Peggy Harrell, Director of Marin County’s Prisoner Services, was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ twenty-two years ago. Prisoners in jail and at San Quentin Prison have come to depend on her after the more than two decades she has spent working among them.
When Peggy started working in the jail, there were very few rehabilitation services. As she says, “In the beginning I carried a cardboard box with pencils, paper and magazines up and down the tiers.” Today, seventeen outside agencies provide programs for prisoners. Many of these are considered models. In fact, personnel from other sheriff’s departments, seeking to begin rehabilitation programs of their own, often visit to see how Marin’s successful programs work.
The jail’s drug and alcohol recovery programs have transformed the lives of countless inmates. These programs, administered by Bay Area Community Resources, stress that the person is responsible for his own recovery.
Other programs Peggy supervised emphasize the practical skills required for successful rehabilitation. These programs include English as a Second Language, GED preparation and exam, job search techniques, AIDS education, breast cancer detection workshops, parenting skills and spiritual direction by various faiths.
The Mothers and Fathers program directed by Marin Literacy emphasizes positive parenting by teaching prisoners the importance of reading to their children. After completing an eight-week class, prisoners pick two books to be sent home to their child. They read one of the books onto tape, so the child can hear the absent parent’s voice over and over again.
San Quentin inmates also receive Peggy’s care and attention. She visits Death Row weekly and has served as a Spiritual Advisor at the executions of three men. Peggy considers it a great privilege to work among the incarcerated in Marin County.