By Rachael Hamilton ‘16Staff Writer
Over 12 years ago, Sister Suzanne Steffan made it her mission to better the lives of incarcerated women. She got a group of people together, visited a prison, and spoke to the women, asking them what they felt would improve their situation and living conditions. While Sister Steffan anticipated the women to request things such as gardens, classes, or a library, the majority of the women answered that they wanted to see their children. Get on the Bus was born.
Get on the Bus is a nonprofit organization based in California which provides children of incarcerated parents with transportation to spend Mother’s and Father’s Day with their parents. A program of The Center for Restorative Justice Works, Get on the Bus works to unite “children, families and communities separated by crime and the criminal justice system,” with the hopes of fostering relationships between the kids and their parents.
What started with one bus and 17 children has expanded to 60 buses, 10 to 12 participating prisons, and 1,200 kids and caregivers transported on event days. Get on the Bus serves a wide range of age groups, from infants to even a 33-year-old woman who hadn’t seen her mother for eight years.
Although Get on the Bus has become widely popular across California, not just any institution or parent can be involved. First, the incarcerated parents must maintain good behavior for a full year before they can join the program and see their children. Additionally, the decision for parents and children to reunite is a mutual decision between the kids and parents. The kids decide first whether or not they want to see their parents, and if they do, then the parents have to agree to the conditions of the program, such as maintaining good behavior for a year.
Many prison wardens were concerned about Get on the Bus when it first started, mostly because of cost, time, and outside interaction in the prisons. However, there is now a waiting list of prisons that want to join Get on the Bus due to overwhelmingly positive responses, including an overall change in atmosphere around the prison, and the inmates having something to look forward to and live for after their sentence is complete.
So how does Scripps do it’s part? “Kids deserve relationships with their parents,” said Julia Harreschou ’13 and Hilary Sager ’14, co-leaders of Scripps’ chapter of Get on the Bus. “Although the parents are the ones in prison, the kids are the victims here: they’re the ones missing out on relationships with their parents, and our goal is to help them foster and maintain relationships with their parents.”
The Scripps chapter raises money for Get on the Bus through selling 4/20 donuts in the dorms, participating at Reggae Fest, holding Some Crust fundraisers, and by hosting screenings and hosting speakers at Motley about criminal justice. They also receive donations from local businesses to aid in the effort to help these kids.
These donations go towards buying teddy bears, stationary, cards, and envelopes to foster communication between the kids and their parents, as well as meals and counseling the day of the event. Last year alone, Get on the Bus raised over $2,000 with support from the local and 5C community.
This semester, the members of Scripps’ chapter of Get on the Bus will spend the day the California Institution for Women (CIW), to visit the women and children in person and learn about the lives of these families. Although the group already visits the institution once a month, this is taking a step further towards a more personal foster program, in which the members will get to meet the people they’re helping in person. When describing the upcoming event, Harreschou and Sager said that the “day is about the kids and to make them feel special. These kids don’t have the money or opportunity to see their parents, and their caregivers don’t have time to take them, especially since over 50 percent of men and women are held 100 miles away from their children.”
Although Get on the Bus is a 5C club, the majority of its members are Scripps students, and they are always looking for new members. If you want to join, they meet every Wednesday at 9 p.m. in the Gender and Women’s Studies lounge in Vita Nova. They also have a table every year at the Club Fair during the fall semester.
You can contact Julia Harreschou and Hilary Sager via email, or check out the Get on the Bus website, www.giveforward.com/cjngetonthebus, for more information.