Salons at Stowe
Coming Home After Prison: A New Reality
July 17, 2014
July 17, 2014
According to the National Institute of Justice, in 2011, 688,384 men and women — approximately 1,885 individuals a day — were released from state or federal custody in the U.S. Returning to the community from jail or prison is a complex transition for most offenders, as well as for their families and communities. Upon reentering society, former offenders are likely to struggle with substance abuse, lack of adequate education and job skills, limited housing options, and mental health issues.
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
firstname.lastname@example.org - https://twitter.com/jeffgrant_ct - https://www.facebook.com/progressiveprisonproject - http://progressiveprisonproject.blogspot.com
Jeff Grant is the Minister/Director of the Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse and Children Project in Greenwich, providing religious and spiritual support to people affected by incarceration - before, during and upon reentry from prison. "the first ministry in the US created to support people accused or convicted of white-collar and other nonviolent crimes and their families."
He has received the Elizabeth Bush Award for Volunteerism and the Bridgeport Reentry Collaborative Advocate of the Year and has been featured in national media from Forbesto New York Magazine
LaResse Harvey, Director of Strategic Relations, A Better Way Foundation
http://www.abwfct.org - https://twitter.com/AbetterwayCT - https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Better-Way-Foundation/315758574434?ref=hl
LaResse Harvey came to A Better Way Foundation nearly a decade ago as a formerly incarcerated person. As ABWF’s Lead Community Organizer, she organized neighborhoods for public safety and staffed ABWF’s advocacy group Alliance Connecticut on pardons reform and against “3 Strikes” out.
She has overhauled ABWF public education and outreach strategies. and led statewide campaigns that
- Removed the “have you been convicted of a felony?” question from local and state public job applications;
- Decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and brought a Palliative Marijuana program to Connecticut;
- Established Good Samaritan 911 protections and expanded access to Narcan for people who could prevent an overdose;
- Brought back Earned Early Release Credits for non-violent prisoners;
- Improved protocol for reported sexual assault in prison facilities.
Rev. Jeff Grant
Jeff served 14 months in federal prison in Pennsylvania for white collar crime. He is friends with LaResse and although they come from different backgrounds, they come together on their stories of reentry. They are both advocates and involved with reentry programs. They have been tweeting and discussing tonight’s program with Michelle Alexander, Piper Kerman, Maureen Price-Boreland, and other previous Stowe Center speakers.
Jeff and LaResse were both invited to a meeting at a coffee shop in New Haven, and at the end of the meeting Jeff had to take a train from New Haven to Greenwich, and LaResse offered to take him to the station. They made a stop for hot chocolate and when it was served, Jeff put a lid and sleeve on her cup, and LaResse cried, commenting that she could not remember the last time someone did an act of kindness for her. When you go to prison, are forced into situations like using the bathroom in front of others, etc. – but when you get home, you realize you have been institutionalized; how you relate to others has changed. Found it hard to be around family and others, and relate to things, after prison. He had to go to the Mobil station to use the bathroom for the institutional feeling.
The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream is a book being released this fall, and was assembled by an editorial committee of criminal justice leaders in Connecticut.
Everyone goes through a process of re-assimilation and reentry – it moved slowly, like a merry-go-round, where the world kept going. He had a law degree and other resources, but many do not have resources after prison and are dumped on the street. It becomes hard to believe that you lived one life, and are now trying to find acceptance in a new way of life. Many of the people he works with cannot find jobs, houses, services, or even sobriety, so they return to their coping mechanism prior to prison (often drugs) and recidivate. He himself was full of shame and remorse and disbelief in what his life had become, and for almost six months could not look people in the face. He and LaResse try to hold themselves up as examples as of what is possible in reentering society. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous as someone who is 12 years sober, and can sit at a meeting next to someone who has the same experience, support, and motivation, but he is sober and the one next to him has recidivated and is back in prison. For him, there is no clear explanation except for his belief in prayer and God.
Now that there is a focus on the prison system with The New Jim Crow, Orange is the New Black, and US Attorney General Eric Holder’s policies, it is time to consider the system and reentry.
