DOC Returned Citizen Group Provides "Hope Inside the Walls" to Incarcerated People

Department of Corrections
  • Carolynn Stocker
  • February 12 2024
Woman talks to group

When the metal doors at Montana State Prison slide closed, it’s a daunting experience for anyone visiting the facility. Just imagine how it would feel if you were a former inmate returning to the facility where you spent years of your life behind bars.

That’s exactly what members of the Citizen’s Advisory Council to the Montana Department of Corrections (CAC) will be doing on Friday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. — except they aren’t returning because of any wrongdoing. Instead, they will be there to talk to inmates about their success in the community since their release and provide “Hope Inside the Walls.”

“If we can help give people some hope, something to latch onto, something to see themselves in a different light, then I think we’ll be doing something positive,” said CAC member Bryan German.

The CAC is comprised of 21 successful, returned citizens who have been meeting since last summer. The focus of the group continues to morph but CAC members agree that finding hope was a key factor in their success. Their first initiative — Hope Inside the Walls — involves visiting inmates in Montana prisons and sharing their stories. So far, the group has presented to more than 200 inmates at MSP and Montana Women’s Prison.

“I am filled with inspiration from their testimonies and also I was able to see that there is still a life of possibility and opportunity out there for me as a felon,” said one attendee from MSP.

In addition, members of the group provide input to department working groups examining various subjects including supervision conditions and more.

“I wanted to get a group of people together who have been in the criminal justice system and have persevered,” Gootkin said. “We want this group in our facilities meeting offenders and providing real-life feedback to our executive team on current and new programs. The CAC members have a collective 200 years of experience in the judicial system, and more than 240 years of success after the judicial system.”