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.  

Help for Nonprofits

Dear Friends of Friends Outside in Los Angeles County:

Please go to link below and take needed actions.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT / S. 3548) would provide four months of operating expenses from March through June as grants provided the funds are all used to pay staff making $100,000 or less annually. (Bill not  passed yet)

Thank you!

Mary Weaver
Executive Director

Join Us for Our Fatherhood Against the Odds Summit!

Join us for Fatherhood Against the Odds Summit, on September 28th at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. This summit is held for service providers, government agencies, elected officials, reentry fathers, and interested community members to focus on the need to engage incarcerated and formerly incarcerated fathers in their children’s lives. You’ll learn first-hand perspectives, current trends and the best practices for working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated fathers.

Click Here For Details and to Register!

Helping Families Heal

Friends Outside in Los Angeles County’s Dads Back! Academy (DB!A) supports men coming out of prison to reunify with and be fathers to their children. The program is located in Watts and serves south Los Angeles. The program includes classes in fatherhood, healthy relationships, and employment, using “evidence-based” curricula.

Success Stories…

One father we served is 35-years with a five-year-old son. We will call him Luis. Luis had been incarcerated for five years and thus was separated from his son for virtually all of his son’s life. Luis’ primary goal for enrolling in DB!A was to reunify with his ex-wife and be involved in his child’s life.

Luis expressed a lot of anxiety about meeting with his ex-wife and reconnecting with his son. He said that he did not have a good relationship with his own father, who he did not meet until he was nine years old. His father was not affectionate with him and this affected him deeply.

Prior to his first meeting with his son, our staff encouraged him to call him on the phone and ask him about his interests and favorite cartoon characters. As it turns out, it is Spiderman! The staff pooled their money and bought a Spiderman coloring book and crayons for the father to give to his son at their first meeting which went very well. Both were very excited and expressed happiness at being in each other’s lives.

Luis is now employed. He and his ex-wife have a cordial relationship, spending time together as a family over meals. His ex-wife now trusts the father to spend time with his son alone. Recently, the father took his son on a fishing trip, just Luis and his boy, a major step in the process of helping families heal after incarceration.

“If you are looking for help, that place right there can help you” -Father, Dads Back! Academy

Another DB!A father who we will call Derrick had been incarcerated for six years. He described how he struggled with guilt because of being away from his family and missing a lot of significant events with his children. Derrick first heard about DB!A when he was living in a Work Release Program and another resident said to him, “If you are looking for help, that place right across the street can help you.”

Derrick walked across the street and told the staff that he wanted to rebuild his relationship with his family. He enrolled and quickly started learning things he wanted to know such as strategies to help him better manage his anger. He learned new communication skills to “better navigate my personal relationships.” He also appreciated the feeling of “community” that he gained while in the program.

Derrick told the staff that he currently has a good relationship with his children and is actively involved in their lives. He also stated that he will share some of the problem-solving and personal finance skills that he has learned through DB!A to help improve his children’s lives.

Through DB!A, Derrick was able to enroll in truck-driving school while working as an in-home caregiver. Says Derrick, “this is the first time an organization that is supposed to help people has truly helped me.”

On the road toward success: A story about hope, determination, and patience.

KC is 55 years old. He is a DB!A Alumni and works as a Facility Manager for his church. He is diligent, focused and soft-spoken. KC learned about FOLA during an orientation at a “halfway house” for state prisoners. His goals were to be present in the lives of his three children and to find employment.

KC says that when he was first released from prison he was angry and quiet. Having been in the solitary confinement for 18 years, KC did not trust anyone and his conversational skills were awkward. KC takes a pause and thinks about how he felt when he first was released, which he describes as having a jail mentality. He credits the DBA! Group Facilitator, Monique, for learning to be around people again and get out of his comfort zone. He jokingly says, “She forced me to participate by asking me so many questions!” KC stated he wished the Academy were longer because he received so many tools, especially about computer literacy and healthy relationships and says that he still uses those skills today, more than a year after he completed the program.

KC smiles when he shares that he’s been able to reunify with his three children. He has been able to establish a closer bond with his youngest son who lives in Ontario, CA through visits and frequent phone calls. And, he keeps in contact with his two daughters who live out-of-state through phone calls. KC said he has achieved his goals, which were to have a steady job and a relationship with his children, a relationship that was once broken as a result of the mistakes he made in his “former” life. He then shared how grateful he is for DB!A because now he lives his life with joy in his heart.

Funded by First 5 LA, a leading public grant making and child
advocacy organization