Just because someone has reentered into society and has a job doesn’t mean they have successfully reentered; she is still trying to recuperate from her incarceration and sentence. Most people only see her as a masculine, powerful advocate, not as a woman who is very feminine, emotional, and loving. Was very wounded – spiritually and emotionally – after being abused by men and women in prison. When Jeff put the lid and sleeve on her hot chocolate, she realized that others were there for her – she started to see the humanism of reentry, not just the policy and advocacy. Reentry is about real people, everyday, who are leaving the prison system.
It was hard to return to an active lifestyle after prison. After returning home to New Britain, her family wanted her to rest and readjust, but she had the impulse to be active and productive (clean, straighten up the house). When she was in prison, she was involved with her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, the organization Phenomenal Women, which established her relationship with her children. She has been out of prison for almost 15 years, however because her son’s husband did not support her, she has not talked to her son in 2 years (he is now 20); she talks to her daughter (now 26) on a regular basis.
She feels she is a rebel by nature and always for the underdog. Mass incarceration and hyper-incarceration have created incarcerated neighborhoods in urban areas, and she now works to help and raise awareness about incarcerated neighborhoods. She has found that in certain neighborhoods like the north end of Hartford, all adults and teenagers have prison records, and the kids have criminal records through the school system. Going to prison is traumatic, as is coming home from prison – people always call out your past crimes and your record. She has PTSD and calls herself and other formerly incarcerated people “veterans” – prison is war, she herself was raped by another woman and abused while in prison. She tells her story because she believes she is in her position to advocate for those who cannot talk. When she talks she gives substance and shares real stories.
Why do we have tanks in communities like New Britain with only 73,000 people? Some feel it is ok but it is not – New Britain is an incarcerated community. We need to stop being ashamed. The Public Wellness Campaign helps communities heal from the trauma of hyper-incarceration. Hiring people with criminal records helps increase tax base and lower taxes. She started as a client of Community Partners in Action and returned to serve on their board, along with Rev. Jeff Grant.
Audience question: Can you explain the pardon process?
- LaResse: In Connecticut, you can get a pardon while you are still incarcerated, as well as after you’ve been home. A pardon erases your criminal record, but does not erase DMV record unless you request it separately.
- Jeff: CT is one of the only states with a separate pardons board not overseen by the Governor. There are a few pardons organizations in the state.
Audience comment: As a representative from Reentry Survivors, believes that one of the problems is that people are “ex- this and ex- that” – his organization tries to call those who are released “reentry survivors.” They are now collecting stories of those who have reentered and survived, to be published on websites and blogs.
Audience comment: Purpose of The Justice Imperative book is to educate citizens in non-technical and non-legal language about how serious and devastating the problem of over-incarceration is in our society. He hopes that people will be sufficiently moved that they will develop a constituency that will take positions on legislation (ie. To change public policy in Connecticut), organize themselves, learn about the legislative process, show up and testify at hearings, buttonholing legislators. It is a public education effort designed at action. Public policy will not change on its own and requires involvement and support from citizens. There is bi-partisan support of prison system reform because of the cost to support the system. In other states, the efforts to reduce the incarcerated population have taken root and found success. The goal of the book is to reduce the prison population in Connecticut by 50%. The rate of incarceration is higher in the United States than any other country, including dictatorships.
- LaResse: Everyone should join Civic Trust Public Lobbying for civic engagement training. Program started in 2010 because we need to change the tendency of looking at the charges on formerly incarcerated peoples’ records; they do not tell the whole story, especially that they may have made a mistake when young and very well may have grown and matured. Recovery is a process – you do not stop recovery and are always fighting not to relapse.
Audience question: In the pardon process, if you committed a crime and are pardoned, do you still have to “check that box”? What do you have to do to get pardoned?
- LaResse: The process is a long application that requires your name, education and employment background, three references (including one family member), $65 for fingerprinting, listing all of your crimes and the story/situation behind the crime, and an explanation of why you are a good candidate for a pardon (if you are illiterate, you do not have a good chance for a pardon). You then wait for the Board of Pardons and Paroles (a board appointed by the Governor) to respond, which can either say you have been denied, you have been accepted (an administrative pardon), or that you have to attend a Board of Pardons and Paroles hearing (questioning by three from the Board ). Many need to find lawyers, obtain and make copies of all documentation, and certificates, and provide copies for the Board. If you are pardoned, your record is cleared from all databases and records – however that does not clear you from discrimination by others and living with having been incarcerated.
