Space assists recently released jail and prison inmates
By Evan J. Pretzer
Down a deserted alleyway behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Wausau, if you’re a recently released inmate, there’s a space available to freely help you get back on your feet.
Founded nearly a decade ago, The Open Door of Marathon County Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people just getting out of the Marathon County Jail or prisons at the federal and state levels. Initially, the initiative began as a single individual who parked outside the jail and offered free clothing from the trunk of his car.
Over time, the effort grew considerably.
According to Executive Director Anne Drow, Open Door does a massive breadth of things for those in the community who need them, but still retains a focus on giving away free clothing.
“We have a mix of stuff now, but clothing is really our number one thing,” she said. “We have other services available, but when people are released from jail, they’re often given what they went in with and that’s it. One girl who came out in January only had a bikini to keep her warm.”
Leaders at the Marathon County Jail say inmates released do occasionally receive clothes when items are available or family is around to pick someone up in the event of bad weather, but this is not always a common occurrence. In addition, prison and jail alumni don’t always know where to go to find work or have an address to receive mail. But at Open Door, those running the organization work to meet these needs.
In their small space formerly owned by Per Mar Security Services, those in Marathon County who are struggling can get hygiene products if they’re on the street, find a place to receive letters and a computer on which to conduct important business. In 2016, more than 1,100 people came through, though all had served time for one offense or another. But there has been very little drama at the building in its years of operation.
“We’ve had a couple of people lock themselves in the bathroom,” Drow said. “Our volunteers have walked in those shoes and so we all know how to talk to people about not causing issues.”
Ultimately, this is what’s most important to the team at Open Door. In this small space with fluorescent lighting overhead and art from inmates lining the walls, people get a chance to begin again. Here, no one judges, they simply offer a hand up and see if anyone would like to take it.
“This place is so rewarding,” volunteer Amanda Sabatke said. “I like to give back because at one point I was nearly homeless. I want to do what I can for people, I was them and I needed somebody.”
Evan J. Pretzer is a journalist and multimedia professional originally from Saskatchewan, Canada. To learn more about him, visit evanjpretzer.com.