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Proof Positive: Berks Connections

By Liz Kilmer, Reporter, LKilmer@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 19 2014 11:57:14 AM CST
Updated On: Jul 29 2014 09:09:17 AM CDT

Proof Positive

READING, Pa. -

For some prisoners, serving time is a moment to reflect on making positive choices post-incarceration. In the Berks County Jail System, many inmates want your help doing so.

"What they need is someone to listen to them, someone to help them make good decisions… perhaps they didn't have that in the past. And if we don't give that to them now, we might see them [incarcerated] again," said Peggy Kershner, Executive Director of Berks Connections, a non-profit organization that unites inmates with volunteer mentors.

For one hour once a week, mentors are paired with an inmate seeking guidance and support. Oftentimes, that inmate is expected to be released into the community soon, like 30-year-old Hallie Franceschi.

Franceschi spoke to 69 News along with her paired mentor, volunteer Sandy Brant of Leesport.

"Most of the time we laugh. We're able to share some things. Again, whatever Hallie's comfortable talking about that particular visit," said Brant.

Franceschi said she is so grateful someone comes to visit her. She and Brant have been meeting weekly for a couple of months.

"She's fantastic. We talk about my plans for when I leave here… and different choices that I need to be making when I get home," said Franceschi. "We just talk. It's very comfortable, it's natural and she gives me awesome advice."

According to officials, Franceschi is among many inmates seeking guidance through the program- but unfortunately, there aren't enough volunteers to see them all.

"Sadly we have many more people at the jail looking for some help and looking to make some changes in their life, than we do volunteers," said Kershner.

Acting Warden Janine Quigley agreed, adding that Berks Connections provides a service that the Jail System can't afford for everyone.

"We just don't have the resources to reach everybody with programming, so Berks Connections for us is an invaluable service," said Quigley.

Anyone can get involved. Those interested should contact Berks Connections at 610-478-6920,  or visit berksconnections.org for more information.