Honoring a Hero, Samuel Spicer, Jr., and reflecting on his contributions to FOLA

As he will readily tell it, Sam Spicer, Jr. had been in and out of jail/prison a few times when he came to Friends Outside in Los Angeles County to perform community service. 

What was immediately apparent was Sam’s passion, cooperative spirit, and his desire to learn.  After completing his community service, I hired Sam, who worked for FOLA for 15 years, 1992 – 2007, during which time he also obtained a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. 

Sam has great people skills and good instincts about what kinds of services are needed by those we assist.  He was instrumental in the development of our re-entry employment program and facilitated our first fatherhood support groups for persons with criminal records.  

From left to right:  Former FOLA Staff, Samuel Spicer, Jr., Martin Sosa

After leaving FOLA (in body but not in spirit!), he became a counselor at a Headstart program.  Although estranged from the mother of his son, Sam always fought to maintain a relationship with his son, who is now himself married, making Sam a very proud grandfather! 
We are honored to have a long-standing relationship with Sam, beloved by the community and his colleagues and a man who made deep footprints in our 50-year history!

Thank you Sam!

Mary Weaver
Executive Director
Friends Outside in Los Angeles County

Program Highlight: Dads Back! Academy F.I.R.E. 

The Friends Outside in Los Angeles County’s Dads Back! Academy F.I.R.E. program is our third-generation program designed especially for re-entry fathers, their families, and their children. 

The program serves re-entry fathers who have children who are ages 24 and younger, including men who are “like a father” to children in this age group.  The Dads Back! Academy is an intensive program during which fathers attend 73 hours of mandatory workshops over a one-month period in parenting/fatherhood, economic stability, and healthy relationships. 

The fathers go through the workshops with other re-entry fathers.  The fathers can also attend optional workshops such as in computer basics, domestic violence, and financial literacy.  On completion of the workshops, program staff assists the fathers to seek and obtain employment, continue to build their relationships with their children and other family members, and pursue other desired goals.     

The “Why”:  Children who have been raised in families affected by incarceration most likely have experienced various levels of trauma, including possibly having witnessed the parental arrest. 
In LA County, at least 75,000 children have an incarcerated parent (Kidsdata, 2018). 

Re-entry fathers face unique challenges, yet resources in Los Angeles County that specifically serve these fathers are very limited.  In fact, there are no other known reentry-tailored fatherhood services in the County.  Our workshops were designed specifically for these fathers, offering content focused on the role of fathers and the impact of parental incarceration, toxic stress on children and brain development, co-parenting after incarceration, and other reentry fatherhood-specific issues.

Know someone who might benefit?    Contact the Program Manager, DaJohnai Vincson, at dvincson@friendsoutsidela.org, for more information about the program including how to be enrolled! 

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

Joyce Ride

Paying Tribute to Former Board President Joyce Ride

Women’s History Month – Paying Tribute to Former Board President Joyce Ride

Photographed: Joyce Ride

Image sourced from CNN

Joyce Ride was an Encino housewife when she became a board member for Friends Outside in Los Angeles County (FOLA), c1984. A self-described person who “can’t stand injustice,” Joyce visited the county woman’s jail for many years, later driving to the California Institute for Women in Fontana every weekend to visit females in state prison.  Mrs. Ride (Joyce) spent a significant amount of her own time and money to gain the release of an imprisoned woman, Gloria Killian, because she believed in her claims of innocence. Upon her release, Gloria was invited to move into Joyce’s home.   

While daughter Sally was exploring outer space and daughter Karen (“Bear”) was becoming a Presbyterian minister, Joyce became the President of our Board of Directors. A fighter for women’s equality, Joyce hired women for whatever work that needed to be done and sported a personal gift, a bracelet, from Gloria Steinem on her wrist. In 1988, Joyce hired me to work for FOLA.  A “why use 10 words when one will do” sort of person, I gradually learned a few things about Joyce, such as that she was a gas station attendant while a student at UCLA. Joyce was a popular speaker. She spoke deliberately with carefully chosen words, commanding an audience’s attention when she spoke about the injustices in the criminal justice system, such as imprisoned women being shackled during childbirth. As for me, hired without many credentials to do my job, Joyce was always there for me, quietly guiding me along with unquestioned support.  

Today, Joyce is a nonagenarian and Bear is a retired minister. Sally, who died in 2012, was honored with a postage stamp by the U.S. Postal Service in 2018. And, this month, Sally and Maya Angelou will be the first two of 20 women who will be honored over the next four years by the U.S. Mint with quarters that will be released in their honor.  

Photographed: Mary E. Hunt, Joyce Ride, and Gloria Steinem

Image sourced from www.waterwomenalliance.org

The more I got to know Joyce, the more I began to understand how she grew up to do exceptional things. Joyce refused to fall into line with stereotypes and fought without compromise for the underdog. And, four decades after I met her, it has become abundantly clear how she and her equally impressive husband, Dale, would raise two girls who would, themselves, become accomplished leaders in non-traditional fields.

Thanks for believing in me, too, Joyce.

Mary Weaver