Jennifer Soble, Executive Director of the Illinois Prison Project, tells Haven students about the project
Jennifer Soble, Executive Director of the Illinois Prison Project, tells Haven students about the project

Haven Middle School students and teachers recently gave the gift of giving to hundreds of people incarcerated at Joliet Treatment Center. Two hundred students wrote holiday cards for people held in the prison, a facility that holds and treats people with severe mental illness. The Illinois Prison Project, an organization that advocates for a more humane and fair prison system across the State of Illinois, co-sponsored the project.

IPP team members Jennifer Soble and Wali Deutsch spoke to seven classes of eighth-graders about the isolation some incarcerated people face, especially during this time of the year.  Students decorated the cards with messages of holiday cheers, pictures of rainbows and Christmas trees, and words of encouragement. Several students expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to serve their communities in this way.  Nationally, one in 28 children will have a parent incarcerated, and many struggle with the incarceration of a family member.

Ms. Soble said, “While many of us get to share and celebrate this joyous season with family and loved ones, people in prison do not share the same luxury. The depression and isolation that many incarcerated people experience around the holidays can be even worse for those people who struggle with mental illness. Writing a card to let folks know were still thinking about them, and truly means the world to them.”

Ms. Deutsch, an Evanston public school alumna, spoke about Evanston as a community and told students, “This is a wonderful way for us a town and as a community to give back this season.”

The Illinois Prison Project was founded this year by Jennifer Soble to advocate for and on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people in Illinois Prison System.  Since the organization began taking cases in September of this year, it has secured the release of three elderly people serving life or virtual-life sentences. It is currently coordinating a commutation campaign on behalf of severely mentally ill people who were held in solitary confinement and then prosecuted for low level conduct, such as spitting. Many of those clients are at the Joliet Treatment Center, where the recipients of the Haven-made cards are held.

All photos by Lynn Trautmann, LTPhoto