POCATELLO, Idaho — Women in an Idaho state prison have been given the chance to help others who are in a very different place — a spiritual one.
For almost 20 years, the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center has provided some of its inmates with the opportunity to index records in conjunction with the family history program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS Church established the Kinport Branch at the women’s correctional center almost as soon as the facility was built. The branch is a part of the Pocatello Idaho Stake and church services are held weekly in a room designated as “the chapel.”
Linda Bailey, a volunteer who now heads the indexing project, said the program was established about a year after the Kinport Branch was opened.
“Part of the purpose of establishing a branch there was to get as many resources as possible to help the (women) in their reform,” Bailey said.
She has been volunteering with the program for the past 18 years and said it has been a joy to meet all of the different women and get to know them.
“It’s being able to see the change that comes about when they do this work,” she said.
One woman in the facility who has participated in the indexing program told another volunteer, Harold Higgins, that she was getting out of prison soon. Higgins told her she could convert her family search account to an LDS account to continue indexing at home. The woman said she’d have to join the LDS Church first. Though she had grown up in a Mormon family, she had never been baptized, but she told Higgins she intended to change that once she was off probation.
Because the women in the facility aren’t allowed access to the Internet, Bailey and the other volunteers download batches of records themselves and then bring the laptops to the facility for the women to work on them throughout the week.
The FamilySearch indexing program takes images of handwritten records, including census, marriage, birth, death and military records from many countries, and volunteers transcribe names and other requested vital information to help create a digital searchable index for the records.
Because of how quickly these women do the work, Bailey said downloading batches of records for them every week can take up to eight hours.
The women in the Idaho facility indexed almost 30,000 names in the month of June alone. As of the end of June they had indexed almost 70,000 names this year. Bailey said there was one woman who by herself indexed almost 10,000 records in a month.
“And they don’t have much time to do it,” she added.
Bailey and the other volunteers come in once a week for a few hours, and the women work on their batches during the week when they have time.
“It’s a very peaceful, consecrated place,” Bailey said of the room reserved for their work. “It’s a place they can come in and be treated like human beings.”
Bailey said she can see a difference after these women spend some time indexing.
“It seems like they come out of themselves when they’re with us,” she said. “They can laugh and have a good time and kind of experience a little bit of not being in prison for two hours.”
When she hears of how these women have been raised and brought up, Bailey said it isn’t hard to understand why they are the way they are. She said it doesn’t matter to her why these women are in prison, and she never asks.
The indexing program is important because it gives these women an opportunity to give back, Bailey said.
“They’re doing something for someone else that no one else can do,” she said. “They are helping these families do the research to find these people. It gives them a sense of having really accomplished something when they’re in here.”
Bailey said she has seen how the indexing program has empowered these women and given them a sense of self worth.
“Some of those (women) really have sunshine in their souls,” she said, “but you don’t see it until you get to know them. They’re good people inside, they’ve just made some mistakes.”
Higgins got involved with the project when the prison first opened. He runs a computer repair and installation business out of his home and donated some his used computers to the cause. When the original director, Claude Roberts, passed away, Higgins began helping Bailey by going to the facility with her on Tuesday nights.
He pointed out the women have to meet certain requirements to be allowed the opportunity to index.
Higgins said this program benefits the women because it invites the spirit into their lives. It benefits him as well.
“It gives me an opportunity to serve,” Higgins said. “I probably learn as much as they do.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company