Our Mission

Companions Journeying Together, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides a forum to personally impact the emotional, spiritual, and social lives of the incarcerated and their families. Our vision is for a society that lives by the principles of restorative justice.

Our Work

We seek out opportunities to reach incarcerated women and men through a variety of programs designed to build healthy relationships and foster positive communication. Those programs include the Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project and pen pal groups. Additional services we organize include special holiday communication projects, community education/training, and advocacy. We have a history of working successfully with officials from the Illinois Department of Corrections, as well as with individuals, churches, and civic/community organizations committed to serving imprisoned people and their families.

Board of Directors

Jana Minor (Chairperson & Founder): In 1976, Jana Minor began corresponding with one imprisoned man and heard a call to serve imprisoned people. She completed a bachelor’s degree which she had started twenty years earlier. Upon graduation she went to work for a prison ministry in Peoria which among other things operated a half- way house for men recently released from prison. In 1986, with the help of her sisters, she started Companions, Journeying Together, Inc., using funds left by their Aunt Mary. She helped to launch our very important project, Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project, which today serves parents and their children in several county jails and state prisons. More recently, she launched a pen pal group project. Members of these groups each have their own pen pal and meet regularly to share their experiences and gain support from each other. Jana is no longer the Executive Director of Companions, using her time instead to coordinate the pen pal group, the Christmas card and Mother’s Day projects. She continues her extensive correspondence with incarcerated people.
Monica Halloran
Paula Blew-Sims: After growing up in Missouri and Illinois, Paula married and expected to live a normal life, but her world “was upended by episodes of postpartum depression/psychosis and a prison sentence.” Freed after being incarcerated for 32 years, Paula has a unique knowledge of the courts and prison system and those affected by it. She hopes to be able to help others who are experiencing what she endured. She is an active advocate for incarcerated domestic violence survivors and for other issues affecting women.
Sr. Carolyn Croft, OP: Sr. Carolyn has served as a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa for over 57 years. For 40 years, she worked with children with developmental disabilities to children that are gifted. During those years, Sr. Carolyn taught graduate students at Dominican University. During her retirement years, she taught English to Vietnamese Sisters. Sr. Carolyn joined Companions Journeying Together as she has always observed the importance of parents in the life of their children. Aunt Mary Storybook project plays a significant role in the bonding of parent and child by reading books on tape.
Ashley Downing-Velasquez: Ashley is the Office Administrator in the First District, Chicago office, of the State Appellate Defender. She has a passion for criminal justice reform and ensuring incarcerated individuals are not forgotten behind bars. Ashley started volunteering with Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project in April 2017 and was Volunteer of the Year in 2019. She has seen how incarceration affects families and believes our Storybook program connects children with their loved ones in a very special way, while also promoting literacy. Through her career and volunteering experiences, she has shown a great dedication to individuals who are often misrepresented.
Dennis Kitchen (Vice-Chair): Dennis served as Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer for The AZEK Company. He lives in Lisle.
Michelle Rammien: Michele works in the accounting department of County Prestress LLC and is a long-time volunteer for Aunt Mary’s Storybook. She lives in Lisle.

Marv Baldwin (Executive Director & ex officio Board) Marv joined CJT in 2023 after working in the NFP and corporate sectors for 35 years. Marv is honored and humbled to be asked to serve in this important part time role as ED, Marv has been grateful to see the significant commitment of so many CJT volunteers who carry out the mission to serve and support people in custody and their families. Marv brings experiences in board and resource development, communications, staff and volunteer empowerment and equipping and working with teams to build systems for back office management. Marv’s focus is on kindness and compassion toward all people.

How We Began

Three sisters, Jana Minor, Mary Rammien, and Margaret Rudnik, stepped up to a unique challenge using funds inherited from their aunt, Mary E. Best. In 1986, Companions Journeying Together (CJT) began with the goal of reaching incarcerated people in Illinois and helping them build and maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones.

As the organization grew, programs grew to address the ever growing needs of the community including classes on topics such as forgiveness, anger management, and improving relationships. After a successful class in 1993, Jana saw first hand the difficulties of parenting while incarcerated. She launched Aunt Mary’s Storybook in memory of her aunt. Family programs grew as CJT developed specific initiatives around family reunification.

We continue to follow our founding principles, but grow as needs and wants by our community and partners are highlighted.

Our Partners

Our partners like our supporters help us achieve our goals. We rely on institutions to offer us access to the people we serve. You can help by connecting us with other institutions who want to partner with us! Click here.

Correctional institutions that have generously stepped up to partner with us:
Cook County Jail – Chicago, Illinois
DeKalb County Jail – Sycamore, Illinois
Kane County Jail – St. Charles, Illinois
Kendall County Jail – Yorkville, Illinois
Will County Jail – Joliet, Illinois
Centralia Correctional Center – Centralia, Illinois
Decatur Correctional Center – Decatur, Illinois
Hill Correctional Center – Galesburg, Illinois
Illinois River Correctional Center – Canton, Illinois
Joliet Treatment Center – Joliet, Illinois
Kewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center – Kewanee, Illinois
Lawrence Correctional Center – Sumner, Illinois
Menard Correctional Center – Chester, Illinois
Menard Correctional Center Medium Security Unit – Chester, Illinois
Sheridan Correctional Center – Sheridan, Illinois
Vandalia Correctional Center – Vandalia, Illinois