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Family fun day buoys inmates

Sun., Sept. 26, 2004

Yolanda Smith says she has turned her life around in the six years she has spent in prison.

Her motivation to better herself – her two children – were at Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake on Saturday for the prison’s family fun day.

“It’s a brand new start,” said Smith, as “I love my babies” was painted onto her face. “This is helping us become a family. They have to transition to being a family again.”

Pine Lodge, which switched from coed to an all-women’s minimum security prison in July, has 270 inmates. On Saturday, 39 spent three hours with their children and other family members, painting T-shirts, playing volleyball, petting goats, getting their faces painted and, perhaps most importantly, just catching up.

“It is my belief that strong family units are the backbone of society,” said Capt. Bill McDonell, who is in charge of the prison’s custody guards. “If we can do anything to help that, we’re probably going to help society in general.”

Saturday’s event was the first family event since Pine Lodge became an all-women’s prison. McDonell said he hopes Pine Lodge will hold similar get-togethers three or four times a year. The cost of the day was covered by proceeds from inmates’ collect calls.

Watching her son Tyshawn Smith, 6, swing a stocky plastic baseball bat, Smith displayed pride in her kids.

“You’re going to play for the Mariners,” she said.

The day was even more special for Smith and her children because it was her daughter Dalana Smith’s birthday.

“Last night I was so excited,” said Dalana, who had a Rugrat painted on her face.

Smith, who is from Tacoma and is serving a 10-year, drug-related sentence, was one of two inmates who agreed to speak to the media about the day.

Because of the distance between Tacoma and Medical Lake, Smith doesn’t often get a chance to see her children. Smith hadn’t seen her son for about two years.

“They see the change,” said Smith, who will be eligible for work release in about eight months. “They don’t see that old person or drug addict. They’re just ready to have fun and be a family again.”

Seeing her kids helps her stay out of trouble at Pine Lodge, Smith said.

“This is what gets me going,” Smith said. “It gives me more inspiration to be home.”


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