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.
Board of Directors
Marcy Darin (President): Marcy began her involvement with Companions as a volunteer with Aunt Mary’s Storybook, helping women in the Cook County Jail select a book for their child and record the story. It was a humbling experience – as a mom, Marcy had read many of the same books to her own children. With this one small act, we could help parents reconnect with their son or daughter in a meaningful way – through books. In professional life, Marcy has worked with nonprofits as a fundraiser and grant writer, most recently for AMITA Health. Marcy feels that it is a great joy to transfer these same skills to Companions to further the organization’s mission.
Robert S. Alexander, JD (Vice President)
Patrick Griffin (Secretary): Patrick Griffin is a foundation executive, writer, and policy analyst in the justice field. He is a Senior Program Officer with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, IL, where he works to promote criminal justice reform and alternatives to incarceration. He joined the Companions board out of a desire to recognize and support the humanity and potential of people behind bars. In addition to his service on the Companions board, he sits on the statewide Board of Education for youth in the custody of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, teaches part-time at Loyola University-Chicago, and regularly volunteers with Chicago-area charities, including Working Bikes and Open Books as well as the Aunt Mary’s Storybook program at Cook County Jail. He has a law degree from the Harvard Law School and a Bachelors in English from the University of Michigan.
Sr. Carolyn Croft, OP: I had 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.
Thomas Kucharski, PhD: It has been my pleasure to serve Companions as a volunteer and as a board member. My interest in Literacy as an empowering tool comes from my 35 years in education, including a stint as a Literacy Coordinator for a K-12 District. I truly believe that, for adults and children, the more people read, the better at it they become and the more successful they will be. My interest in prison reform has also emerged from my work. As a former Social Studies teacher, I have taught directly from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and lobbied for prison reform to emerge from our state Capitol. I have also worked with students and teachers to create partnerships throughout our metropolitan area, especially between suburban and urban schools, in order to support equity in school funding. Finally, I have learned so much from working with organizations that, like Companions, have partnered with communities that I would not normally meet, such as the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education, the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown, and the Onward House tutoring organization.
Jana Minor (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.
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 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
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
Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Pekin – Pekin, Illinois