Four months after he was released from prison, Steven Cave, 36, sat between the couple he calls his parents in Bloomsburg, Pa., and explained how their kindness showed him how to end a lifetime of chaos.
Steven Cave’s imprisonment at the start of his teens was the beginning of a 23-year odyssey of incarceration as a notoriously violent inmate that ended with a radical transformation. His life became so dark, it took only a small glimmer of light to guide him to a new consciousness.
One day in 2014, a guard told Cave he had a visitor. He had never been called for a visit before, so he thought it was a mistake or a ruse by the guards. Instead, it was Cindy Sanford, a retired nurse and volunteer with the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The group advocates for humane treatment of prisoners and trains volunteers to mentor people who are incarcerated or recently released.
Like much of their community, in bucolic farm country two hours’ drive from Philadelphia, Cindy and her husband Keith, a retired game warden, are politically conservative. Neither had any personal experience with the criminal justice system.
“I realized that I am who I am because of my environment, because of the love I was shown,” Cindy said. “I realized those things are not just nice things. They’re necessary for healthy human development.”
Cindy was once suspended from visiting an inmate who was heard referring to her as “mom” and who kept a photo of her and Keith in his cell. Prison officials are wary of volunteers “getting too close” to inmates, as are superiors at the Prison Society.
The Sanfords see that as indicative of an inherently flawed mentality that has created a fundamentally broken system. Cindy understands the fear, she said, but called the current system an extension of the abuse so many inmates suffered as children. “Why don’t you look at this and realize that the very things you are trying to prevent are the things that can heal these people?” she said.
From Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.