Restoring lives and communities: Inmates in Chillicothe offer help beyond prison walls

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. - When a women's shelter in Independence lost almost everything in a fire this fall, a group of inmates in Chillicothe felt compelled to help. However, they would have never been able to do so without the Restorative Justice program required through the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Once offenders arrive at the Chillicothe Correctional Center, they can't choose to leave, but the do get to choose how much they're willing to give back to society.

Offender Judy Henderson is 31 years into her sentence. She told 41 Action News on Tuesday, now she knows what counts most.

"Let me touch as many lives as I can touch because some of us, our victims didn't have the opportunity to do that," she explained while describing her involvement with Restorative Justice.

She helps lead the volunteers inside the Restorative Justice program at the Chillicothe Correctional Center. According to DOC staff, the program is intended to teach empathy and the importance of giving back.

"Yes, we're offenders and we're in prison and we've committed crimes against society but at the same time, we still have a heart. We have compassion and we want to help," said offender Crystal Farrington.

Farrington old 41 Action News a group of 19 women volunteer their time inside the correctional center to raise money and collect items through the Restorative Justice program. They sell chicken and hamburgers in the canteen because those foods aren't offered through the prison. That money goes into a pot to be donated to charities in need. Meanwhile, this group collects perishable foods and hygiene items to donate, too.

"When we see disasters on the news like the Oklahoma City bombing, we stepped up and immediately sent them $500," Henderson said.

A similar response happened in October. This small group of female inmates saw our report showing Mother's Refuge on fire. The shelter for homeless and pregnant teens lost almost everything. In an instant, four women and two babies were displaced.

"I know what it's like to be a young mother. I found out I was pregnant right before my 18th birthday," said Farrington.

For obvious reasons, the story moved her to act. In addition, Henderson's daughter is an employee of Mother's Refuge.

The women reached out to the new mothers in Independence by donating $500 and homemade gloves and blankets.

Henderson told 41 Action News she knows many women won't be able to fully make up for the crimes they committed. However, making a small difference and giving back is a real reality.

They hope to cut Mother's Refuge another check soon.

The executive director of Mother's Refuge told us in October he was humbled by the group's generosity.

The 1,300 women inside the Chillicothe Correctional Center have been instrumental in the success of the donation and collection drives. The volunteers tell 41 Action News they are always humbled to see that many of the offenders want to help too.

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