Deborah

Deborah

Prison chaplain and certified peer specialist Deborah Mejchar retired this summer, but she’s devoting herself to building an initiative in correctional institutions. She makes the long drive to Oshkosh to lead a book group she started for other certified peer specialists who are currently incarcerated at the Wisconsin Resource Center, a medium-security state prison specializing in mental health treatment and which once employed Mejchar, or to Waupun Correctional Institution, where the warden knows and welcomes her. They discuss books like “The Alchemist,” “The Warmth of Other Suns” and “The Latehomecomer,” all of which Mejchar got donated from Jerry Hancock of Madison’s Prison Ministry Project. At the end of the day, the book group’s members return to their cells. Mejchar walks out the doors and drives home to her husband — a freedom she’ll never take for granted.

“I had a 20-year prison sentence myself,” says Mejchar, who served six and a half of those years for drug-related felonies before her 2001 release. At first she never wanted to step foot in a prison again, but a calling brought her back inside correctional institutions to support staff and currently incarcerated individuals (as well as when those individuals are released back into the community). “I just knew I wasn’t going to have the same life I had before,” says Mejchar, whose efforts led to a 2010 pardon from Gov. Jim Doyle.