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Get on the Bus helps families visit loved ones incarcerated at CMCFast fact 

Around 1:30 a.m., children and a parent or guardian get on a school bus in places like Oakland or San Diego to travel to the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo. Tired-eyed kids wear purple shirts inscribed with "On the Bus" and an outline of the front of a bus.

Although most can hardly keep their eyes open, they also can barely contain their excitement. These kids are on their way to visit their incarcerated family members.

TOGETHER Nothing but smiling faces, hugs, and fun are had during an On the Bus event at the California Men's Colony. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KATIE GRAINGER
  • Photo Courtesy Of Katie Grainger
  • TOGETHER Nothing but smiling faces, hugs, and fun are had during an On the Bus event at the California Men's Colony.

A few times a year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Center partners with the Center for Restorative Justice Works to make Get on the Bus events happen. May 19 is one of the two dates in 2018 when families will board buses and head to CMC to visit their families.

Katie Grainger has been a volunteer with the program since 2009. "The beautiful thing about Get on the Bus is it provides access for many family members who don't have the resources, time, or ability to visit their family," she said.

What can often prevent a family from visiting their incarcerated loved one are distance, cost of living, paperwork required for clearance, and the lack of adult accompaniment for children. Mainly, she said, the program provides a visiting experience that is unlike any other.

On these visits, families can visit an incarcerated mother or father if the inmate has been on good behavior. Grainger said that these visits are definitely a privilege, as inmates must undergo a thorough screening check to make sure they have no write-ups or behavioral issues.

"For kids to be able to be held and loved all visit long and to be able to participate in activities with their family and run around, I mean you don't get these during a normal visit," she said.

During the four- to six-hour visit, the prison is closed down to visitors outside of the Get on the Bus program. Grainger said that there are many fun activities such as face painting and card games. Children are also given a teddy bear and a package with envelopes and stamps to keep in contact with their parent. But most importantly, it's a time that children can visit with their incarcerated parent and are free to hug and play, in a free and safe setting.

"I've had to visit a loved one in prison before, and it could be a very intimidating process. People sometimes treat you like you're a criminal even though you have to go through a huge background check just to go inside," Grainger said.

She said many families say that they forgot they were at a prison during the visit, and that's a huge part of the program.

Each year, the Center for Restorative Justice Works reaches across California to raise funds so the program can be free to participating families.

Get on the Bus provides not only a visiting service for inmates and their families, but serves as a reminder that neither party is forgotten. Grainger said it's important for the children to know that they are still loved.

"Similarly with the person that's incarcerated, it's important for them to know that they're not forgotten, that they're missed, and they're still loved. A mother is still a mother to her child, and a father is still a father," she said.

To learn more about the Get On the Bus program visit cdcr.ca.gov.

The Neenan Company, a design-build firm based in Colorado, completed a building that is a collaboration with the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC). The 4,500-square-foot clinic in Arroyo Grande marks the sixth finalized project between CHC and the Neenan Company. The company redeveloped the former retail space into a clinic, which features nine exam rooms including an X-ray. Opening as CHC's third location in Arroyo Grande, the clinic provides primary care services. To learn more about the Neenan Company, visit neenan.com. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.



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