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Quarantales #4: Gloria Wright, Inmate Program Manager at Alexandria’s Jail Talks Candidly About Doing Her Job in the Covid Age

“A criminal history does not make you a bad person.”

Gloria Wright (standing) talked to inmates during the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center/Heard writing contest awards ceremony last August. (Photo courtesy of the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center)

Stories from Alexandrians that will make you smile. We hope.

Gloria Wright is the inmate program manager for the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center (ADC)

You have such a great edgy haircut. How’s that looking now?

My hair is still short and cute. I do my own hair and I’ve been able to maintain it.

Gloria does not know a bad hair day, even during a pandemic. (Photos courtesy of Gloria Wright)

Are you working from home?

No, I’m considered essential personnel, which is a plus. I would rather get up and come to work every day. No one on our team works from home. It’s not too bad but we don’t interact with each other like we normally do. We wave at each other from a distance and say “hi.” Our staff meetings aren’t as personable. I miss that. We have a great staff. We brainstorm together and come up with the best ideas to keep the inmate population engaged!

So what exactly do you do as the inmate program manager?

I oversee home electronic monitoring, weekenders (those who come in and serve time on weekends only), work release (those who serve time but go out to work), and work education release (those who leave to work or go to school). I also oversee the modified work release program – those that don’t do time on the inside, but they do outdoor cleaning and mowing around the city to work off their time. I also oversee all programs in the jail – monthly motivation, GED, ESL, re-entry, all 229 volunteers, along with the Volunteer Coordinator, and book clubs. I oversee everything except the sober living programs.

What do you like about your job?

I see the positive effect that programming has on inmates. It helped my brother during his transitional moments and he would still be lost without it. It gives them hope and lets them know people care. We try to give them what they deserve and need. Sometimes they need that extra push.

The inmates are very receptive to all we try to do for them during their time here. It warms my heart to hear them acknowledge how well they are treated here at the ADC. I feel like I am doing my part when I get letters, Facebook posts, and phone calls from former inmates thanking me for helping them to get back on track or for giving them the tools to become a productive, returning citizen. They thank me for being kind and understanding and making their stay here at the ADC bearable.

The detention center offers virtual GED, ESL, and other life skills classes. (Photo courtesy of the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center)

How has COVID-19 changed your job?

OMG! We’ve cancelled the weekender program and all of the work release programs. Those who were in the work release program are home now and they’ll come back here when the ban is lifted. Just the home electronic monitoring program is still being utilized. No one comes into the jail from the outside to avoid contamination. New inmates are quarantined for 15 days.

We don’t have any volunteers in here and we’ve started our ESL, GED and life learning programs without them. We have a classroom with a TV and Webex and the instructors teach from home. Everyone is spaced out at 6 feet apart and we only allow 10 in the classroom at a time.

To date there are no COVID-19 cases at the ADC. Congratulations!

Thank you. We do our best to make sure everyone is keeping up with the standards. The inmates wear masks and so does the staff.

How are the inmates coping and how do you help?

It’s kind of the same as before. We pretty consistently have always had good inmates. There’s not a lot of issues with fighting or turmoil, especially now. Video visitation helps. They get 10 minutes with their families each week. We have lots of puzzles and books which is good because we can’t get library donations.  They can also exercise in their cells and we give canteen items and radios to those inmates being quarantined for 15 days.

Our mental health team still comes into the jail, and we still have our chaplain and life skills classes. We are getting new TVs to help with classes, video visitation, and possibly movie days. I distribute religious materials three times a week and just finished distributing Ramadan materials. We’ve been able to download church services from Alfred Street Baptist and Basilica of St. Mary. They’ve been great.

What’s one misconception about inmates that you want people to know?

That everyone who’s locked up is not a bad person. They just made a mistake. We have some very good, talented, smart people here. Some of them just need a break or a second chance so we try to bring in programs, like writing, to give them that ability to relieve stress, or a certificate programs such as Flaggers and ServeSafe certifications. If we have more forgiving people in the community that are willing to take a chance on ex-offenders, the recidivism rates would truly improve. A criminal history does not make you a bad person.

What’s the most positive aspect of social distancing for you?

I’m not a phone talker or a texter and I’ve had to do that more now. I do it but I don’t like it. I like face to face communication. My family and I are spread apart. Most of them are in Mississippi and I have a sister here and in Michigan. So we FaceTime and group text every morning. I’m getting more familiar with my phone. I’ve never been a big social media fan but I’m using it more now. I’m finding funny things to laugh about. My poor neighbors are getting tired of hearing my lawnmower,  power washing and all the other yard equipment have acquired since this pandemic has started. I work in the yard more and I can get to work faster.

Donated items for the inmates include books, prayer rugs, puzzles, and snacks. (Photo courtesy of the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center)

What can people do to help?

We still need donated paperbacks. You can contact me at [email protected]. And thanks for the Heard book donation of over 500 paperback books!

You’re welcome. So will you cut my hair?

Nope. I can’t do others’ hair but can do my own. I figured it all out years ago after having to pay $100 for a short haircut.  I re-twist my sister’s hair locks and I charge her but she never pays.

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Jane Collins

Jane Hess Collins is a communications consultant and coach, and holds a masters’ degree in Public Relations & Corporate Communications from Georgetown University. She is the founder and executive director of Heard, an Alexandria-based nonprofit that teaches life skills disguised as art to underserved populations. She retired from the United States Air Force in 2009.

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