Not Your Average Bake Sale

Erica Hemphill, Valentina Annunsiata

People would rather donate their money toward lost kittens and small children than a female inmate. Donating to young cats and children is fine, but who’s going to help the female inmates? The Honors Women and Crime course here at UMPI presented at University Day on their project to help out those female inmates. Partnering up with the Hope and Justice Project and employee Chelsie Higgins who is a former UMPI student, the students are putting together exit packages for when women are released from the Houlton jail.

Many women when released from jail have nowhere to go, no one to pick them up or no
money to buy food. They really don’t have anyone to help them. The students in Honors Women and Crime are trying to change that. They fundraise to make exit packages for these women who are released in order to help them out in their time of need. The packages include things such as bus, taxi and meal vouchers. They also include contact information of people who can help with substance and other kinds of abuse, local taxi and hotel numbers and other useful numbers.

The female students in the class have an opportunity to go with Higgins to the Houlton jail. Higgins goes weekly to do various skill-building activities with the women. The male students do not have the same opportunity for fear that the women in the jail would have a negative reaction. The only two women in the class to take up the opportunity are Valentina Annunziata and Erica Hemphill. “I couldn’t get over how thankful they were that other people cared,” Hemphill said about the experience. Annunziata, the other student to visit the jail, said, “It shed a lot of light that these are really people. And to see the real emotion in their eyes… they are a population we need to help.” She went on to say how she was inspired by the women and that she one day wants to work with victims of sexual assault.

The students are hoping to raise enough money for at least 70 exit packages. They have multiple ways of fundraising. Their bake sales have been the most successful, bringing in $414 toward their cause. The class says it’s hard to get people to donate directly to them because of the negativity the public has toward the population they’re trying to help. A point that was made multiple times in the presentation was that these women won’t always be inmates. They are going to be released back into our society. This class is trying to help them be more contributing members of society when they are released. After the presentation UMPI student Hannah Craig said, “I think it’s really a shame how the community treats female offenders. It’s no wonder the recidivism rate (proportion of people who wind up back in jail) is so high amongst offenders in general.” She is very excited about the work that the class is doing to help and walked away from the presentation on a positive note by saying, “Someone needed to give them a chance, and I couldn’t be more proud that it’s UMPI.”