A show of support for inmates who will soon be released

Kristen Cucullu, left, and Courtney Jochens participate in a Zumba workout session Saturday.
Marc Lester
Shirley Mae Springer-Staten speaks to open the Success Inside and Out conference.
Marc Lester
A woman listens to speakers at the Success Inside and Out conference.
Marc Lester
Alaska First Lady Sandy Parnell speaks with inmates during a mentoring season Saturday.
Marc Lester

From Marc Lester in Anchorage -

Inmates at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center participated in the Success Inside and Out conference on Saturday, October 26, 2013. The annual event is for women who will be released from prison within the next year. 

The event is an outreach project of Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe in coordination with the Alaska Department of Corrections. "I think all of us who are judges, who see the same people come in and out and in again to our courtrooms, are concerned about the issue of recidivism," Fabe said. "The idea is to provide them support in as many ways as we can." Dozens of volunteers mentor women, providing advice and inspiration about achieving their goals after they leave prison.

Courtney Jochens, 22, was one of many who participated in a Zumba session in addition to discussions of addiction and treatment. Jochens said she was an A student and a successful swimmer in high school in Anchorage before alcohol and drugs changed her direction. Jochens said she was drinking black cherry vodka and using methamphetamine beginning at age 15. Now, sober since February, she's looking forward to being released from prison just before Christmas, and she says she's ready to live differently. "I don't talk to anybody," she said of former acquaintances. "I literally cut off everybody in my life that's holding me back."

Inmates heard speeches from former inmates, had one-on-one discussions with volunteer mentors and watched a fashion show in which models showed appropriate job interview attire. This was the conference's eighth year.

Jochens said the conference is changing her view that people don't want to help felons. "It gives me hope," she said.