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Matthew House gives families of prisoners help and hope

MONROE — When a person commits a crime, our thoughts typically go out to the victims. While this response is both logical and understandable, we tend to forget, whether deliberately or otherwise, about the criminal’s family.
These forgotten folks, most of whom being women and
children, are the reason Matthew House created its support network in Monroe.
The nonprofit provides food, transportation and overnight accommodation to the families of the almost 17,000 people incarcerated statewide. The organization is located just down the street from the Monroe Correctional Complex, but it provides van transportation services to all the other correctional facilities around the state on a weekly schedule as well.
Matthew House was founded in 1980 by the Rev. Richard Stohr while he was a chaplain at the Monroe prison, and today supports thousands of families each year.
In 2016 alone, this small, three-bedroom house hosted 1,679 individuals overnight, and helped many hundreds more with food or counseling services.
The Rev. Linda Paz took up running Matthew House in 2002 to continue serving the need.
It is easy to cast off these efforts as unnecessary, or convince oneself that a criminal’s family is somehow an accessory to the crime or partially responsible for the criminal’s upbringing and deserves punishment as well. It’s something that happens too quickly.
Paz said that “‘He did his crime, so he deserves his time’” is a common attitude, “but we lump the whole family in that.”
There are some cases where that may be true of spouses, but very rarely, if ever, would that be true of children. Despite this, there exists an undeniable stigma around the families of criminals.
Imagine for a minute the shame and embarrassment
an innocent family endures when their loved one is in prison. How do you answer questions about the whereabouts of your
husband or father? Can you afford to live in the same area if he’s gone? Do the children need to move schools for fear of being bullied? As if that wasn’t enough to endure, a family’s income could be cut in half, or cut off completely, after a breadwinner is put behind bars.
It’s important to realize that Matthew House doesn’t just benefit families. Places like Matthew House can help reduce recidivism.
A study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 2011 found that prisoners who received at least one visit during their time behind bars were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony. Similarly, those in prison were 25 percent less likely to find themselves incarcerated again on a technical parole violation. A series of previous studies have also shown similar results.
“It blows me out of the water that they don’t have Matthew House, or something like Matthew House, everywhere,” Paz said.
Despite the helpful and necessary services that Matthew House provides, money is always tight, supplies need replenishing, and the house always needs repairs. Donations aren’t just welcome, they are the lifeblood of an organization that supports such a vast number of families.
“People, generally, do not want to support prison stuff,” said Paz, who has spent decades working for charitable organizations and community support services, “this has been the hardest place for me, in my life, to raise funds for.”
Toilet paper, kids’ snacks, and cleaning supplies are always priorities, but any sort of food or clothing is appreciated, as are financial contributions.

How to donate
Drop physical donations at 16207 177th Ave. SE in Monroe or mail checks to P.O. Box 201, Monroe, WA 98272.
Volunteers can offer their time or skilled services for various house maintenance tasks by simply emailing Matthew House through its website, www.matthewhousemonroe.org, or by calling 360-794-8720.
The organization is a registered nonprofit.

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