In the News!
Thank you, Underscore News, for being with us at the beautiful Sisterhood Pow Wow and Nika Bartoo-Smith for writing such an amazing article, Underscore News | Message of Powwow in Washington Prison: ‘You are not Forgotten’
This touching and informative King 5 story (with video) highlights the work of our Reentry Director, Jeremy Garretson, Powwow for Indigenous Prisoners in Walla Walla provides an opportunity for healing.
A Unique Reentry Program
Unkitawa has long been involved in helping our incarcerated relatives. In 2020, Unkitawa officially created its successful Reentry Program, where we have since helped numerous relatives as they came home from incarceration. Although we are a Reentry Program, we are not the average staff, and we do not provide the average assistance. All our Reentry Program staff are previously incarcerated individuals who bring a unique real-life perspective. We have experienced the transformative power of reconnecting with our culture while incarcerated and are passionate about making it available to every person we work with.
Our program helps those returning to the community with clothes, hygiene, a cell phone, and bus passes for transportation. We call that the “Day One” package. Our staff also networks with employers and collaborates with other agencies, which helps us provide additional resources to our relatives, giving them the little hand-up that we all need at times.
Unkitawa offers these resources with a level of familiarity and connection that cannot be learned from textbooks or courses. With first-hand life experience, our staff can relate and speak from a place of true compassion and understanding. Having been released after incarceration, we know there is a need for culture and ceremony in these moments of reentry into their communities and their families, so we provide spaces and opportunities to participate in multiple cultural events and ceremonies to build pathways to a healthy transition.
In 2022, Unkitawa was awarded the Native American Services Contract with the Washington State Department of Corrections. It is an honor to provide these services for our incarcerated relatives, and we will always strive to do our part to ensure that they have access to culture and ceremony and that their rights protected.
Under this contract, Unkitawa’s Reentry Team now provides services to 22 Native American Circles for the many men and women throughout the Department of Corrections (DOC) 12 Correctional Centers spread across Washington State. We provide several services every month for each of these 22 Circles. Services include Inipi Ceremony (Sweat Lodge), Drum Circle, Beading/Regalia Making Class, and an annual pow wow.
Unkitawa Reentry also holds a contract with the Washington State Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) to provide Native American Services at the two DCYF facilities for incarcerated juveniles: Echo Glen Children’s Center and Green Hill School.
Support Inside Institutions
Reentry services begin months before a person’s release. We coordinate with the Department of Corrections to meet regularly with our incarcerated relatives. We talk with each person about what they will need to succeed upon reentry to the community, and together, we create a practical reentry plan. We also ensure their rights are protected while they are incarcerated.
During incarceration and after reentry, cultural connection – Ceremony, Traditions, and Culture – feeds the spirit and helps our relatives find balance, peace, and healing. We provide access to cultural services every month at each prison and in our communities. Cultural services may include regalia making, beading classes, traditional dance practice, drum circle, Inipi Ceremony (sweat lodge), as well as an annual pow wow. Before and after reentry, we host a variety of events to engage our relatives and offer a space for their “Spiritual Growth.”
Building Community Connections
Some individuals honestly have little to no support once they are released. Some have burnt bridges, some have been abandoned, and some have unfortunately been incarcerated for so long that the world has moved on without them. We take the extra step and lend the extra hand to all of our relatives as they come home. We provide events and engagements as well as case management services from the heart, giving everyone a sense of “Community Connections” and the knowledge that they are not alone.
How You Can Help
Time, money, and in-kind donations are always deeply appreciated. Your thoughtfulness and kindness remind our relatives they are valued community members.
Volunteer. We are always looking for volunteers to go into prisons to help with cultural services. Your presence reminds our relatives that they are not forgotten and can help make cultural events even more impactful.
Donate money or materials and beads to make beadwork gifts for Give-Away at their annual pow wow and to help create regalia (traditional dance attire) to build a sense of connection and pride as they dance with their loved ones.
Host a “Make-One–Take–One” event. Bring your loved ones together to make regalia for yourselves and to donate to someone who cannot make their own. Your gifts can provide treasured ceremonial regalia for our incarcerated relatives.