To my friends in New Mexico and particularly the Albuquerque area – please join me Friday, July 1st, from 5-8 PM at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery to see some photos from the bicycle adventure-awareness campaign-fundraiser for reentry programs. The gallery is in Old Town at 303 Romero Street, directly west of the historic San Felipe de Neri Church (on the second floor). I would love to thank you in person for your support and interest in this venture so if you’re in the area, please stop by the gallery Friday night.
AND ONE MORE PLEA WITH SUGGESTIONS TO THOSE WHO HAD GLITCHES WHEN TRYING TO DONATE ON GENEROSITY.COM’S WEBSITE.
I was skeptical myself that I could accomplish my goal of bringing attention to re-entry programs by riding my bicycle over a 2 month period from Albuquerque to Baltimore. But this is a cause that has meant something to me since the 1990s.
Back then I worked for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, having left private practice in 1983. I had some excellent law books that I no longer needed for work and wanted to donate them somewhere. I had heard that prisons had law libraries so I wrote to the Maryland House of Correction asking if they would want the books donated.
The volunteer coordinator got back to me with a hearty “yes” and then invited me down to meet the group who was to receive them – a self-help group called the Legal Clinic Education Project. With some concerns for my safety, I accepted the invitation, went to the prison, heard the doors clang behind me (several sets of doors) and entered a large room with a group of men awaiting me.
That night I learned of the hopes and dreams that live behind prison walls. I realized most people locked up yearn for normal lives with a home and a job and a means of transportation. My fear left me almost immediately. The head of the Legal Clinic Education Project asked me (I believe via letter a few weeks later) if I would consider teaching a writing class there since I told them I was presently teaching legal writing at the University of Baltimore Law School one night a week. I agreed, and put together a class dealing with the basics of writing, case law, case analysis, and persuasive writing. I brought in an English teacher from Towson State University to focus on grammar issues. I learned:
Most people in prison come from a background of poverty.
The average prisoner reads at a 3rd grade level.
Virtually everyone I met wanted to put prison behind them and lead productive lives.
Despite the reading difficulties that a number of my students had, homework was completed timely, and classroom discussions showed me that everyone took the course seriously and prepared to participate completely in the class. I ended up teaching this class one semester a year for 3 years.
Inspired by this experience, I eventually changed my legal career to become an assistant public defender. One of the kinds of cases I worked on addressed sentencing modification and it was in this context that I tried to get my clients into re-entry programs. Baltimore had several, but waiting lists were lengthy and judges were reluctant to change sentences to allow convicted defendants to be released early into programs.
The struggle to get clients into programs showed me how most people who are locked up want to succeed upon release. It also showed me how few programs there are. And how, even with an attorney, it is difficult to persuade people that these programs have longterm value. This longterm value is not only for the incarcerated person, but for society as a whole.
With re-entry programs recidivism drops from around 75% to around 25%. Re-entry programs make fiscal sense as well. Prison costs $20,000 – $50,000 annually, whereas re-entry programs are one-third that cost. Finally, crime is reduced and hence there are fewer crime victims, and families are restored.
I met a family in Texas whose husband was helped by a re-entry program called Victory Outreach. Not only did he put addiction and incarceration behind him, but he holds a job and reaches out to others released from prisons and helps them break the cycle of incarceration as well.
I met two men in Florida who turned their lives around after serving time. One now is in charge of job outreach for a re-entry nonprofit and the other person is an administrator for this program.
Also in Florida, a woman whose daughter in incarcerated is now working actively on getting a 12-step program established for women who are released from prisons and jails.
Another Florida young woman works with others to help with re-entry and also educates the community on the value of welcoming those released from prison and jails with housing, health care and job opportunities.
A reporter in Georgia became very interested in reentry programs in his state after interviewing me and asked me to send him more information so that follow-up stories could be done.
A Maryland family who had never thought about the difficulties of re-entry talked to me at length about it, enlightened and more open-minded about the necessity of supporting them.
Here are two detailed stories of people helped by programs in Albuquerque:
Crossroads for Women (one of the 4 programs to which I’m donating the money I raise) has helped Sarah break her cycle of incarceration:
“After my brother died I returned to my use of alcohol to numb the pain of missing him. By the time I was 28 I was homeless, drinking, and using crack non-stop. Over the course of 8 years I was homeless and incarcerated 10 different times. I would go back to jail once or twice a year. During my last stay in jail, a friend told me about Maya’s Place (one of Crossroads’ programs)….I couldn’t stand to see the disappointment in my daughter’s eyes and my son hated what I was doing. I struggled with how to manage my anger…but part of what I learned at Maya’s Place was how to think through a situation before acting on it.” Sarah is now taking classes at a local community college and planning to get her own place.
