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Five Prison Charities Helping Inmates Give Back

Convicted of a crime and placed behind bars, inmates can find a million ways to spend their time. Read, work out, dream of better days on the outside—or they can turn doing time into doing good.

At prisons across the country, innovative programs help inmates build some karma to offset the crimes that landed them in jail.

Often small, usually working with few resources, prisoner charity groups are also highly creative, and can produce surprisingly impressive results. Check out these five examples of inmates giving back from behind bars.

The Long Termers Organization
Chowchilla, California

In the farmlands east of San Jose, behind the fences of the octagon-shaped Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), members of one of the country’s most active and effective women’s prison groups have an interesting new idea: they’d like to sponsor a Girl Scout troop.

The plan, if they can do it, is to start a troop made up of daughters of inmates that, with the aid of outside coordinators, would be just like any other troop in America—except it would occasionally gather at the institution.

prison charity walkathon
Photo: Courtesy Valley State Prison for Women
A working Girl Scout troop would be one more way members of VSPW’s Long Termer’s Organization have found to give back to the community. During the group’s nearly 20-year history, the ladies have donated around $150,000 to charitable organizations.

Made up of inmates serving a minimum 10-year sentence, the organization coordinates a wide range of activities to help both the inmates on the inside and the needy on the outside, says Linda Kalb, a coordinator and “self-help sponsor” for the LTO.

“They know what they’ve done, and they want to more than make up for what they’ve done,” Kalb says.

They quilt blankets for donation to hospitals and hospice centers, and they occasionally hold internal morale-boosting events, like a recent American Idol-style “Valley Diva” contest.

Well-organized and proactive (they have a charter, a board of four members, and monthly meetings), the Long Termers recently completed a walk-a-thon for a breast cancer organization that drew 600 inmates, each of whom pledged money from their personal accounts. Thanks to those pledges and staff donations, in March the LTO presented $4,000 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

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