Bridging the Gap Between Incarcerated Mothers and Their Daughters

November 14, 2008

Tammy Butler-Phelps

While conducting research for her final project in the organizational management graduate program at Robert Wesleyan College, 2005–06 Community Action Grantee Tammy Butler-Phelps discovered a real need in her community. She found that, unlike incarcerated men, incarcerated women have few resources available to them, even though 115,308 women are incarcerated nationwide, an increase of 2.5 percent from 2006 to 2007. In Tammy’s community in western New York, only two organizations were offering services to incarcerated women. With the founding of Samaritan Women in 2003, now there are three.

The AAUW Community Action Grant was influential in helping Tammy and her business partner, Romanda Gibson-Stevenson, secure money from other organizations because, Tammy said, it showed that someone believed in her cause. The grant helped fund a project called Bridging the Gap between Incarcerated Mothers and Their Daughters.

As part of the program, mothers attended workshops on how to work through conflicts with their children, how to set expectations, and how to be good role models. The main goal was to build or reestablish the relationships between the mothers and daughters. The daughters participated in educational and leisure activities that offered them “a chance to get out of the house and be around other girls who are going through similar experiences.” According to Tammy, interactions between the mothers and daughters also gave the pairs a chance to “work through mistrust issues that built up over the mother’s incarceration.”

The culminating product of this project was a “Proud Memory” book. Each mother created a book for her daughter with notes, reflections, and drawings, and the daughters also created shorter versions for their mothers. The books were presented at an emotional ceremony that included exchanges between mothers and daughters using dialogue cards. The pairs traded prepared phrases like “I love you because…,” a touching activity for both mothers and daughters. “Sometimes the relationships are taken for granted, but we need the words because they mean so much,” said Tammy.

Currently, Samaritan Women is working on a new project that would involve the Girl Scouts’ national project Beyond Bars. Tammy’s organization will be the first in New York State to sign on to the project. The girls with incarcerated mothers would become their own Girl Scout troop, focusing on issues more germane to their situation like overcoming barriers, resolving conflicts, and serving in leadership positions. The girls would also be transported to the local jail for Girl Scout meetings with their mothers. Additionally, each girl would be partnered with a community mentor. Tammy hopes that this project will be up and running by January 2009.

Tammy is looking for volunteers in the Rochester area who might be interested in mentoring girls through the Girl Scouts’ Beyond Bars program. For more information about the project or to get involved, please visit the Samaritan Women website at

By:   |   November 14, 2008

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