Gary’s story, a person who benefited from Wings for L.I.F.E. (another one of the 4 programs which will receive 1/4 of what I raise):
After 33 years in Oklahoma prisons, in 2011 Gary moved to Albuquerque to the custody of his sister. He heard about Wings for L.I.F.E. (Life-skills imparted to Families through Education) and began attending regular meetings. Gary learned how to “dress for success” and worked on life skills, manners, and how to talk positively about his past. A key ingredient to Gary’s success has been developing relationships and friendships at Wings, building trust in him. This has resulted in work opportunities. His solid work ethic led to public recognition of his credibility. He is now a respected businessman, allowing him to help others in the community. He has inspired, encouraged and hired returning citizens (those released from prisons and jails) and is a Wings Board member.
There are thousands upon thousands of success stories. For those of you who have donated, MANY THANKS! For those of you who have had difficulty with generosity.com’s website, please message me about an alternative way to donate. For those of you who will donate, this is my last request. I’m going to make the distribution in July and will post copies of the certified checks before they are delivered to the 4 nonprofits. ALL funds raised will go directly to these four non-profits that help with re-entry.
Here is the link to the donation site, and as I said, if you have difficulty, you can message me through the Facebook website or by responding to me on this blog. Also, my sister Kathleen’s design is imprinted on T-shirts, duffel bags, note cards, caps and so forth. Check it out (and use the HOME tab at the top to see all the choices – that website also is a bit glitchy).
Donation site http://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/new-beginnings-work
T-shirts, mugs, memorabilia http://www.cafepress.com/newbeginningswork
Journey completed! Goals accomplished! Peace out!
And I’ll start with my plea for donations (though I have learned I really do not like asking people for money-but it is not for me). If you can, please donate – all money is being divided equally among the 4 nonprofits at the end of July. http://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/new-beginnings-work
I ended up staying in Ocracoke an extra day due to predicted thunderstorms on the day I had to ride 50 miles plus take a 45-minute ferry. Imagine my surprise when my brother called me. “Where are you?,” he asks. “Ocracoke.” “We’re in Ocracoke.” “Oh, stop kidding me.” Turns out during my walk through this quaint town my last full day there I was just a block from a motel where he was! He and his wife were on a spur-of-the-moment trip! It was great seeing them. We had a nice lunch that afternoon, went to the Ocracoke Museum, and I admit we had an ice cream sundae evening!
Weather cleared and the next day I headed to Rodanthe, a nice 50 mile ride with a tail wind! I visited a Coast Guard station that first was a “surfman” station that rescued people from the sea. In this part of North Carolina two strong ocean currents come together, causing countless shipwrecks in the past. That night I headed to the beach to watch and listen to the waves rolling in. As I returned to the motel, a father was launching a flying saucer to his young son who jumped up to catch it. A loud engine sound boomed behind me. It’s “everyone for him/herself” as I dash into my room and shut off the air conditioner – it was a mosquito truck (or boon-kah as I called them as a kid when we lived in Florida). I detest bug spray though I should have realized that was why there were no mosquitos where I was staying, right next to a marsh. I talked to this father the next morning. He is also a cyclist and is now inspired by me to do some distance biking.
Heading to Nags Head, I take a break after riding over a frightening 2.5 mile long bridge that is under construction. As I near the end it becomes one lane. The flag man signals me to go ahead. I think I hear him say, “left” and wonder why. The next thing I know, cars are heading toward me and I realize he means I should ride to the left of the orange barrels (where the construction work was – not an appealing idea). I am thankful the lead car stopped and let me squeeze through.
After that scare-fest, I stopped at a campground to chill. I hear a faint “hello,” and it turns out to be Arleta, a young 20-something woman riding from Florida to Maine approaching me from the camp grounds with her fully loaded bicycle. It turns out we have been on some of the same roads and have cycled in some of the same weather and winds. In fact, as I think back, I might have seen her on I-17 north of Savannah in a busy part of that U.S. highway with no shoulder when I passed by with my Uber driver (and expressed sympathy to the cyclist). This driver, named Henry, is an Iraq war veteran with severe PTSD but wants to hike the Appalachian Trail with his son. He says I inspired him to get back to cycling to loose some weight and prepare for the hike.
Arlete and I shared road stories and snacks and then had a nice lunch in Nags Head at Sam & Omi’s (which surprisingly had a great salad even though a bar atmosphere). Arleta is so much less high maintenance than me – she is camping, wearing tennis shoes and shorts (not bike shoes and chamois pants-which are padded bike shorts), only checks in with her family about once a week, and uses warmshowers.org to find places to camp and maybe dine and shower (much braver than I am). She also majored in psychology with an interest in helping people who are incarcerated. Amazing!
