May brings Mother’s Day . . . 

At Friends Outside LA, May brings thoughts of Mother’s Day including for a special group of mothers who cannot be with their children due to their incarceration.   Our Incarcerated Parents Project provides opportunities for these mothers and their children who are in foster care to have visits.  Case Manager, veteran Celina Ruiz, does it all in a job that can be both heart-warming and heart-wrenching.

We coordinate such visits because research demonstrates that they are in the best interest of the children and the mothers in the majority of cases.  Visits comfort the children that their mothers are okay and provide an incentive for the mothers to change their lives.  In fact, the first question the mothers often ask Celina is, “How are my children?”  

Photographed: Celina

One such mother is 21-year old Ashely who is away from her two-year old daughter Jessica for the first time.  Ashely told Celina that her needs were to know how Jessica is doing, to have visits with her, and to get word to her children’s social worker that the best place for Jessica at this time is with Jessica’s maternal grandmother. Celina has been able to make all of these things happen, including facilitating bi-weekly visits for the two.

Celina prepares the children and the mothers for the visits, such as telling them what to expect and, per jailhouse rules, that the visits are behind glass.  Little Jessica ends every visit by knocking on the glass, saying, “Open, open, hug.”  And, while Celina cannot open the plate glass window that separates Jessica from her mother, Celina does talk with the mothers and their children in an age-appropriate manner after their visits so they are not left alone to deal with their feelings and fears.  

It is an imperfect system but better than if we were doing nothing to support these precious mother-child bonds.  Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, including those who are separated from their children on this special day.  

Mary Weaver
Executive Director,
Friends Outside in Los Angeles County

George Ferrick, FOLA’s First Paid Executive Director

Mary: How did you become the first paid FOLA Executive Director?

George: I found out about Friends Outside from Alice Callahan, a nun who became an Episcopal Priest and was the founder of Casas de las Familias.  She told me about the job opening at FOLA. I had just gotten a master’s degree in Family Therapy and was eager to begin working with families.  My job led to a wonderful experience with the organization.  

Mary: What was FOLA like during those early days?  

George: At the time, Mrs. Dowds had “Wives Club” meetings (for the wives and children of incarcerated individuals) at her home in San Marino.  During this time volunteers visited incarcerated women in the county jail to offer them support.  We also helped families plan visits to see their incarcerated loves ones.

Mary: How was FOLA funded then?

George: Churches were a major source of funding.  We had a grant through the Episcopalian Church.  We also asked community members to support us with annual donations of $18 per year.  FOLA had a strong Advisory Board, the primary purpose of which was to give credibility to our work as it was pretty radical work at that time. 

Mary: How have things changed over the years?

George: I think there is greater awareness about the criminal justice system, such as the costs of incarceration and the questionable efficacy of incarceration.  Long sentences, Three Strikes, systemic racism, equipping people for release, rehabilitation are now common topics in public discourse.

Mary: How have they stayed the same?

George: I have seen the FOLA chapter grow from an acorn to a “Mighty Oak.”  In my time, we worked in a very small office and sat across from the bathrooms in a church.  The early folks with FOLA brought a real commitment to the work.  It was inside them.  This seems to have remained the same.  But, today’s staff has to be more than just committed to the work.  I believe that new skills are needed.  

I am so glad to hear that FOLA now has many grants and many offices so they can address more people’s needs.  Overall, I am just so happy to see how the LA County Chapter has grown!

Meet our Honorary Co-Chairs for FACES 2022!

Friends Outside Los Angeles County is pleased to announce that Fred Armisen and Dorian Esters have graciously accepted our invitation to be our Honorary Co-chairs for FACES 2022, our 50th Anniversary Celebration

Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Fred Armisen is a comedian and musician.   He was a cast member of Saturday Night Live for 11 years. He was the co-creator and co-star of Portlandia and is the bandleader and frequent drummer for the Late Night with Seth Meyers house band.   Fred can be seen in the first official music video of George Harrison’s iconic “My Sweet Lord,” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All Things Must Pass album.  

Fred became aware of the plight of the incarcerated and their families when a friend in Portland invited him to participate in a few classes for art programs at a prison in Oregon. He wanted to get involved with a similar effort in California and found Friends Outside Los Angeles County.

Dorian Esters is an experienced workforce development professional with more than 8 years of experience in job readiness, job placement, and career success support. As Workforce Development Program Coordinator of the Miguel Contreras Foundation (MCF), Dorian is responsible for connecting program participants with employer-sponsored union apprenticeship training opportunities. 

Before joining MCF, Dorian was a staff member and, prior to that, a client of FOLA.  He continues to support FOLA which he believes plays an integral role in the Los Angeles community for the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and for their families.

We are very excited to see everyone in person this year for FACES 2022! Please forward the exciting news to your coworkers and families so they can subscribe to our newsletter for the most up-to-date information on our 50th Year Celebration!

Mary Interviews Curtis Dowds, Our Founder’s Son

Mary: Tell us a little about yourself and your mother.

Curtis: I am my mother’s oldest child.  My mom was born in 1918 in Arkansas, in the Mississippi Delta.  At the age of eight, driven mostly by drought-induced crop failures, mom and her parents moved to Alhambra, CA, just as the Depression hit. My mom grew up very poor but did so in a family deeply committed to education.   With incredible focus, the family put together the resources for a full college education for my mom and her brother. 

Mom emerged from college a progressive person who always saw the potential and good in people.   In 1954, a year before the vaccine, she contracted polio, ironically like her political mentor, FDR.   She met my father at a USC/UCLA mixer.  My dad was a lawyer who became the chief counsel in the L.A. County Counselor’s Office and eventually a prominent Superior Court judge, opening many doors my mom walked through for Friends Outside.

Mary: What do you remember about your mother founding Friends Outside in Los Angeles County?  

Curtis: The daughter of Federal William P. Gray, who was on the bench in Los Angeles, was a volunteer for Friends Outside up north and arranged for the initial meeting of “prominent women” in Los Angeles with the Friends Outside Founder, Rosemary Goodenough.  The story is that Mrs. Goodenough would talk until there was one person awake.  She would declare that woman “Mrs. Friends Outside” and leave.  Apparently my mom was the last one standing and started the LA chapter in our San Marino home.  Mom would talk to anyone about the cause and call anyone she needed to move things along, not afraid to wield the implicit power of being a judge’s wife.          

Mary: It was the early 1970’s– three political leaders killed the decade before, Vietnam War, peace and love generation.  Do you think the political and social environment of the time had anything to do with it?

Curtis: Yes.  She did not aspire to be in the country club set and the time was right for social activism.  Mom never “outgrew” her childhood experiences.  She was a person of immense empathy and wanted an identity for herself apart from being a “judge’s wife.”   She was determined – she beat poverty and polio.  She had good instincts, insight, and was perceptive. She created Friends Outside LA with “good bones” and Friends Outside gave her purpose.