Throughout most of her adult life, Redding resident Ginger Wilk has been drawn to the hurting and the lost of society, and especially to the incarcerated.
“In most cases, inmates are the most broken of society and they have often been abandoned by their support system,” said Wilk, 49, a program manager at Family ReEntry, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 that helps individuals involved in the criminal justice system. Through its intervention, re-entry, and mentoring programs, Family ReEntry works to help break the cycle of incarceration.
Several times a year, Family ReEntry — which has locations across Connecticut, hosts events to rally the community and raise awareness of its programs. Its next event is “Mass Incarceration & Racial Disparity” on Wednesday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport. Actor and community activist Danny Glover will be a special guest speaker.
“Our goal with our events includes encouraging employers to take the chance and hire ex-offenders, inspire individuals to mentor offenders who are getting ready to re-enter society, and for the public to hear success stories.
“I have a real heart for people who are incarcerated,” said Wilk, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling. She and her husband Steve Wilk, who works in information technology, have two children, Hannah, 17 and Hallie, 15.
Prior to her employment at Family ReEntry, for over 24 years Wilk has volunteered in prisons throughout Connecticut and New York, to inmates who were re-entering society, and to those with severe mental health issues.
According to Wilk, nonviolent offenders make up more than 60% of the current prison population. “Most people who are incarcerated have been identified by trauma before being identified as a criminal,” she said. Trauma includes those who have been sexually abused, who have lived in poverty, and who have been exposed to violence.
A large number of non-violent crimes are related to relationships that have gone south, she said. “Women who get involved in co-dependent relationships lose themselves and end up compromising their morals and upbringing.
“Inmates are the ones that society often tosses aside, but to me they are some of the strongest individuals on earth who have overcome tremendous trauma and adversity. They need to be injected with hope for a second chance.
“In most cases, these individuals will admit that being behind bars saved their lives. They were spiraling downward and needed somebody to stop the clock for them so they can regroup, process, and heal. They are now ready to take a look at their past, present and future and get a brand-new start,” she said.
Aside from educating the public, Family Reentry conveys its message by example. “We hire ex-offenders, many of whom are in management positions,” said Wilk, who works at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic. She supervises clinicians who prepare women to re-enter society from prison. In addition, she supervises volunteers who help offenders hone in on their goals for when they re-enter the community.
Jeffrey Earls of Fairfield, who is director of development at Family ReEntry, said its youth programs involve mentoring children who have incarcerated parents, and its domestic violence programs help individuals with anger management. Family ReEntry also offers temporary housing to individuals coming out of prison and employability classes to assist with getting a job.
According to Earls, “holding community awareness events puts our name on the map, shows what Family ReEntry does, and how effective the work we do is.”
The money raised through Family ReEntry’s events helps keep its programs running.
Wilk is hoping to get as many local residents as possible to attend or contribute to the event. “I have lived in Redding for 15 years and feel it is a fairly homogeneous community. There is always room for improvement, but overall my impression has been that the residents are good-hearted people who want to unite and make a difference.”
Wilk said she is aware that race is currently a hot topic, both in the community and in the country. “With this event, we hope to raise awareness on the topic of racial disparity, and to provide an atmosphere where we can talk about a difficult topic with unity and respect. These types of issues tend to make people go into their safe corners. Either we are going to come together and unite to make a difference or we are going to continue to divide — politically, racially and economically.”
For tickets or sponsorship information on the event on May 6, visit familyreentryevents.org.