Usually when people think of volunteering, they imagine distributing food to the needy or reading books to little kids. What they don’t imagine is going to jail.
But the jail needs volunteers as much as any other place in Kenosha.
“There’s a stigma about the jail, but inmates appreciate the volunteers. They respect the volunteers,” said jail chaplain Hasan Hakeem. “Volunteers here have a spiritual connection to the work they do. There’s no better place to be if you’re a believer.”
Volunteers at the Kenosha County Detention Center, 4777 88th Ave., and the Downtown Pre-Trial Facility, 927 54th St., deliver books to inmates, help with mentoring and counseling, and assist with programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
But the oft-asked question from potential volunteers: Is the jail safe?
“It’s the safest place in Kenosha. I always feel secure,” said volunteer librarian Cindy Bryan.
Bryan, along with library volunteers Mark Hasenberg and Jim Coleman, have been helping at the jail for more than a decade.
“I’m more afraid of Cindy than the inmates,” Coleman said dryly.
Hakeem and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department Programs Manager Jevon Claussen said they take volunteer safety very seriously, and there has never been an incident where a volunteer was put in danger.
Volunteers can choose whether or not to interact with inmates.
Some work in the library and never see any inmates. Others wheel the book cart into the jail and help inmates pick out what they want.
Others interact more. Bryan leads a monthly book club “for the desperados” that participating inmates take very seriously. The inmates have read and discussed “Lord of the Flies,” “Of Mice and Men” and “Tallgrass.”
“The enthusiasm has been very high,” Bryan said.“It’s the best book club. They’re eager to talk, and they’ve all got opinions. It’s a fallacy that people in jail don’t read. Of course they read. What else are they going to do?”
The libraries are always in need of paperback book donations, and Bryan said the inmates’ reading tastes are “as varied as the inmates themselves.”
They like everything from James Patterson thrillers to Nicholas Sparks to Harry Potter to science fiction, romance, classics and self-help.
Religious books offered include Catholic, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist texts, and inmates read books in several languages, including Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and French. Perhaps the most popular genre is westerns.
“Our westerns come back in tatters,” Bryan said.
Volunteers must be at least 18 and pass a criminal background check. There’s also an interview and orientation process.
Claussen said the volunteers are making Kenosha a better place, even if the rest of the county doesn’t realize it.
“Eventually, (most of the inmates) are getting out. They are going to be your neighbors. When you help them, you’re putting something good back into the community,” Claussen said. “It might sound funny, but there are a lot of good things happening in jail.”
“There couldn’t be a better place to do volunteer work,” Coleman said. “You get to meet up with different people from different cultures. The staff has created such a friendly atmosphere.”
“It’s satisfying. I feel good about it. We’re helping people out,” he said. “It’s heartening to see these people who have time, and they’re putting it to good use.”
People who are interested in volunteering at the jail co.kenosha.wi.us/1618/Volunteer-Information or call Programs Manager Jevon Claussen at 262-605-5803. The Kenosha News feature “Community Connection” is a weekly profile of organizations that make a difference in our city, and sharing ways that you can get involved. If you’d like your group featured, email email@example.com.