

Children on the buses will range from under a year old to 17 years old.

The Reunification Ride was launched after the Illinois budget impasse led to a former bus program being cancelled. The bus had brought children to see their parents in prison, an essential connection that increases the probability of family reunification and decreases recidivism. The end of the bus program had a profound impact on Chicago children and the mothers whose only opportunity to see their kids was through this bus.

After the previous bus program cancellation, three Chicago-based organizations—Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers/Cabrini Green Legal Aid; Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, and Nehemiah Trinity Rising joined forces to create the Reunification Ride. Initially the coalition raised money for two buses to take children to see their mothers for Mother’s Day in May of 2016. However, the coalition became determined to continue the program after seeing the impact of being separated on both the children and the mothers.

To date, more than 300 donors have contributed to the Reunification Ride through a crowdsource campaign on the youcaring.com website. In addition, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wilmette and Temple Sholom of Chicago have each sponsored one month of the Reunification Ride. Altogether, donors have raised enough funds for nine bus trips, leading to almost 400 visits for families.

Impacted families have also joined forces, meeting monthly to discuss the need for reunification programs and ways to counteract mass incarceration. They have shared their stories about what would have prevented their loved ones from becoming incarcerated, focusing on mental health, domestic violence, and drug treatment services, as well as the need for economic development and opportunity in their communities. The children have also written letters to Governor Rauner asking for funding for reunification programs.

The majority of women who are incarcerated in the U.S. are there for acts directly related to domestic violence, poverty, addiction and other traumas. In Illinois, an estimated 80 percent of incarcerated mothers have children who are under the age of eighteen, approximately half are under the age of ten. The majority of these mothers were the primary caregivers for their children before they were incarcerated, and many will remain the primary caregivers to regain custody when they leave prison.

In Illinois alone, over 186,000 children have or have had an incarcerated parent. Sustained contact is crucial to family reunification, and to the well-being of children and moms. It is also directly correlated with a reduction in recidivism. In addition to transportation, the buses provide a community for kids whose parents are incarcerated, which can often be a lonely, traumatic, and stigmatizing experience. The majority of caretakers are grandmothers, and they, too, have connected with each other through the Reunification Ride.

Budget cuts in Illinois have left reunification and re-entry programs desperately under-funded or cut completely. Because of this, the CLAIM Program of CGLA, Moms United and Nehemiah Trinity Rising are reaching out to community, student and faith-based organizations, and individuals around the city to support the Reunification Ride, a crucial program for Chicago-area children and their parents. To donate to this effort, visit http://bit.ly/- ReunificationRide2017 or contact Alexis Mansfield at Cabrini Green Legal Aid at (312) 374-6192 or alexismansfield@cgla.net.

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