WHY DID I RIDE? INSPIRATIONAL STORIES….

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.

INSPIRATION:

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).

Links:

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!

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