RIDOC Media Relations
CRANSTON, R.I. – June 25, 2007 – A University of Rhode Island nursing professor has been named the 10th Russell E. Dixon Volunteer of the Year by the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.
Kingston resident Ginette Ferszt, a volunteer in the women’s facilities who has dedicated countless hours to counseling women on issues related to grief and pregnancy in prison, was honored June 27 during ceremonies at the George C. Arnold Conference Center.
An associate professor and coordinator of the graduate program in psychiatric mental health nursing at the University of Rhode Island, Ferszt began volunteering at the Department of Corrections in 1998 when then Warden Roberta Richman recognized the need for additional support for women prisoners who had recently experienced the death of a loved one. Ferszt was invited to bring her experience as a bereavement therapist to the female prison population and was so compelled and transformed by what she learned that she never left.
Ferszt was struck by the lack of research or literature on grieving in prison and soon began placing her graduate students at the correctional facilities as volunteers. She also began conducting studies on how women in prison experience grief. She has come to the women’s facilities on an almost weekly basis to co-facilitate support groups for grieving – and, more recently – pregnant women.
“It is difficult to put into words the impact this experience has had on me personally,” Ferszt notes. “This sounds like a cliché, but my life has been enriched and challenged. My own appreciation for the human condition, the blessings and opportunities in my own life, have been deepened. I am continually struck by the many people I encounter – CO’s, inmates, medical and nursing staff, chaplains, wardens, and volunteers – who are truly committed to making a difference or contributing in some small way to others.”
Ferszt credits her volunteer work with corrections as the single greatest influence on the direction of her career over the past nine years. She and a colleague received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to put together When Death Enters Your Life: A Grief Pamphlet for Persons in Prisons and Jails, available on the website of the National Prison Hospice Association and The Grace Project. She and another colleague have co-facilitated an education/support group for pregnant women in prison which is now offered in both of the women’s prisons and has been well received. A grant from the Council for Research at URI enabled her to co-author educational materials for pregnant and post-partum women in prison which is available on the International Association of Forensic Nurses website.
Carole Dwyer, warden of the women’s facilities, nominated Ferszt for this year’s award. In her nomination, Warden Dwyer wrote, “Ginette is a kind and compassionate person who firmly believes that the research and programming she provides positively effects the participants in their everyday lives.”
Ferszt has been at URI for 14 years, serving as associate professor for the past four. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Skvode, Skvode, Sweden. She has received numerous research awards from the Nursing Foundation of Rhode Island and was named Academic Educator of the Year by the Rhode Island State Nurses Association. She has published dozens of book chapters and journal articles. Ferszt holds a Ph.D. from URI, a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor of arts from Central Connecticut State College, and a diploma from St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing.
There are more 300 men and women who selflessly give of their time and talents at the Department of Corrections, and close to 20 volunteer-provided institutional programs.
“The RIDOC could not sustain itself were it not for the hundreds of devoted volunteers who gift us with their time and talents every day,” notes Corrections Director A.T. Wall II. “Especially during a time when the state is experiencing serious budget shortfalls, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to these people who take time out of their busy lives to make a difference in the lives of our inmates, many of whom have had very few positive role models.”
The Russell E. Dixon Award is presented each year to an individual who represents “the spirit of volunteerism” in memory of Russell E. Dixon, a man who was not only a respected employee of the Department of Corrections but also an active volunteer within the Department.