If you see a small yellow school bus marked Exodus tooling around on Saturdays, it's not a church vehicle, nor is it hauling vacationers. It is a community service, nonprofit bus transporting family and friends to visit inmates incarcerated at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.
Wasatch Front residents are fairly close to the Draper facility to visit loved ones there. But Gunnison is some 130 miles from Salt Lake City, and without the Exodus program some family members said they would never be able to visit inmates.This bus to Gunnison, running almost every Saturday, is only one of the Exodus programs, which include finding jobs and housing - not only for inmates when they are released but also family members who must keep the family unit going when a spouse is incarcerated.
"K.V.," of Ogden, is one of nine women who took the Exodus bus Dec. 17 to Gunnison.
"The Exodus group is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "They care and understand."
The Exodus bus asks for a $5 adult donation for the round trip to Gunnison ($2.50 for children), and K.V., who has three children, said she couldn't drive to Provo for that cost.
With her husband, Russell, in Gunnison, she said her kids felt they could do whatever they wanted, and they were driving her crazy. She said she was unable to talk to her strict Greek family or to her husband's Mormon family about problems caused by her husband's incarceration.
"It was very stressful for me. Then my husband told me about Exodus. . . . It's good to talk to someone who knows what it's like. I receive a lot of support from the group."
Tonya, of Salt Lake City, was another Exodus passenger. She said it would be very difficult to visit her husband without the bus. She believes her visits improve her husband's behavior significantly.
Another woman, DeAnn of Murray, also said she couldn't visit her husband without the bus service.
"My car's broken down. . . . There's no way without this bus," she said.
DeAnn also believes it very therapeutic for her husband to receive weekly visits from her.
Several other women on the bus said they had no way outside of the Exodus bus to travel to Gunnison.
Most Exodus riders complained of slow mail delivery and expensive and limited telephone calls as the only other ways to communicate with loved ones in prison.
They said visits to Draper were not a problem. But visits became very difficult once a loved one was transferred to Gunnison. Some said the distance makes for cruel and unusual punishment and ignores geographical considerations.
Dennis C. Schugk, correctional administrator at Gunnison, said transfers to Gunnison come down to a matter of available bed space.
He also said other priorities - required medical treatment and court appearances an inmate may need - supersede geography for family members.
"Exodus is one of many groups to offer service," Schugk said. "We always need help from the community."
He applauds Exodus for striving to get the family adjusted to a prison relationship and the release afterward.
Lynn Belt, the usual Exodus bus driver and a member of the group's executive committee, said Exodus has about 200 volunteers - some who spend as many as 40 hours a week in volunteer work.
Exodus hopes to save the taxpayers $1 million a year or more with its programs, designed to cut down on the recidivism rate. It costs the state $17,500 or more a year to house each inmate.
Belt and Schugk also complimented LDS Social Services for helping former inmates find jobs.
Exodus volunteers also interview each inmate prior to release, and Exodus offers a pre-release training program. Belt said Exodus is currently operating in the red and donations are always welcome.
A former inmate himself, Belt said this is his way of paying back the community for past wrongdoings.
"It also gives me more satisfaction than I've had in my whole life," he said.
Indeed, the excitement of the wives on the bus as they pull into Gunnison is hard to describe.
"We're here! We're here . . . Yea!" shouted one woman after seeing the correctional entrance gate.
Some women hastily splashed on perfume and makeup during the bus ride's final minutes. The bus made a two-hour stopover at the prison.
More information on Exodus or contributions can be made to: Exodus, 2300 W. 1700 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84104, or by calling 972-5378 during regular business hours.