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Posted at 7:32 AM ET, 12/13/2010

Md. woman works against 'idle hands'

By The Associated Press

Barbara Allen left her job in a Frederick church about five years ago and went to work in a Washington County, Md., prison.

Helping inmates prepare to re-enter society as a volunteer activities coordinator has led the Frederick resident to tackle new goals of her own.

Twenty years after earning an associate degree in business management from Frederick Community College, the 53-year-old recently returned to the classroom to reap even greater rewards as a University of Baltimore student.

When she isn't at her 50-hour-a-week job at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, Allen is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice with a minor in victimology.

She's practicing what she and her 300-strong volunteers at the prison preach to the roughly 3,000 incarcerated men.

"Idle hands get into trouble," said Allen, who also enjoys teaching sixth- to eighth-grade girls how to sew.

Allen's enthusiasm for her job is apparent as she describes the types of programs she makes available to the inmates -- including some that routinely occur outside of prison walls.

She arranges health fairs, walkathons, food drives and speeches about current events.

She oversees organizations that cater to inmates with common interests: military veterans; those who enjoy drama, music, art and yoga; and "lifers," men seemingly destined to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Allen is a valued member of the prison community.

"As volunteer activities coordinator, she strives to use every means possible ... to give inmates programs and services without costing the taxpayer a nickel," Vernarelli said.

Allen boasts that her volunteers make 75 to 80 visits to inmates each month, averaging about two hours per visit. Eighty-five percent of the visits are on the topic of religious faith.

The ages of her volunteers run from 21 to the aged. One volunteer is in his 90s.

"This is an institution that welcomes volunteers, and we support the work that they do," Allen said.

As volunteer coordinator, Allen oversees recruitment, training and supervision for the volunteers who work with the inmates, the majority of whom will one day re-enter society.

"It's my job to make sure they have the security they need and the emergency information to allow them to have a professional relationship with the inmates," she said.

"We get the guys ready so that when the time comes they will be equipped to live next door to you."

By The Associated Press  | December 13, 2010; 7:32 AM ET
Categories:  Frederick, Maryland, Prison Beat  
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