- Jeff: A pardon is an expungement from all State and Federal crimes. Most go through pardons for economic reasons. Even if you are pardoned, you carry the “emotional baggage” and shame of at one point not having been able to be near children, be a coach for your kids’ teams, etc. You still have to deal with the internalization of having committed the crime. Connecticut has the opportunity to be a leader in pardons and expungement. We have a system that is unique, but we are not giving it its due.
- LaResse: To take action, you can advocate that those who have misdemeanors for marijuana possession should be pardoned; reduce drug-free zones.
- Audience comment: As Executive Director of Community Partners in Action, recognizes that we need to underscore that this system is not designed to avoid the victims of the situation. The concern, however, is that our system is structured in such a way that we continue to punish someone for a behavior, prevents them from “pulling themselves up by the boot straps,” and do not help them become contributing citizens. If we do not allow them to reenter society and contribute in a meaningful way, they cannot successfully reenter and become productive citizens. In Hartford, because of the number of schools and “drug-free zones,” everywhere that you sell drugs you are committing a felony. Selling drugs in a drug-free zone adds to the period of incarceration. We are stuck in a place of punishing them, not focusing on logic and helping them reenter.
Audience question: Was there a probation or parole board to help you reenter? How do those who do not have support find jobs, new lives, etc? Are there reentry centers?
- LaResse: When she was released she had a parole officer helping her, but others are left at the train station to figure out how to survive; they are left homeless. There should be reentry centers in major cities.
- Jeff: In the federal system, had 3 years of federal probation and his officer helped him transition. In Connecticut, parole and probation are separate and different budgets: parole is paid for by the Department of Corrections, and a returning offender usually goes on to probation which is paid for the judicial branch. Communication between parole and services before prison, and probation, need to be improved because otherwise the services do not help the offender.
Audience comment: Spent almost 25 years behind bars. Is the Executive Director of Phoenix Association, comprised exclusively of ex-offenders who have successfully reentered. They work to facilitate reentry. Several years ago, there were many who could not get to the second round of parole even if the infraction was years prior, they had participated in programs, etc. The process may have changed, but civic engagement is important in giving ex-offenders a chance to complete their sentences and grant pardons to those who are deserving; this will not happen unless there is a large movement. We need everyone to try and effect paradigm shift.
Audience comment: Not only does the US incarcerate a large percentage of its people, we also incarcerate them in some of the worst conditions, worse than western Europe and Canada. In Canada, prisons have full time Chaplains rather than those who come in periodically; they are part of the prison administration. The system is founded on the basis of restorative justice: the purpose of incarceration is to reintegrate people backi into society as fast as possible. The Chaplain system, at the expense of the prison system, is a community chaplaincy and serves as a reentry system that helps offenders reestablish themselves. Community Partners in Action is a great organization doing outstanding work, but there are many services that they cannot offer that community chaplaincy programs could. The John Howard Society has a 200-year history of supporting the humanization of the justice system and reentry. The Society helps recovering offenders by sending them back into the prisons to share their stories with imprisoned people.
- LaResse: A Better Way Foundation is working to organize people around issues and implement harm-reduction models that have proven to work effectively in urban, rural, and suburban communities so that it does not look as threatening to rural and suburban communities.
Audience comment: Earlier this month was watching a press conference at the While House sharing results from various Department of Labor programs working to get ex-offenders employed. They had small and national eployers talking about hiring former offenders, and one said that while many employers will given offenders a chanc, they are worried about the safety risk. How do we get employers to think more openly?
- LaResse: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that you cannot discriminate by prison record. Former offenders, and current offenders, need to vote (can vote by absentee ballot).
Audience comment: Her son is in jail and she is very frustrated with the system. She is a social worker and has been advocating for clients her entire lfie, but cannot advocate for her son. He is about to reenter society but the system is such a mess that she has been powerless in helping. He was told that he was approved for Transitional Supervision and entry to a halfway house, but after spending days and days searching for programs, she found that many do not contact you or respond. It shouldn’t be her responsibility to make the arrangements, it should be the responsibility of the prison, but she has no way of communicating with the system or services. She has been cut off from her son, could not add money to his account because his name was misspelled, and does not know what to do.
