Grandma Love

Imagine with me that you are a grandmother. That role is one of overwhelming love. One of the most difficult aspects of being grandma is standing back when you think your child (your grandchild’s parent) is about to make a mistake.  It is heartbreaking to anticipate the problems that you can see looming on the horizon. Your may interfere, you may not. But, whatever you do it is  pure love. Now, imagine with me that your grandson has done something reprehensible and has been incarcerated. Your grandma love might be tainted with dismay or disapproval, but love is still your default for with this beautiful amazing creature. When this child is released, the greatest need is for a place to stay. Simply a place to sleep while trying to put together a new and free life.

Well, Grandma, if you live in public housing, you can’t help your grandchild. Not that way.  Because you are specifically prohibited from harboring a person on probation or parole.

What an awful place to be.

This system is in place to protect the property of public housing and to protect the residents from being taken advantage of by predatory people. Because society’s assumption is that if a person has committed a crime, that person is a criminal. What a horrible label for someone to have to live into. Sad that some people do what’s expected.

What are our options as citizens? How can we help grandma, and this former prisoner, and still protect the property and well-being of our neighbors? One of our options is to provide housing. A halfway house is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds for everyone who is released. The rules can be difficult for some people. But, often newly released people are so accustomed to having others make their decisions that it is more difficult to be without external structure than with it.

Hope Restored in Monroe, LA has one house that is available for former prisoners who want their lives to change. Rev. Marcelle Crow conducts bible studies in the local jail and the nearby state prison. She became frustrated that she saw the same people that she had met behind bars when she went with Hope Street Ministries to feed the people living on the streets. With a small amount of money and a congregation with a huge heart, they founded a home for a few of these people.

The house has some rules, but according to one resident, “they are the sort of thing a decent person would just do.” This house only holds a few people. The need Is much greater. The requirement to actually want a life change and be willing to learn keeps some people from even trying. It can be so difficult to envision a different life!

What can we do to make homes like this more available for former prisoners?

How can we come together and support those who are doing this work?

Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

Get out of Jail Free? Paying the Debt to Society.

Imagine working for five years to pay off a credit card debt. You made the maximum payment you could possibly make every single month and at last, you have paid off your debt! Then you discover that you must pay a penalty payment each month for the foreseeable future. What would that be like? It would be just like going to prison for five years, working hard pay your debt and earn your release then you discover you must continue to pay every single month when you get out.

Many Sources of Additional Costs

Former prisoners are hit with probation and parole fees. When a person must be monitored by an ankle bracelet, he or she must pay the monthly fees for the ankle bracelet. Sometimes there is restitution to pay. That is usually finite, but it can be burdensome as well.

There are additional costs, not necessarily money paid to someone else. It is in opportunity cost: the price the individual pays for lost opportunities both from time out of the workforce and discrimination against former felons. Checking the box, the one that says you have had a conviction, makes it more difficult to get hired. You are likely to be unable to travel abroad, thus limiting your employment opportunities. There are certain professions that ban felons, including many jobs that require a professional license.

Hope

If you have been incarcerated, you probably already know that you must decide whether or not prison is the place you want to be.

Interventions

If you are looking for ways you can hlep those who have paid their time and are dealing with the challenges of rebuilding their live, Dr. Davis’ story illustrates that he did not get through his journey alone. He certainly had at least one person in his corner saying, “You can do this.” It is easy for people who have made big enough mistakes to serve a felony conviction to believe that they simply can’t get anything right. Would you be able to be the one to point out a person’s strong points and encourage them in their endeavors?

There are real, basic things that can be done.

  • Proper clothing for an interview.
  • Conduct a few mock interviews.
  • Have your Sunday School class adopt a family and write everyone notes.

If you run across a former prisoner who is having a hard time, don’t judge them.  Listen carefully.  I promise you, the list of system barriers is long; the litany of disrespect from family, neighborhood and community is disheartening; and the barriers are solid and real.  Just truly hearing what  a person has to say somehow draws down the power.  In your listening you may have had one or two ideas pop into your head.  Things that you and a few interested people might be willing to take on in an effort to help.  I encourage you to talk about them with the person that needs help. Our ideas might not actually be ones that are useful. Listen deeply.  Respond with love. Repeat. Possibilities will emerge.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from you.  Have you any experience with helping someone who has been released from prison?  Are you aware of any programs in your area?  What do you think we can do?

Violence and poverty

 

 

I recently watched a TED talk on poverty. Gary Haugen’s premise is that violence is at the root of much of the world’s poverty.  Take care of violence, and economies can grow. It’s as if the linchpin of the whole thing is violence.  I’m not sure if that is true.  It would be sort of nice if it were, it would give us something definite to focus our energies on. Now, we look at education and transportation and housing and child care and make ourselves dizzy with trying to figure out where to start.

I can’t think of  a linchpin for the child welfare system. Yes, the root of it is poverty, and perhaps it is violence as the fertilizer for that root. But, the solution is also part of the problem.  How widows and orphans are cared for is a mark of the integrity of a society.   When families are fractured and feel abused by the very system that is trying to protect them, we clearly have room for improvement.

Is our first task to find a linchpin? Or is it to start having multiple conversations about defining the problem in order to find solutions that work and work together?

Let’s talk!