At 6:15 sharp, a group of women gather around the dinner table and give thanks -- for the food, the clothes on their backs, and the woman who brought them there -- Sister Terry Dodge. They are mothers, some even grandmothers, but they have one thing in common: They are all convicted felons.
"When we get together, we are women who were hurt in the past. We just need that second chance in life, and Sister Terry does that for us," says Connie Barriga, one of the women living at Crossroads Inc., a residential program in Claremont, California, that offers support and counseling to women who have been incarcerated. Dodge is Crossroads' executive director.
Maria Shriver's Minerva Award for Crossroads
Today Maria Shriver announced the recipients of the 2010 Minerva Awards, which honor women's achievements, and Dodge was among the honorees.
"I think there's nothing as powerful as unconditional love. Anybody that's ever been the beneficiary of that can attest to that and sometimes they get it from a total stranger, as these women have gotten from Sister Terry Dodge," Shriver says.
In giving support and love, Dodge believes her program helps women regain a love for themselves. "One of the things we're able to do very well is love her until she's able to love herself," says Dodge.
Women stay at Crossroads for an average of six months, learning how to cook, how to use a computer, how to find a job. They also receive anger management counseling.
"I think Sister Dodge gives people the chance to re-create their lives. I think it's very important that she has boundaries, that she has rules and expectations. Like any good parent," says Shriver.
"I don't work with prisoners, I work with women. It's as simple as that. Yes, they have a history, yes, they've been convicted of felonies, but I work with women," Dodge explains.
She provides that second chance the women are eager for but rarely receive.
Fifty-seven percent of women in California prisons were physically or sexually abused before they went to prison, and 80 percent had a substance abuse problem, according to a report by the State of California Little Hoover Commission.
"I'm not expecting Girl Scouts to be arriving on the doorstep; there's definitely challenges, but If you come from an environment that has been so negative your whole life, if you've never seen the positive in life, how can you make another choice?"
For Pauline Bowen, who spent 27 years behind bars, Crossroads changed her life. "They had my bed made, they had toothpaste, brand new towels, everything you could want, and I started crying because it was a miracle."
Before she became a drug and alcohol counselor, Jackie White spent seven years in prison on various drug charges and says she wasn't prepared for the day she got out. "I didn't know how to work," she says. "I didn't know how to go about getting a job."
Sister Terry Dodge's Crossroads Gives Female Felons a Second Chance That Lasts
Most women end up returning to prison within three years, but Crossroads says that 86 percent of the women who participate in the program not only stay out of prison but are working and self-sufficient years later.
As Connie Barriga prepares dinner, she stares at the open door behind her. "I can walk out the door any time I want, but I choose. I choose to stay here, because I want to stay. I want that second chance."