Family Reunification Event – Sarah Sunderlin

On March 10, 2017  I—along with assistance from fellow Puksta Scholar, Patrycja Humienik—hosted a special reunification event at the Colorado Correctional Center (CCC) in Golden, Colorado. For the past two years, Patrycja and I have been volunteer co-facilitators with an organization called Democratic Communication Workshop. This program brings communication-based education to institutionalized men, women, and youth across five facilities in Colorado. While the needs and goals of our students all differ, we all share one goal—to use communication to connect, encourage, and facilitate safe and open discussion. At CCC, what this looks like is consistent creative writing development, practical public speaking skills, and the development of critical thinking skills through both creative and academic readings.

Teaching in a prison facility requires an awareness of the realities of institutionalized life; this includes the overwhelming and chronic isolation from loved ones. Family involvement during incarceration can be transformative and is a consistent theme that comes up during in class discussions and individual writing. However, some feedback we consistently get from our students is that routine visitation limits their ability to have quality family interaction. Therefore, my goal in organizing a family reunification event for my Puksta Fellowship project was to give our students the platform to practice practical communication skills that we work on in class while also being able to interact with their loved ones in a fun, relaxed, and welcoming environment. This full day event focused on celebrating the creative work produced by the men in our class and giving them the opportunity to share it with their loved ones.

On the day of the event, we had family from across Colorado arrive at CCC to share a catered lunch, play yard games, and to hear letters, poems, skits, and short stories prepared especially for them. There are not enough words to describe the significance of this day for our students and their families. As the wife of one of our students said, “this day made us feel like a regular family again”. I want to warmly thank each of the family members in attendance for their commitment, strength, vulnerability, and support of both their loved one and of our program. We were honored to be a part of your family for a day.

Sarah Sunderlin

Puksta Fellow, 2017

University of Colorado Denver