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.
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, provision of re-entry materials and referrals, community education/training, and advocacy. Our goal is to be a link between resources and needs. 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.
Companions Journeying Together works with the following institutions:
Cook County Jail – Chicago, Illinois
DeKalb County Jail – Sycamore, Illinois
Kane County Jail – St. Charles, Illinois
Kendall County Jail – Yorkville, Illinois
Randolph County Jail – Chester, Illinois
Will County Jail – Joliet, Illinois
Centralia Correctional Center – Centralia, 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
Menard Correctional Center – Chester, Illinois
Menard Correctional Center Medium Security Unit – Chester, Illinois
Sheridan Correctional Center – Sheridan, Illinois
Vandalia Correctional Center – Vandalia, Illinois
Western Illinois Correctional Center – Mt. Sterling, Illinois
Board of Directors
Marcy Darin (President)
Robert S. Alexander, JD (Vice President)
Patrick Griffin (Secretary)
Sr. Carolyn Croft, OP
Thomas Kucharski, PhD
Companions Journeying Together was founded in 1986 by three sisters, Jana Minor, Mary Rammien, and Margaret Rudnik using money they inherited from their aunt, Mary E. Best. The mission of Companions Journeying Together is to reach out to incarcerated women and men in Illinois through a variety of programs designed to build healthy relationships and foster positive communication between prisoners and their families.
In 2001, the non-profit organization changed their name from Companions, Inc. to Companions Journeying Together, Inc. Companions Journeying Together developed a variety of programs for incarcerated women and men ranging from multi-session classes to single day events. The organization’s first classes were designed to promote spiritual and emotional growth. These studies covered a range of topics from forgiveness and anger management to improving relationships. Jana Minor summarized the rationale for the class in the August 1987 issue of the JourneyNotes newsletter. “As we looked at the needs of companions especially those who are imprisoned, we decided that more work is being done in the awakening area (evangelization) than in the development process (discipleship). We, therefore, established our first program . . . which we hoped would challenge its participants to new growth and personal development . . .”
As Minor conducted the classes, she became aware of the difficulties children of incarcerated parents experienced and was inspired to broaden the organization’s programmatic efforts. In December 1993, Companions Journeying Together started its most successful program at the Cook County Jail. Aunt Mary’s Storybook, named after Mary E. Best, nurtures the parent-child relationship during separation. As part of the program, volunteers from Companions Journeying Together set up a temporary bookstore in the prison facility and record the incarcerated parent reading a book aloud. Packages with the book, the audio-tape, and other personal messages are then delivered to children living with relatives or foster families. Due to early efforts to publicize the program, the storybook project inspired identical programs at correctional facilities in twenty other states. Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project was incorporated into the MotherLove and FatherLove parenting classes at Dixon and Dwight Correctional Centers. Companions started teaching these parenting classes in 1992, which were previously offered by another organization.
In the early 2000s, Companions Journeying Together worked with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to develop family reunification programs at the new Decatur Correctional Center. Companions and the IDOC joined forces to establish P.A.C.T. (Parents And Children Together) which is described in a 2003 Contract of Services as a “specific solution designed to bridge the geographic distance and build and maintain family relationships between mothers incarcerated in Decatur and their children living in Chicago.” Other prisons in Illinois that benefited from Companions Journeying Together programs include Kankakee, Logan, and Sheridan.
In addition to their active programming efforts, Companions Journeying Together maintained a long-running newsletter titled JourneyNotes, which published stories of volunteers, incarcerated parents, program updates, inspiring pieces, and poetry. Almost all the issues of JourneyNotes included letters written from the Board of Directors, Jana Minor, and/or the Executive Director, and these letter inserts provided readers with program updates. These newsletters were distributed via mail to both incarcerated parents as well as supporters of Companions Journeying Together. Companions Journeying Together was also able to stay connected to friends and supporters through their fundraising events, which helped establish projects such as an annual Mother’s Day Project, Holiday Project, and Christmas Card Project.