Pillows for Prisoners

Who We Are & What We're About

What is Pillows for Prisoners?

Pillows for Prisoners is an initiative to get pillows to female inmates in the Salt Lake County Jail for the holidays.  


Pillows are $13 in the jail for prisoners, but  will be purchased by the jail directly through commissary for $11 a piece and distributed during the holidays.


Donations can be made by clicking the "I WANT TO HELP" button above, or you can visit  our YouCaring page www.YouCaring.com/PillowsforPrisoners

Where did this idea come from?

The idea for the program came to us, the Suite sisters (Cassandra Suite-Smith & Sabrena Suite-Mangum) after our sister had been incarcerated for more than a week and was sleeping without a pillow.    


While our sister has spent years under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and even been through rehab once already, it was not until recently we discovered she was the victim of sexual assault when she was drugged at a party her freshman year of college -- just 17 years old, while she was on scholarship playing volleyball at a small STEM university in Arizona.   


The college incident changed the direction of her life and our family’s – but by the time we found out what had happened, years of shaming, victim blaming and abuse had already occurred. She has been trying to self-medicate ever since. Prior to her incarceration, we had never experienced having a loved-one in jail. We did not realize that inmates did not get pillows. 


We learned that inmates need money to purchase the most basic comforts—like a pillow or hair ties—as inmates are given scrubs to wear, a place to sleep, a bar of soap and not much else.  

Why pillows?

We chose providing pillows because it was the first thing our sister asked for—well, a pillow and a hair tie. We learned she had traded food (which apparently is a no-no) to get a hair tie; but the $13 cost for a pillow was one of the most expensive purchases you could make through commissary.   


Unlike blankets or scrubs, pillows cannot be washed and reassigned to another inmate. They are something that most of us take for granted, but are also something that is heavily desired but can take a while to get. As we note above, because of how commissary is set up, it can take a week or more for prisoners to get access to a host of things we take for granted.   


Our hope is that even if these women are spending Christmas in jail –regardless of when they were admitted—they would have access to a pillow. And with that gift, we hope come some small reassurance that someone is thinking of them, with hopes and prayers for a better life as they lay their head down to rest during a special, but often particularly difficult time of year.  


Please donate at www.youcaring.com/pillowsforprisoners

FAQs

Why Pillows?

As we mention above, we chose providing pillows because it was the first thing our sister asked for when we visited her at jail. 


Even if an inmate has the resources to purchase a pillow, the process can take days to weeks to get through commissary. 


But the reality is that most female inmates don't have pillows. Celeste shared with us, that while she was in jail (she's currently in rehab), in her Pod of about 60 women, only five or six actually had pillows. 


Why only the women?

Great question! If it were possible, we’d outfit every inmate we could with a pillow – but the truth is, we’re brand new to this sort of endeavor! We’ve dabbled in community service and outreach in plenty of other spaces, but gifts to inmates is way outside our typical bailiwick. So we had to start somewhere. 

      

It’s worth noting that although the majority of inmates across the prison and jail system are male, females are the fastest growing segment of the population for incarcerations. The ACLU notes that nationally, there are more than eight times as many women incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails as there were in 1980, increasing from 12,300 in 1980 to more than 182,000 by 2002.       


Because the majority of inmates are male, a vast number of programs are geared towards males. For example, the Salt Lake County Jail has an incredible garden the men can work in – but that service opportunity is not available to female inmates at this time. 

      

Our introduction to the jail system is limited at best, but we knew we wanted to do something; and our experience began with one female inmate, our sister– so that’s where we started.  

Why would I want to help someone who committed a crime?

The Prison Policy Initiative recently noted that 60% of women sitting in jail have not been convicted of a crime. 


Moreover, we believe that every person is entitled to the basic fundamental right of sleep – yes, even those who have committed crimes. Through our experience, especially as we gain more insight into who these women are, it became more apparent that the majority of the females incarcerated were victims of circumstance.       


In Utah 57% women in state prisons reported that they were physically and/or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. The overwhelming majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence.

       

In a 2004 Utah Department of Corrections Report[1] surveying female prison inmates:       


  • More than 60% of respondents had admitted to being hit, attacked or beaten when they were under the age of 18.    
  • 28% of the victims were beaten on two or more separate occasions, with nearly 70% having been abused on 10 or more occasions. 
  • A staggering, 73% of the incidences went unreported to authorities. 60% of respondents reported that at least one of their parents had abused drugs or alcohol. 
  • Nearly 40% had a parent who had been to jail or prison.   
  • Victims were attacked by an actual family member 44% of the time, by a person known to them 44% of the time, and by a stranger in only about 12% of the cases.


What this tells us is that while yes, these women are not operating in a vacuum—the majority started out with not only less opportunities and less support to succeed, but were dealt the awful hand of abuse and victimization before they were even adults.       



How does it work?

Because of the very specific restrictions on what comes in and out of the jail, collections received are turned over to the Salt Lake County Council, and earmarked for the jail. Salt Lake Metro Jail places a mass order for pillows, and then will distribute to inmates for the holidays. 


Our current plans are to do a mass "gift" for Christmas (through New Years) and then on Mother's Day. 

I already donate to other charities, why should I support inmates instead?

We get it! People are getting “Giving Fatigue.” There are so many places and causes that need support right now. We are not asking you to donate to Pillows for Prisoners instead of the current charities you are supporting; we are asking you to donate in addition to the current charities you are supporting.    For the cost of less than three venti caramel macchiatos in a year, you could purchase a pillow for a woman who may find herself in jail for the first time in her life—scared, alone and unsure of the future.   


Seriously, just $11 can help an inmate have a better night’s rest. (The jail will be purchasing the pillows directly through their commissary provider, so they won’t include the extra $2 mark-up that prisoners pay.)

    

In addition to the sobering statistics we mentioned above, the UCD’s Report also shed light on the horrible reality of rape and sexual assault associated with female inmates:    


  • When questioned specifically about the crime of rape (defined as forced or attempted forced sexual intercourse) 44% of the survey respondents reported victimization prior to the age of 18, and of those victims of rape, more than 80% did not report the incident/s to police.    
  • 43% of the victims reported two or more attacks, while nearly 30% reported 10 or more attacks. The victims declined to report primarily because they were afraid of the offender or the offender was a friend or family member. In 15% of the cases, the victims did not feel that the police could do anything to help.    
  • 42% of the survey respondents reported experiencing a rape or attempted rape since the age of 18. This occurred on two or more separate occasions for 46% of the victims, and on ten or more occasions for more than 26% of the victims. The victim knew their attacker, 71% of the time.    


Clearly, these are women who have already suffered immeasurably before they even make their way into the system.    

Who are the Suite Sisters?

We would be the first to admit we come from a life of privilege. We primarily grew up on the east side of Salt Lake City, are both college graduates, and for the most part have lived a pretty idyllic life with an incredible support system of family, teachers and friends who did everything they could to help us succeed.    


Through the experience of witnessing first-hand what it was like having our sister in jail, our eyes have been opened to a forgotten public in our very own community.    


As we learned from our parents, church leaders and school teachers, we strive to be a force for good in the community – to help support those who are less fortunate and to treat each every person on the planet as a child of God.    


Cassandra is a tenacious and goal-oriented wife and mother of three, who works as fitness instructor helping to empower others to realize their health and wellness dreams through goal setting, action and perseverance.    


Sabrena is a public relations consultant trying to raise two children to think outside the box and help get her friends and family (including her patient and supportive husband) as excited as she is about social justice and environmental issues. Through this experience, Sabrena also began volunteering at the jail, teaching yoga to female inmates.   

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