By the Rev. Sally Fran Ross
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church provided space for my Brownie Troop 69 in the 1950s. My mother and three other mothers were leaders. The mothers who were not leaders did not get off the hook. They brought snacks, gathered supplies, drove car pools to events and attended programs. I have sentimental memories from those years in that church basement. For that reason, I have been touched by unique Girl Scout Troop 711.
This troop meets one Saturday a month at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pear. The troop meetings are at the prison because the mothers of these girls are incarcerated. The daughters come to the mothers. All the mothers are leaders in this troop.
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars began as a 1992 pilot project in Maryland with a commitment to make scouting available to children who were separated from their mothers through prison sentences. Jackie Barnes of GS-USA said, “We do not believe that having a mother who is incarcerated should stand in the way of these girls becoming all they can be.”
The program has expanded across the country. We are fortunate to have a troop in Mississippi, supported by Girl Scout Council of Middle Mississippi and Associate Warden Tina Ladner of CMCF.
Today, more than 2 million children have a parent in prison, a four-fold jump over the number in 1991, according to Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The positive contact between mothers and daughters in Troop 711 has a constructive influence on both generations. Children of prisoners are considered at-risk youth and are five times more likely than the average child to end up in prison themselves. According to the trade journal Corrections Today, “Anecdotal evidence shows there are few or no infractions by inmates who participate in parenting programs followed by special family visiting programs.”
Troop 711 has the potential of being a win-win situation.
Troop 711 needs help from us. There is a need for a free-world leader and assistants, snacks for the meetings and transportation to and from the prison. If this ministry tickles your faith, please contact me at 601-352-7125, extension106.
Ross is a United Methodist pastor appointed to Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi were she serves as director of restorative justice.