LEWIS RUN, Pa. — In its 30 years of operation, the Federal Correctional Institution-McKean has regularly sought volunteers to help with different needs of the inmates.
The facility, located south of Bradford, is now appealing to the area community to offer time to volunteer as mentors with young inmates in conjunction with the Doing TIME program. TIME is an acronym for Teach, Integrity, Mentor and Excellence, which represents the guiding principles of the mentoring program.
The program can provide opportunities for offenders to interact with a mentor, which can promote growth.
Amy DePalma, who is the secretary to Warden Brad Trate, said the program is the result of the first Step Act, a federal act signed into law in late 2018 by President Donald Trump. The act seeks to incentivize prisoners to take part in evidence-based training programs which are specifically targeted at increasing opportunities once they are released. Information provided on the First Step Act states participation in the program can earn inmates as many as 47 days per year knocked off their sentence.
The program aims to ensure that when a prisoner is released, the individual will be more likely to become a productive member of society, as opposed to winding up back in the system.
“There’s a lot going on with the First Step Act and it involves inmates getting rehabilitated and time off,” DePalma explained. “A part of it are the youthful offenders — you would volunteer to mentor these younger inmates.”
DePalma said the facility is interested in recruiting individuals, male or female, willing to donate their time to help this part of the prison population. She noted there are currently 23 volunteers who primarily serve as clergy at the prison.
“There are a lot of older people and it would be nice to have somebody come in” and visit with the younger inmates, she remarked. “What (the program) would do is probably set up a class and (the mentors) would come in an hour a weekend, two times a month for approximately six months.
“This is an exciting opportunity to interact with a specific population in a rewarding and meaningful manner,” DePalma added. “Training will be available to all participants and sessions can take place in a variety of formats, including in person, over the phone and through videoconferencing, where available.”
DePalma added, “They’re trying to reduce the rate of recidivism … a lot of (the younger inmates) don’t have anything, that’s why they’re where they’re at. There are probably inmates here who have never had any kind of role modeling.”
DePalma said there are no age limits for mentors, other than they would have to be 21 and older.
“You might have someone who is a female counselor who wants to get involved,” DePalma continued. “Or you might have somebody who works with kids and never even thought of coming into a prison to do something like this.”
Also welcomed and encouraged to apply for the program are individuals of different ethnic backgrounds.
“In fact we have a lot of Hispanic inmates,” she noted.
DePalma said individuals interested in applying for the program, or those who have questions, are asked to contact her at (814) 362-8900 ext. 3403. Applicants will then be put in touch with Heidi Baez-Patino, executive assistant and camp administrator.
“I am eager to get started and see where this leads,” DePalma concluded.