- Jeff: The best way to work with the system is contact the warden.
- LaResse: Communication needs to be improved. Some families contact A Better Way saying that their mail is not being received by their famiy who is incarcerated; that is not right. Family support needs to be encouraged and supported through the system. Reentry councilors are responsible for taking care of those returning to society.
Audience comment: The issue is large and complicated, but one issue we have not talked about is that the engine that drives huge numbers of people incarcerated in Connecticut and many states is urban poverty. Connecticut is the richest state, but we have three or four of the poorest cities in the country. If we do not address the issue in a new, goal-directed way, we cannot solve the 15% poverty rate in the United States; that statistic is far lower in other countries.
Audience comment: is an advocate for Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse and Children Project . For her, like with Harriet Beecher Stowe, it is really a human issue – just like Jeff and LaResse’s friendship, and what she felt when her husband Jeff was in prison. When Jeff was in prison, she and her daughter were in poverty and were grief stricken. Those who look at her and think she has never faced poverty are wrong. When she listens to LaResse she cannot express the pain she feels inside. No girl or woman should have to experience what she did, being raped by another inmate. “We are all bound by our brokenness, and the sooner we gather together and focus on these issues,” the sooner we can make change – it is about souls, and grace, and mercy, and people, and taking people by the hands. This is what we need to bring our children up with. She wants everyone to leave the Salon and reach out to someone – "we are bound."
Audience comment: As an ex-offender, is humbled that so many people came to share in the conversation. Was incarcerated fr 25 years and served 17.5 years. His heart goes out to the victims of his crime and does not forget about them. When factories left Connecticut and left unemployment, crime and poverty increased. Resources are not funneled into the cities and where they monney is needed. He is a third generation incarceration and works to help with successful reentry. Lack of resources, lack of quality education in the community, and laws are problems – but the underlying issue is racism. We see laws like cost of incarceration, which can continue to take money from you after reentry for the cost incurred by the government during your incarceration for up to 20 years after release. This keeps certain groups of people in a perpetual state of poverty and disenfranchisement. Much of this happened under the Rowland administration, and these issues still need to be addressed. This conversation reminds him of when William Lloyd garrison tried to get people to understand the importance of abolition and horrors of slavery, but he did not find success until he brought on Frederick Douglass. “We are here tonight with the Frederick Douglass’.”
- LaResse: Cost of incarceration should be unconstitutional. We also need to eradicate holding cells/rooms in schools which are incarcerating students.
Jeff: There is something psychological about seeing someone commit a crime that looks like you – a white person has a hard time seeing someone who looks like them commit a crime and admit that crime happens in their communities and effects everyone.
INSPIRATION TO ACTION
- Read The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream (fall 2014).
- Hire someone with a criminal record.
- Revise the pardon process which is not equal in sex, race, ethnicity, or crime.
- Encourage people to submit their stories as “re-entry survivors” to help change public policy (submit to email@example.com)
- Participate in public hearings, lend your voice to change public policy.
- Join Civic Trust Public Lobbying.
- Learn about decriminalization of marijuana and expungement of misdemeanors.
- Establish reentry centers in major cities and towns.
- Connect parole and probation and improve communication between departments.
- Take action and organize grassroots groups in your community to bring awareness and create change on issues:
- Call legislators
- Write letters
- Attend hearings
- Learn more about the Phoenix Association
- Learn more about the John Howard Society as a model community chaplaincy program (Canada, England, Norway, Denmark).
- Explore A Better Way Foundation (ABWF) resources.
- Allow prisoners to vote.
- Improve family reunification process – families need to speak up and build support.
- We’re all bound by our brokenness – this is a human issue – do something!
- Re-examine the laws around cost of incarceration.
- Address the underlying issue of racism.
- Eradicate holding cells in schools.
What your reactions and takeaways from the Salon? What questions do you still have? What will you do to take action? Share your ideas, reactions, and plans for action in the "Comments" section below.