Rhode Island Department of Corrections will hold its 16th annual Volunteer Appreciation and Recognition Ceremony on Tuesday, October 20th, beginning at 4 p.m. in the 2nd floor Conference Room of the main administration building, located at 40 Howard Ave., Cranston. During the ceremony, the 12th annual Russell E. Dixon Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented to Mary Lhowe of Warwick, R.I., program manager of the Books Beyond Program. The guest speaker for the event will be Channel 12 anchor Mike Montecalvo, a Woonsocket native and active supporter of local charities.
Since 2004, Ms. Lhowe has been the volunteer program manager of the ACI’s Books Beyond Program, overseeing a small but dedicated corps of volunteers who have made it possible for 100 inmates to select and record on audio cassettes up to three books for each of their children. Once recorded, the books and tapes are mailed to the children at their homes.
In his nomination form, Professional Services Coordinator for Institutional Programs Ken Findlay wrote, “Under Mary’s committed and dedicated leadership, Books Beyond has grown from a program that first caused unease and suspicion amongst facility staff to one which is now considered an integral part of the RIDOC’s rehabilitative programming efforts.”
Three-quarters of women and half of men imprisoned in Rhode Island report having one or more children. Nearly all of these offenders will eventually be released to their communities and families. Books Beyond provides an important link between incarcerated parents and children, allowing both to have the important experience of sharing a story. The program fosters an essential bond, especially for children too young to visit the ACI often or to have meaningful phone conversations. Lhowe herself says of the program, “Inmates have futures in and outside of prison, and offering them some assistance and hope is making all of us stronger and better people.”
One inmate who participated in the program, Alvin, shared with Ms. Lhowe the enthusiastic response he got from his kids when he called home after they had received the books and tapes. He told her that prior to coming to prison, he didn’t read much and that no one ever read to him as a child. He hopes his daughters will come to love books because they can “take you to far-away places.” He believes that he would have been less likely to get into trouble and wind up in prison if he’d been reading more books as a kid. He hopes to be able to read these same books to his children in person someday.
In the spring of 2008, articles about the Books Beyond program appeared in the Providence Journal and the online newsletter corrections.com.
Ms. Lhowe is employed by visitnewengland.com, an online guide to travel and tourism in New England owned by her husband, Jonathan Lhowe. She has spent most of her career as a reporter and editor for various newspapers. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism from San Francisco State University and Columbia School of Journalism respectively. She lives in Warwick with her husband. They have two grown sons.
Guest speaker Mike Montecalvo has received numerous community service and Associated Press awards, including Meeting Street School’s “Unsung Heroes Award.” He has helped raise millions of dollars for local charities, including Prevent Child Abuse Rhode Island, the Alzheimer’s Association of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the Diabetes Foundation of Rhode Island, the MS Society, and the March of Dimes. He is an adjunct professor at Bryant University and is technical advisor to the college radio station. He is married and has two daughters.
Over 300 men and women selflessly give of their time and talents to the RIDOC and its 20 or so volunteer-run institutional programs. “The RIDOC is blessed to have a large cadre of volunteers who give selflessly of their time and talents,” notes Corrections Director A.T. Wall II. “Mary Lhowe is an example of someone who carves time out her busy schedule to make life better for others. Especially during these challenging economic times, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to these men and women who have a significant impact on the lives of our inmates, many of whom have had very few positive role models.”
The Russell E. Dixon Award is presented each year to an individual who represents “the spirit of volunteerism” in memory of Russell E. Dixon, a man who was not only a respected employee but also an active volunteer within the Department.
Members of the press who would like to attend should contact Tracey E. Zeckhausen, Chief of Information and Public Relations, at (401) 462-2609.