Nags Head is right near Kitty Hawk where the bicyclist shop owners Wright Brothers launched their first flight. Of course I went there, listened to informative presentation, and explored the museum. I also had a nice Italian meal that night with transplanted Baltimoreans Steve and Karen. I left Nags Head via car the next day, scooting out of the way of Tropical Storm Bonnie and ending up in a security line at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
For some reason when I rented a car and wanted to stay near the end of the Mt. Vernon Trail (an 18-mile trail that gets you to Washington, DC), I didn’t understand I was actually returning my rental to a military base. I watched with some trepidation as each car ahead of me was inspected and some of the drivers and passengers had to go to an office. Fellow baby boomers in front of me, in fact, had to pull their car over for further inspection of their packed car. Of course, I travel lightly but was concerned that it might seem just plain weird that I was returning a rental to a military base and then cycling to a hotel. But the stern soldier took it in stride, waving me through after my ID and Social Security number were check in the office.
But…. I couldn’t find the Enterprise Rent-A-Car office! My GPS navigator said I had arrived. All I saw were low brick buildings, military in nature. I drove around the block, pulled in to a lot and talked to a retired soldier coming out of a laundromat. “I don’t know of no car rental place here.” Hmmmm. It was a holiday weekend and closing time had long since passed for the office since it was Saturday on Memorial Day weekend.
OK. Ride around the block again. Look carefully. I see a bowling alley. I see an “investigation office.” Then I see a tiny, tiny Enterprise sign adjacent to the investigation office and no parking lot for cars. Well, I just parked in front, left the key in the return box, crossed my fingers, and managed to get to the hotel after a mile on a safe base road and a cringe-worthy mile on another “under- construction” road with no shoulder.
The Mt. Vernon Trail was a safe and generally beautiful way to get to DC. In fact, I met a backpacker at a rest area where people watch birds and launch boats. He – name is Hunter – just spent February to May hiking the Appalachian trail and now is walking, getting rides and hoping for boat rides back to Florida. He also has a nonprofit he supports – ihikeforlife – for veterans. I told him about Henry and his hopes for the same hike with his son.
When I lived near DC, driving in that city was difficult (due to all the circles and NE, NW, SE, SW roads with the same names.). NEWSFLASH: It’s harder on a bicycle! The Mt. Vernon Trail took me safely (though somewhat convolutedly once in the Alexandria, Airport, Crystal City area) to the 14th Street Bridge, after which I got completely lost. I was told one could ride on sidewalks in DC but pedestrians in large groups apparently don’t hear very well while seemingly nodding that I could pass, almost causing my first crash (and a knee/shin interaction with my bike). I finally got to my room that night and just huddled until the next morning when I met up with Kristen and Dan. This is where I had my last rice cooker meal! I’m staying away from rice and quinoa for a few weeks now.
Thanks, Kristen, for figuring out the route! How nice not to have to keep checking my maps or notes to stay on track. Though I haven’t ever been lost, sometimes I have had to turn around and backtrack. The route Kristen devised using a DC bike site was generally safe though much hillier than I anticipated and about 50 miles (rather than 40, the distance between the cities) since it connected some great bike trails. There were times when Dan, while cycling, was able to help me up a hill, pushing the back of my bike while cycling. I never knew that was possible. Thus, I only walked the bike a few times when sidewalks were both jittery and steep.
We made it into Baltimore just in time to shower, meet up with my sister Kathy and niece Sarah, nephew Jason and his friend and her daughter, and catch a fantastic Orioles-Red Sox game (fantastic because there were a lot of hits AND the Orioles won). The next morning, I had a live interview on the local Fox affiliate. http://foxbaltimore.com/morning/cross-country-bike-trip. Then, my sister helped me get my bike to Baltimore Bicycle Works, the city’s only worker-owned and operated bike shop, for boxing and shipping back to Albuquerque, and my panniers, rice cooker, helmet, bike clothing and other supplies to UPS for the same purpose.
Yay! Back in blue jeans and New Balance shoes. So, now I’m playing tourist in my former hometown for a few days, meeting family for dinner tonight, heading to Ocean City for a few more days (friends and family), then back to Wilmington via another car rental to catch up with my older daughter and her family before heading by plane back to Albuquerque.
Thanks all for following my journey. I can’t believe I made it here on schedule, albeit there were a few unexpected hurdles, family health issues, plus stress about unsafe drivers and weather was higher than I expected. Most people have been genuinely friendly, a number have been interested in and supportive of New Beginnings Work, and I accomplished a personal goal that I just began to imagine about a year ago. I’ve learned a lot more about re-entry programs and will compile a data base and share it with all of them to increase networking of all of us who believe this is important. Adios and peace out!