Girl Scouts Meet Behind Bars
Say the phrase Girl Scout meeting, and you may think Merit badges, social service projects – cookies, perhaps?
Well, for a few girls in the Granite State, a scout meeting is one of the few times they get to see their mothers. The Goffstown womens’ prison is home to the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program.
Moms and daughters kibitz in the activities room as leaders for Girl Scout Troop 10065 set out worksheets for the day's meeting.
One mom combs fingers through her daughter 's hair as the little girl gestures wildly, and tells her mom what appears to be the best, story, ever.
The woman stares at her daughter, memorizing her. Before long, the meeting starts.
"On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law."
The moms and daughters share a nervous laugh and work hard to get back to the meeting which on this day includes activities about expressing feelings, being observant and learning the features of Girl Scout uniforms from around the world.
A big part of Girl Scouts Beyond Bars is doing things that allow girls and mothers to look past the setting, at least momentarily.
The program has been around nationally since 1992 and in NH since 2010.
Nicole Mullin is with the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
"We try and have a lot of activities that are Girl Scout related. But it allows them a way to interact with their mothers in a way that they really can't when they are just coming to visit."
Another goal, says Mullin, is for the girls to be with other girls who know what it's like to have a mother in prison.
"It's an incredibly small peer group, and it gives them a place where they don't have to worry where they have a parent that's behind bars. So it offers them peers they can talk to about anything, because they understand what they are going through which a normal kid probably doesn't."
Twelve-year-old Alivia Bowen says that's one of the hard parts of her life, and the best parts of being a member of The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars troop.
"It's a great support group and you make friends you wouldn't ordinarily meet. And you wouldn't know about. And it's hard because as the women are getting out, the girls are getting out too. So you lose those friends, but then you get to make new friends."
For two years, Bowen has been making the drive from Boscawen where she lives with her guardian Kim Varney.
Bowen's mother Holly Wheatley is serving a minimum of seven years at the state prison for embezzlement.
"We’ve always been super close and we both know that this is time we get to spend together and with other girls and moms. And it's just a fun time that we have with each other. And I think it's a good learning process for both of us, so we both get equal amounts of child and mom time. And we both know what's going on in each other's lives and stuff."
Organizers say that’s precisely the goal. But, they also say they try to keep the meetings light and busy so there's no time to talk about things that might hurt the girls.
"The best part so far is being with my mom. Hanging with my mom. That's my favorite part about it."
Nine-year-old Jade LeBlanc's mother Nicole LeBlanc murdered ex-boyfriend Richard Mannion Jr. in 2011, by shooting him in the head as he slept.
LeBlanc is serving 35 years to life.
"I don’t want her to be sitting at home and distraught and crying about me not being there and stuff. I want her to be okay. I want her to be that confident, beautiful little girl that I know she is."
The end of the meeting comes. The group holds hands and sings one last song. Afterwards, the moms and daughters hold each other tight one more time and promise to keep in touch.