Just Visiting - 'Mitchellville Prison For Women' to Improve Facilities for Visiting Children

On a recent trip to the USA, Robin Ashfield from Percussion Play, along with Larry Rife representative of ABCreative, took some time to visit the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (known as Mitchellville Prison for Women). They were to meet with Iowa State University Landscape Architecture Students, Prison wardens and inmates to discuss the creation of a new play area and music garden to focus on improving the experiences of children visiting the prison.

Located in the town of Mitchellville, this medium security institution is Iowa’s largest female prison that can house over 890 female offenders. Many different sentences are served here from minor convictions through to the most serious; some of the women will be incarcerated for the rest of their lives.

The issue has been that many of the women serving sentences here have children, who through no fault of their own, now do not have Mom around at home. These children welcome the opportunity to visit their parent and to spend some quality time with them, however they often become bored and agitated during visits. Some children come as frequently as every weekend, very often involving a 3 or 4-hour car journey to get here. As you can imagine, after travelling such long distances to see their parents, they need to run around and let off some steam, ideally outdoors.

Furthermore, observing the experience of these visits from a child’s perspective, it is generally considered less than positive to emphasize the fact that their Moms are in prison. With the prison offering inmates educational opportunities, parenting courses and teaching vocational skills, Mitchellville is attempting to create a ‘college-like’ look and atmosphere for the children to observe - in fact many of the moms tell their kids that they are away attending college.

The landscape initiative is to create a play area and sensory garden which includes outdoor musical instruments for the mothers and children to spend time with their family in and engage in a fun and therapeutic activity in a more normalised environment.

Visiting a parent in prison should be made as positive an experience as possible, to support family relationships and children’s well being. However, funding for the project has proved difficult; with many fundraisers or sponsors reluctant to contribute to projects or facilities within a prison, failing to see the children affected by parental imprisonment. However, thanks to the foresight of the warden and Iowa State University Landscape Architecture Students, grants have been applied for and the project is starting to take shape!

The vision of the project team would be a whole collection of outdoor musical instruments and everyone really enjoyed the Harmony, Babel Drum and Cavatina which Robin and Larry took along with them on the day.

Percussion Play and ABCreative donated a MyTunes panel – a set of bespoke anodised aluminium chimes with notes arranged sequentially so that by simply striking the notes the “Star Spangled Banner” is played! This was the first piece to be donated to the project – hopefully the first of many.

We look forward to updating you on this fascinating project soon.

++++Read More on this fantastic project here - Iowa State University News Service ++++

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