Dozens of volunteers who bring religious services, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and anger management sessions to inmates at the Morris County Correctional Facility were thanked at a festive barbecue outside the facility on Saturday.
Sheriff James M. Gannon told the crowd feasting on kielbasa, hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, pork, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob that the Correctional Facility’s exceptional management is enhanced by the volunteers who strive to enrich the lives of inmates through educational, spiritual, religious and self-awareness programs.
“I think it’s so important what you do. You have my 110 percent commitment,” Sheriff Gannon said.
He noted that more than 50 percent of the Correctional Facility inmate population is addicted and that inmates, no matter what their faith, have the absolute right to worship. Volunteers from Catholic, Christian, Baptist, Islamic, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faiths arrange for services at the Correctional Facility while others donate their time to help inmates address substance abuse disorders and anger management issues.
Special recognition was given to 29-year Catholic worship volunteer Elizabeth Gilfillan, a retired registered nurse who began offering her time in 1990, when the 1930’s-era Correctional Facility was located in Morristown. A new state-of-the-art facility opened in May 2000 on John Street in Morris Township.
Mrs. Gilfillan said she became interested in prisoner welfare when she was in nursing school in her early twenties and spent a month in a tuberculosis ward in Maryland. That concern translated later in her life to becoming a volunteer at the Morris County Correctional Facility, a position from which she just retired.
“I particularly, over the years, was concerned with the women inmates. There but for the grace of God, I thought, and I wondered what got them in their predicaments. They’re human beings who got themselves into bad situations,” Mrs. Gilfillan said.
“We can never repay you,” Sheriff Gannon told Mrs. Gilfillan.
“Please remember that you made a difference in so many lives. And that’s inclusive of the staff. You made people better. Not only the inmates but the people on staff who have a tough job,” Sheriff Gannon said.
The barbecue, held on a sun-filled day under tents, was primarily arranged by Correctional Facility Sergeant Andrew Bileci and Substance Abuse Counselor Ken Palmisano. Along with Sheriff Gannon, Correctional Facility Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson, Warden Chris Klein, Captains Robert McCaffrey and James Janzen, Corporal Deanna Cucci and other staff mingled with the volunteers.
Corporal Cucci, who oversees the application process for volunteers, estimated there are 90 to 100 people who donate their time to the Correctional Facility.
“It’s a wonderful privilege to be here,” said Corey Rogers, who is part of a congregation of Jehovah Witness worshippers who hold Sunday services and Bible study classes at the Correctional Facility.
Bahadir Ekinci, of the North East Islamic Community Center, also leads classes at the Facility, and said giving is an intrinsic part of his faith.
“I have knowledge, time and I want to give back. In Islam, you have to give back your wealth and for me, my wealth is in time,” he said.
Volunteers from JBWS, the Center for Addiction Recovery, Education & Success (CARES), and Hope House, which ministers to people with AIDS and the HIV virus, were at the barbecue, some with their children in tow. Father Owen Moran, a Catholic chaplain at the Correctional Facility, was at the event with many of his fellow volunteers.
“I always say you meet the nicest people in prison – they just need to change their ways,” Father Moran said.
Correctional Facility Substance Abuse Counselor Mike Dunleavy runs the Hope Wing where inmates with substance use disorders specifically tackle their inner turmoil by learning coping skills for their addictions and relationship renewal with their families.
“The volunteers bring many eclectic approaches, a different dynamic to the Correctional Facility. They’re the heart and soul of it,” said Counselor Dunleavy.