Fosters Daily Democrat
Jail industry director made a difference
By Kimberley Haas
Monday, February 24, 2014
BARRINGTON — For Marilyn Allen, working as the jail industry director at Strafford County House of Corrections was more than just a job. It was a calling.
Allen, 70, of Newmarket, retired on Jan. 31 after 28 years of service to the county. From a second home in Barrington Monday, Allen said she witnessed a number of miracles during her employment.
“God sent me to a jail setting,” Allen said from the home she shares with her husband, Bert, who is 72.
Allen started a successful job training program at the jail with a small space and five months to make it work in the 1980s. Now, inmates leaving the corrections setting have skill sets that employers are looking for, references to land them full-time jobs and the attitude to make a life outside of crime work.
“We have had a 62 percent placement rate for the last 10 years,” Allen said, noting that a former inmate has to be employed for a month with a company before that figure is calculated.
The key is that while they are in jail, inmates obtain their G.E.D., equivalent to a high school diploma, if they do not have one and they build the confidence to know they can accomplish their goals, Allen said. They help with the laundry for the nursing home and the Humane Society. They learn how to hand solder to national and international standards. They develop high-end manufacturing skills that are in demand.
Allen said she often sees people who knew her from the inside and they recognize her in public. She is delighted to hear how they have “made it.”
“I always told them about God: He loves you. He is encouraging you to want more for yourself,” Allen said.
In addition to creating a program for the inmates, Allen started the Family Reception Center 11 years ago after her own son was incarcerated. It is a place where families can go before and after their scheduled visits to obtain information, get a small snack and feel the support of volunteers, many of who have visited their own family members in jail at some point.
“It is to provide a way of having a positive experience for the day while in a stressful situation,” Allen said.
The Family Reception Center is the only one in the state and one of a few in the nation. Allen hopes that people sign up to volunteer for the program because it is dependent upon their help. Anyone can participate, she said.
Allen, who is a member of Newmarket Community Church, which houses three religious dominations, said she misses her job, but is now reading “The Other Side of Chaos,” a book by Margaret Silf. In it, Silf addresses retirement, which Allen knows, is a major life change, especially when your work is your passion. In addition to that, she and Bert have been enjoying some time sledding with their grandchildren in Durham and “taking the time to do the little things.”
Allen was replaced as director by Rodney Smith, who has worked for Allen for six years.
To learn more about volunteering at the Family Reception Center, call 749-3289.