On March 15, the Westchester County Department of Correction (WCDOC) hosted an event at their complex to celebrate Women’s History Month. As a part of an annual tradition, the ceremony was geared toward supporting their female residents and celebrating women who have been instrumental in supporting incarcerated individuals.
The program’s theme was centered on “Women Providing Healing, Providing Hope” and was a tribute to women, in both history and present day, who have laid the framework for positive change via healing and hope. Incarcerated women from the “Solutions” substance use treatment program made presentations about female trailblazers that have historically provided healing and hope on the world stage.
The next guest speaker, Pamela Zimba, Director of the Lilac House in Mt. Vernon talked about some of her life experiences and highlighted the many services that the Lilac House provides to support formally incarcerated women, including transitional housing, mentoring, and linkages to mental health, substance use treatment, and education and parenting classes. As part of her inspirational presentation. Zimba said: “People always say they are fighting their demons; I chose to work with mine.”
The Department also honored their very own trailblazers, including Chaplain Vickie Mills, who has for over 24 years brought the gift of healing and hope to incarcerated men and women at WCDOC. As part of her lifelong commitment to helping others, Mills began volunteering at WCDOC in 1999. In the years that followed, she formally joined the WCDOC workforce in 2008 as Assistant to the Chaplains and was promoted to Chaplain in 2020. Mills has worked tirelessly to see families restored, helping incarcerated individuals prepare for a successful transition back to their homes and communities by applying God’s will in their lives. Her body of work includes facilitating access for hundreds of community spiritual care representatives so they could provide on-site care and religious services. Mills essentially brought the religious community to the Westchester County Jail, knowing that it would have a positive impact on their residents, both during and after their periods of incarceration. Mills was overwhelmed with the unexpected recognition, which included a proclamation from County Executive George Latimer. In her discussion with the female residents, Mills provided a summary of her work by stating: “If I can help somebody and be a blessing to God's people, whoever they might be, then I know my Father in heaven will get all the Glory. I only want to do God's will for my life and for God's Glory.”
DOC also recognized one of their licensed mental health professionals, Stephanie Kamiel. Kamiel is a devoted, empathetic, mental health counselor who has been clinically supporting incarcerated men and women at WCDOC for five years. She consistently goes above and beyond to ensure that residents receive the utmost quality of care through her meticulous work ethic and determination to bring support and positive change. Her ability to build a strong therapeutic rapport with each woman she works with has been beneficial to helping them understand the importance of following up with treatment in order to increase their chances of a successful return to their communities.
First Deputy Commissioner Nory Padilla said: “Stephanie’s work to support our female residents who are dealing with multiple mental health challenges is immeasurable and worthy of special recognition. She is one of many unsung heroes whose commitment to helping others provides hope for recovery and change but often goes unrecognized.”
Keynote speaker, Commissioner Joseph K. Spano, addressed the group and said: “It’s especially gratifying to formally recognize Chaplain Vicki Mills, someone I’ve known and worked with for many years at WCDOC. Joining the Department in 1999, Chaplain Mills has been a great partner and agent for positive change that has helped transform WCDOC. Devoting her life to helping others and supporting those in need, her unselfish work with our residents and staff over the years has provided hope and healing for thousands of individuals. Similarly, we are grateful to have Stephanie Kamiel as part of our team. The great work she does to support our female residents is sure to impact them during and after their periods of incarceration and is greatly appreciated.”
Spano also encouraged the female residents in attendance to take advantage of their rehabilitation programs, saying: “The work you do while in our care will directly impact you and your families when you return home, so push yourselves to address those obstacles that contributed to your incarceration.”
The event provided the WCDOC female residents with an opportunity to listen to inspirational life stories of healing and hope, and honor two women who are committed to helping them get on a better life path.