Mon Mar 7, 2016.
Lynn Powell has never had a relative in prison.
But she will tell you that she has 28,000 family members behind bars.
“I’m an old hippie and think of everyone as brothers and sisters,” she said. “Part of being a hippie is believing in helping other people.”
Powell is the executive director of OK-CURE, or Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, a nonprofit that aims to ensure that prisons are used only for those who absolutely must be incarcerated and that prisoners have all the resources they need to turn their lives around.
“I’ve always been for the underdogs, and it doesn’t get more underdog than an inmate’s family,” Powell said.
OK-CURE is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff.
Through her work, Powell serves as an advocate for both those in prison, and their families and loved ones on the outside.
“She explains the conditions they face and the best way to make the best of a bad situation,” said Bill Drew, a former inmate who is now a board member of OK-CURE. “She takes calls from families multiple times a week, at times past midnight, seven days a week. She has a calming effect on families.”
Powell started attending the group’s meetings in 1993 after a friend wound up in prison.
The first time Powell went to see her friend at the Jess Dunn Correctional Facility in Taft, she said, people were smoking marijuana in the visiting room.
“I was kind of floored, because he had drug and alcohol problems. I thought he might get some help for that,” she said. “The realization that it was easier to get drugs inside the prison system than it was on the streets didn’t work right with my mind.”
That led her to OK-CURE and her passion for prison reform.
“I was flabbergasted by what I didn’t know,” she said.
In 1995, she joined OK-CURE and has been working with the organization ever since.
The group has about 1,200 members throughout the state, consisting of prisoners, family members and even relatives of victims.
One of Powell’s biggest roles is working with families that are new to the prison system.
“Most of them come to me and tell me it doesn’t work the way they thought it worked. The families, more and more, are coming to me and saying ‘I don’t understand,’ ” she said.
She helps keep the families informed on what is going on within the prison system and what meetings they can attend, encouraging them to go to Board of Corrections and Pardon and Parole Board meetings so they have a better idea of how things work.
During most of the 21 years she has spent working with OK-CURE, Powell also had a full-time job, so she would use her vacation time to attend meetings and work with families.
“When I first started this, a lot of legislators I met told me they never heard from families. Part of that is the families are always terrified that there will be repercussions for the loved ones they have locked up,” she said. “It’s letting them know there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
OK-CURE recently restarted a support group for families to give them some idea of what the rules are at each prison and explain to them about why some of the rules are in place.
The No. 1 concern of those with a loved one going to prison is fear for their safety, Powell said.
“I had one woman whose son had done two or three tours of Afghanistan. He got sent to prison and ended up in Lawton, which is one of the more violent prisons. She said she was never as scared for him while he was in Afghanistan as she is for him being in a prison in Oklahoma,” she said. “You have all the gangs. The rules you have to abide by, and then you have the inmate code you have to watch for and learn. You learn not to trust anybody.”
Mike Averill 918-581-8489