The What: Pillows for Prisoners began as an initiative to get pillows to female inmates in the Salt Lake County Jail for Christmas (with an initial estimated goal of $3,500 - $4,000).
The Why: When our younger sister was incarcerated earlier this summer for a non-violent crime, a pillow was one of the first things she asked for–well, a pillow and a hair tie. We learned she was trading food for a hair-tie from a fellow inmate.
The Wake-Up Call: Prior to her incarceration, we had never experienced having a loved-one in jail. We did not realize that inmates did not get pillows.
While our sister has spent years under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and even been through rehab about a decade ago, it was not until recently we discovered she was the victim of sexual assault when she was drugged at a party her freshman year of college--just 17 years old, while she was on scholarship playing volleyball at a small STEM university in Arizona.
The college incident changed the direction of her life and our family’s – but by the time we found out what had happened, years of shaming, victim blaming and abuse had already occurred. She had been trying to self-medicate for decades.
We’ve learned through her experience that even if an inmate had money to purchase a pillow through commissary, the process takes multiple days – or even more than a week to get a pillow--depending on when they are processed, and when their order date is, etc. But Celeste shared that in her "Pod" of 60 women, only 5 or 6 had pillows.
60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime.
We know our sister is not innocent. She knows she is not innocent. We also know that like our sister, many of the inmates are products of circumstance. We think that every prisoner deserves to have a place to rest their head. If we could help facilitate making their stay a little less traumatic–especially during the holidays–we would like to help.
While we have experience in service and outreach projects in various sectors of the community – from House of Hope to the Road Home, and even our refugee population – this experience with our sister, pointed out our own ignorance, and the reality that inmates are a forgotten public to the general public. We’d like to do something to change that.
Why only the women? We’re brand new to this sort of endeavor; and while we've dabbled in community service and outreach in plenty of other spaces, gifts to inmates is way outside our typical bailiwick. So we had to start somewhere. Our introduction to the jail system is limited at best, but we knew we wanted to do something; and our experience began with one female inmate, our sister–so that’s where we started.
How it Works: Funds raised are turned over to Salt Lake County and earmarked for pillows. The jail makes a mass order and pillows will be distributed to incarcerated females for the holidays. Our hope is that even if these women are spending Christmas in jail, with a gift of a pillow comes a small assurance that someone is thinking of them--with hopes and prayers for a better life as they lay their head down to rest during a special, but often particularly difficult time of year. Just $11 can make a difference.