Jail Brakers, the program that offers support and services to the families of incarcerated individuals, is gearing up after the Coronavirus pandemic under the direction of new leadership. Cheryl Niemo, the visionary founder and longtime director of the program, has retired from that role and James Carpenter is taking the reins.
Due to her personal experience with the incarceration of a family member and her experience in the social work field, Niemo founded Jail Brakers in 2009 to address the stigma related to incarceration and to provide meaningful resources to families and individuals affected by imprisonment to elevate family identity and improve outcomes. She led the organization as a non-profit and then as an independent ministry of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry.Jail Brakers founder Cheryl Niemo outside of the McHenry County Court in Woodstock a few years ago.
The pandemic interrupted many of Jail Brakers’ programs, especially its monthly support group sessions and Niemo has taken a new full-time social work job in Elgin. She said:
I’m heartened by the ongoing support of Jail Brakers, a ministry benefiting individuals and families affected by incarceration. Countless community members, local churches and organizations have demonstrated a strong capacity for kindness, compassion and wisdom surrounding the heart rendering needs and issues encountered by this population. This is an exciting time for Jail Brakers as new leadership steps forward to maintain its programs and values with James Carpenter, the unwavering commitment of Tree of Life Church and it’s much appreciated community partners. To the future of Jail Brakers volunteers and recipients. May the warmth be with you!
Carpenter is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) and has worked in the behavioral health field for over a decade. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Court Association of Illinois and the Illinois Association of Problem Solving Courts and believes that individuals should be able to avoid the revolving door of the criminal justice system through involvement with the strict probationary option offered by Problem Solving Courts and improve their lives after serving their time by having a chance to have their records sealed or expunged and has been discussing this possible option with Prairie State Legal Services.
He will bring fresh prospective as Jail Brakers director. He will also help coordinate other Tree of Life Congregation criminal justice projects including advocacy for prison and sentencing reform with the Unitarian Universalist Action Network of Illinois (UUANI), the U.U. Prison Ministry including a pen pal initiative and support teams for recently released inmates.
Carpenter will coordinate the monthly family support group which meets the 1st Thursday of every month from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at The Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, 225 W Calhoun. The first session will be on Thursday, June 2.A Jail Brakers member checks in at the Illinois Taylorville Correctional Center to visit her son in 2012.
Jail Breakers also provides gas cards for families who wish to maintain strong family connections during their loved one’s incarceration. Often, family members are sent anywhere from 1.5 hours to 7 hours away from home. This imposes a significant financial barrier in addition to the emotional and physical challenges faced when visiting loved ones. Research confirms that being able to maintain positive support increases the likelihood of a successful reentry process which is helpful in reducing recidivism—the rate at which people are re-incarcerated.
Other assistance includes referrals and aid in navigating the court system and obtaining social services support, small donations for emergency needs, jail and prison phone costs, and commissary accounts.
Jail Brakers serves all community members regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof and never demands creedal tests or engages in proselytizing.
A Jail Brakers Turkey Bingo fundraiser in 2019. The event is expected to return this fall.
In addition to support from the congregation and donations, Jail Brakers will resume fundraising activities like an annual Turkey Raffle event in the fall and participation in The Human Race.
Contributions to support Jail Brakers can be made by sending a check made out to Tree of Life UU Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road, McHenry, IL 60050 with Jail Brakers on the memo line or donate on-line at https://treeoflifeuu.breezechms.com/give/online and select Jail Brakers from the drop-down menu under “Give to Unpledged Donations.” The donations are placed in a dedicated fund and not used for any other purpose. Tree of Life also donates all the administrative expenses of the program so 100% of all donations go directly to client assistance.
For assistance and information contact James Carpenter at 815 322-3223, e-mail him at email@example.com or visit https://treeoflifeuu.org/justice/social-justice/jail-brakers/.