New Leaf

New Leaf-New Life helps inmates transition from jail back into the community. Illustration by Mike Cagle


Bingo livens things up every Tuesday night at the Monroe County Jail in Bloomington. Because the game continues until every inmate has won, everyone gets at least one prize—a candy bar, soap, or other desirable jailhouse swag. But the best prize of all is an evening of simple fun—a cherished commodity in a place where there is pervasive boredom.

The bingo game is the most visible of many programs provided by the volunteer-driven nonprofit organization New Leaf-New Life, whose mission is to reduce recidivism.

New Leaf’s flagship initiative is a full-time addictions recovery program held in a dedicated dormitory in the jail. Also offered, through the efforts of a score of volunteers, are GED preparation classes and training in job hunting, problem solving, the transition to life “outside,’’ and even creative writing and meditation classes, among other programs. “Fortunately, our jail administration is very supportive of these efforts,” says Wain Martin, New Leaf’s board chair.

Heading up the organization’s “inside” programs is Tania Karnofsky, whom Martin calls “the angel of the jail.” According to Karnofsky, inmates taking part in these volunteer-driven activities cannot escape the realization that there are some people in Bloomington who care a great deal about them and want them to succeed.

“I witness a lot of small changes that really make a difference,” she says, “although progress is usually measured in tiny steps.” This may even mean that a habitual offender on probation manages to go six weeks before being rearrested, as opposed to just six days.

Realizing that released inmates face serious difficulties as they transition back into the community, New Leaf-New Life opened an office outside the jail last year where they can get job counseling, clothing, toiletries, and other real-life help, even a bus ticket to get to a job interview. “Finding living-wage jobs is the hardest piece, but it is crucial,” Martin says.

For more information about New Leaf-New Life, contact Martin at 336-4913 or [email protected].