Linda Dolan is rare among Dominican alumna, or any alumni for that matter.
She freely volunteers to go to prison. Not just any prison. San Quentin State Prison.
Since June of 2011 Dolan has participated in co-facilitating a workshop for TRUST – Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Tools – inside the walls of San Quentin. Dolan co-facilitates, along with one of the inmates, the “Sex, Gender and Relationships” workshop, one in a series of TRUST workshops that can last 6-8 months. When one group of inmates graduates from the series of workshops, another group cycles in. TRUST currently hosts 32 men in their group.
With an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Dominican, she is armed to sit in a circle with inmates and help support them in turning their lives around.
Is she crazy?
“It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing. I’m not sure how to answer that,” Dolan says. “Our current prison system is a mess and I think that we need to focus more on rehabilitation. Warehousing these men is not the right thing to do. We have a very high recidivism rate and if we want to lower that rate these guys need the opportunity to learn, like anyone else that’s made a mistake, how to behave differently and actually be a different person in the world. Rehabilitation programs are one way that the men can learn, and I’m happy to participate in that effort.”
The daughter of a San Francisco police officer and, for 28 years, a law firm employee, Dolan never figured she would work with men who are incarcerated. Then, two years ago, she read a magazine article about then 75-year-old Kathleen Jackson, a grandmother and former teacher and administrator, who was working inside San Quentin with the TRUST program.
Inspired, Dolan contacted Jackson, met her, and, beginning in June of 2011, followed her footsteps as a volunteer to serve San Quentin.
“It’s an incredible experience,” Dolan says. “Once I sat in with the group and started to listen to the men talk about their lives, I learned that they are smart and articulate. They are really trying to learn -- with all their heart and soul.”
Dolan completed her undergraduate degree at Dominican, went on to complete one semester in Dominican’s masters Counseling Psychology program, and is now pursuing her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at The Wright Institute in Berkeley. She has completed training to join, if time allows, San Quentin’s VOEG program – Victim Offender Education Group. Organized by another Dominican graduate, Rochelle Edwards, VOEG includes inmates who admit their guilt, are willing to process circumstances that led to committing their crime, and confront and understand the repercussions it had on the victim(s) and their families.
Though Dolan admits that she never envisioned herself in her current volunteer position at San Quentin, Dominican helped her prepare for it.
“The best thing that my Dominican education did for me was that it opened my mind to possibilities,” she says. “It helped me to trust my own intuition. I had been in a mode of doing what I needed to do to survive for a long time … My experience at Dominican helped me get out of my law firm thinking and transfer into something broader and more interesting.
“Now I’m just thinking that everything I do is a stepping stone towards whatever opportunity presents itself next.”