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!