Linda Paz, executive director of Matthew House in Monroe, says she is on a mission to help the children and families of inmates.
It’s what Matthew House has been doing since 1980. The nonprofit, located down the hill from Monroe Correctional Complex, offers overnight accommodations and food for families at no charge.
Trisha Edwards has found so much support at Matthew House. The mother of two often stops by when she visits her husband, Colby Edwards. She says he is serving a sentence at Monroe Correctional Complex because of an assault.
“I didn’t make the mistake. My kids didn’t make the mistake,” said Edwards as she fought back tears. “You go from a two parent household to one, and it is a struggle.”
Shirley Lidel frequents Matthew House too. Her husband of 13 years, Michael Lidel, is also serving a sentence at Monroe Correctional Complex.
“He made an illegal withdrawal from a bank,” said Shirley, who visits her husband about once a week. "There are times when I don't want to go. I don't want to go up there and spend 2-3 hours with him, then have to come home and leave him here. The hard part is going back home alone."
Tawny Scollard used to rely on Matthew House when her son, Devon, was serving his sentence at the correctional facility in Airway Heights, Washington. He was released from prison late last year, after serving nearly three years for committing a robbery.
“I was just making stupid decisions. They tried me as an adult. I was 17-years-old when it happened. They said that's it. You know, time to go to big boy jail," said Devon, who had prior offenses before the conviction that landed him in prison.
"It's not just the person who did the crime that's is doing the time. It is the family too," said Tawny.
Families of inmates say they have received so much help from Matthew House over the years.
Tawny says when her son was incarcerated, Matthew House offered a free shuttle ride from Monroe to Airway Heights, free of charge.
"Without Matthew House advocating for families and arranging that type of service, I may not have seen him for years. That's the reality of it," said Tawny.
Currently, the nonprofit can’t afford to run the shuttle but hopes to resume the service soon.
But a service that helped nearly 1,500 people last year was the overnight accommodations that Matthew House does provide.
Shirley says when her husband was incarcerated, money became so tight that she ended up homeless. She would sleep in her car. Then one day, during a prison visit, she learned about Matthew House from a corrections officer, who told her to go there and ask for Linda Paz.
"She told me they were going to give me a place to stay. She gave me the codes to the door so I could get in, and when I got finished with visit, I didn't have to go find some place to park my car that would be safe for me to sleep in it. I actually had a bed I could come to and sleep in," said Shirley.
Paz has been working at Matthew House for 15 years. She understands that families, already dealing with financial hardship, travel many miles to visit loved ones. And a free meal and place to stay can go a long way.
At Matthew House there is also a clothing closet filled with pants, shirts, and shoes for men, women, and children. It is a service that many families, visiting inmates, have suddenly found themselves seeking after they found out the clothes they arrived in violate the prison’s dress code.
The clothing closet even caught the attention of Department of Corrections Visit Specialist, Liz Hainline. Hainline said they noticed Monroe was seeing less dress code violations during visits than the state’s other prisons. When it was discovered that Matthew House’s clothing closet was the reason why, the Department of Corrections started offering a clothing service for dress code violators at other facilities.
Hainline says Paz has been a fantastic resource.
“She is just a really good person, and she wants to do the right thing," said Hainline.
Hainline adds that 45% of state’s prison population participates in visiting hours, and she views that time as very important.
"There is something with that family relationship that keeps them well balanced and calmer and just better behaved while they are incarcerated," said Hainline.
Matthew House wants to help make those visits easier for inmates’ families.
"I think it is just about keeping hope alive for them," said Paz.
The nonprofit relies on donations of money, food, and volunteer hours to keep the hospitality house running.
"Just the support that you get when you come to the Matthew House, it's like going to grandma's house," said Tawny.
"It was like such a relief to know that somebody out there really does care," said Shirley.
Families describe it as a house where they don't have to hide the truth.
"There's no 'who did what.' There's no labeling here. We are all in the same boat, trying to figure out how to get out of it," said Shirley.
Paz says she is committed to keeping Matthew House going.
"There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to ever leave Matthew House because I love what I do and I love our families," said Paz.