Inside Chowchilla Women's Prison: Locked up, Reaching out
By Norma Yuriar
Chowchilla, Calif. (KMPH News) — Behind the locked doors of the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla there's a waiting list to join a unique group. It's called the Long Termers Organization (LTO). Prisoners must be discipline free for year before they are accepted.
"We do have remorse for what we have done, we are taking responsibility and we are doing our best to give back what we have taken away," Inmate Charlann Geronimo said.
"It means a lot to the victim. It's the beginning of the healing process when the offender takes accountability for their actions and offers some type of remorse," Tina Figueroa with Madera County Victim Services said.
Half of the women in the group have no chance of every leaving. They are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
"I'm here for 2nd degree murder, I'm a battered woman. It was domestic violence," Inmate Crystal Potter said.
Potter is paying her debt to society by serving 15 years to life for her crime. But, she says she wants to do more.
"There is not enough money, there are not enough words that can really heal the wounds that we have caused," Potter said.
Last year she sent a letter to the nation's largest victim compensation program explaining how members of LTO had raised more than $138,000 to help local charities such as victim services.
"Our organization works in ways to rehabilitate prisoners by reaching out into the community and giving back in anyway we can," Potter wrote in a letter. "We may never gain the trust or the forgiveness of our victims, but to do now, what we should have been doing from the very beginning."
Julie Nauman, Executive Director of the California Victim Compensation & Government Claims Board visited the prison on Thursday after receiving Potter's letter.
"I was really struck by the caring and sincerity of Crystal Potter's letter to me, struck by how much they want to give back to the community," Nauman said.
During a question and answer session at the prison Nauman also explained how inmate restitution fines help victims of crime piece their lives back together.
"Hopefully I can give back for what I have taken away," Potter said.
Membership into LTO is limited to the number of staff that volunteers their time. Forty five women are on the waiting list.
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