Volunteer FAQ

WHAT IS HORIZON PRISON INITIATIVE?

Horizon is a nonprofit educational organization that works with incarcerated men and women to help them discover another way to view the world. We are not a state agency or part of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. We work in collaboration with them.

Since 2000, Horizon has helped more than 1,000 people learn how to recognize and change the criminal mindset that led them to incarceration. During our 10-month program, Horizon participants live in the same prison dormitory in family units, called “households.” Through these households, they learn to work together, help each other, and rely on each other. Our experienced staff teaches Horizon’s curriculum, including Building Community, Trauma/Victim Awareness, and Character Reformation.

WHAT ARE OUTSIDE SISTERS AND BROTHERS?

The Outside Sisters and Brothers program is an important part of Horizon. Weekly visits from people in the community show participants that someone cares about them as individuals and that they can count on someone to show up for them each week. The program does not establish continuing friendships with inside participants; it begins with the opening of each annual cycle and ends with graduation.

Your visits mean a lot. For some Horizon participants, our volunteers are the only people who visit them.

WHAT DO YOU DO AS A VOLUNTEER?

We show up, and we talk to each other.

WHAT DO I TALK ABOUT WITH PEOPLE IN PRISON?

Think of your visits as going to a party where you don’t know anyone. Horizon participants are from all walks of life. They range in age from 22 to 70. They come from major cities and rural townships. They may love to read, work out, cook, fix things, laugh, garden, or create art. They likely grew up in Ohio, and many have children they adore.

Horizon staff will offer topics for discussion, but you and your group can talk about whatever you find interesting that day. Food is often a popular topic, so “What’s the best meal/ice cream/hamburger/ breakfast/candy you’ve ever had?” can spark good conversation.

IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULDN’T TALK ABOUT?

  • “What did you do?” It is natural to wonder why incarcerated women are in prison and how long they will remain there. Participants may want to share this information with you, or they may not. Please allow them this privacy.
  • ProselytizingHorizon is not a platform to recruit people to a certain faith or to hold one faith above another. We respect people from all faith traditions, political viewpoints, and cultural backgrounds. It’s ok to speak about different topics in general terms because the women are learning about tolerance and acceptance, but please do not try to convert anyone.
  • Gossip. You may hear about something scandalous that happened at the prison, which may or may not be based in fact. The best approach in these situations is to remain neutral in your response and move the conversation to a new topic. If you have concerns about what you heard, let the volunteer coordinator or program coordinator know.

DO I NEED SPECIAL TRAINING?

You do not need special training to volunteer as an Outside Sister. The prison provides an hour-long volunteer training session. At the end of this training, a Horizon staff member will tell you more about our program.

WHAT CHALLENGES SHOULD I ANTICIPATE?

The biggest challenge for Horizon volunteers is the time commitment. Many volunteers work and drive to the prison from Columbus so it can easily be a 4-hour commitment each week.

WHAT IF I CAN’T COMMITT TO EVERY WEEK FOR 10 MONTHS?

We understand that things come up. Please come as often as you can, and simply let us know whenever you are not able to make it.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING WITH ME?

You can bring your driver’s license or photo ID, car keys, volunteer badge, and any items for inclement weather. Prisons do not allow volunteers to bring mobile devices, food, or other items onto the premises unless they have a special pass. As we say at Horizon, just bring your love with you. That’s all you need.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction recommends visitors wear a dress that falls below the knee or slacks and a shirt. Jeans and more casual clothing are fine, too.

The prison does not allow certain types of clothing, including shorts, short skirts, sleeveless shirts, and low-cut tops. The prison also prohibits clothing that reveals the midriff, back, sides, shoulders, or undergarments and clothing with offensive language or images.

A FEW MORE TIPS

Horizon has been working in prisons for more than 15 years. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:

  • To reach the Horizon participants each week, volunteers may have to walk a short distance and/or climb stairs. If you have physical limitations, please keep this in mind. Horizon is unable to provide special equipment to transport volunteers who need assistance.
  • An inmate may ask you to send a message to a family member or transport special items for her. This is strictly prohibited. Over the years, volunteers with good intentions have brought distress to themselves and to the Horizon program by agreeing to doing a favor for someone in prison. If you find yourself in such a situation, the best way to handle it is to tell the Horizon participant to ask the Horizon program coordinator for permission and have her get back to you with consent. This normally puts a stop to the request.
  • The corrections officers have specific rules to follow. We may not always understand why the rules are in place, but please be courteous to the officers. Also, please use the term “corrections officer” and not “guard.”
  • The way the prison system works is that volunteers cannot connect with inmates outside the volunteer program. If you contact a Horizon participant on your own accord – either in person or by email – you will no longer be able to visit the prison as a volunteer.