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Television Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2011/01/successful-offenders-%E2%80%93-dc-public-safety-television/
Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. You know, every year, over 700,000 human beings are released from prison systems throughout the United States, and you’re well aware of the failures, the 50% within 3 years who are returned to the prison systems. You read about them in your newspapers, you’re exposed to them through radio and television, but the question is, what about the other 50%? The 50% who do not return back to the prison system? To talk about the successes, if you will, we have four individuals under supervision with my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C. We’re a federal parole and probation agency. We’re going to talk to four individuals currently under supervision for people who have turned the corner, who have crossed that bridge, who are now successes, who are no longer tax burdens, they are now taxpayers. And on our first segment, I want to introduce India Frazier and Tracy Marlow, and to India and to Tracy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.
Tracy Marlow: Thank you, Len.
Len Sipes: All right, we’ve had a wonderful conversation before the television show, before filming this show today, about what it is, the stereotypes, when people think of the term “criminal,” “convict,” and they have this image that immediately comes to their mind in terms of what ex-offenders are. Now in the first segment, the two of you, then we’ll have a couple guys in the second segment, but that’s the issue, is it not, Tracy? That stereotype that people have of you. I was watching the other night a couple television shows, just flipping through the channel: National Geographic and A&E, and they had shows about people in prison, and the public comes away with that, saying, thinking that everybody who touches the prison system, they don’t want to hire them, they don’t want to fund programs for them, they don’t want to give them a second chance, they stereotype them. Are you that person that they stereotype?
Tracy Marlow: Yes I am. I’m one of those people that they stereotype. Society always publicizes what we have done, the bad things we have done, but nobody shows what the good things we are doing now. What I was, and what I am today is two different people. I have my own business now.
Len Sipes: You’re going for your third ice cream truck.
Tracy Marlow: My third ice cream truck.
Len Sipes: Your third ice cream truck. You’re your own business owner! You have gone from prison to owning your own businesses!
Tracy Marlow: Yes, yes.
Len Sipes: That’s amazing!
Tracy Marlow: With the help of CSOSA and some groups and other people backing me up in my life, it was not on my own that I done this. It’s not because, I’ve been turned down on jobs so many times, but one person gave me a chance on a job.
India Frazier: But when you go through your struggles in life, if anything’s ever given to you so quickly, so fast, and easy, you’re not going to appreciate it. You’re not going to hold onto it, you’re not going to build to the next step. You know what I’m saying? So you have to go through your struggles. You have to be patient. And see, that’s what you were.
Tracy Marlow: It comes in believing in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, self-esteem is so important coming out of prison. I didn’t believe in myself. I thought what people, society say, you’re nothing, you’ve been in jail, you’re never going to be nothing. I believed that for so many years until one day, I can’t tell you when I woke up, when I woke up and knew that I was somebody, and I worked on this, and I worked on this now, I’m my own business person. I have people that work for me today, and I have to interview them now. So now, the roles have changed, and I have people that’s been locked up, and you work with money with me, because I have ice cream trucks, and I don’t want to be like the public was with me. So I have to interview these people, and I have to give them a chance, and you deal with a lot of money some days, and I say, wow, God, just give me the strength. Now I haven’t been robbed. And some ones have been good and bad, but somebody gave them a chance like they gave me.
Len Sipes: And I think that’s the point, in terms of the fact that, okay, 50% do go back, 50% don’t, but nobody ever tells the story of the 50% that don’t, and that’s what we’re going to start doing today. India, set up a little bit about your experience, if you will, please.
India Frazier: Well, my experience is, my experience came when I was, first and foremost, I asked God to change my life. Give me a direction that I needed to go into. And I set goals in my life, and then when I came home and I looked into the eyes of my grandson, it was not an option for me to go back to the streets. It was so easy, it’s so easy to fall back into that life, you know what I’m saying? And like I was telling Tracy a minute ago, you have to go through trials and tribulations and struggles to get where you need to go or get where you need to be, so I went through my changes, you know, but unlike you, I’ve always believed in me. I knew I was supposed to accomplish the things that I am accomplishing today. As of right now, I’m driving, I work through the leaf season and snow season for DPW, the Department of Public Works.
Len Sipes: DPW, the Department of Public Works.
India Frazier: Yes, sir.
Len Sipes: In the city of Washington D.C.
India Frazier: In the city of Washington D.C, and I have a CDL Class A –
Len Sipes: Okay, Commercial Driver’s License.
India Frazier: Yes, sir.
Len Sipes: Go ahead.
India Frazier: Yes, sir. And I know I can drive. I love doing what I do. You know what I’m saying? And I love coming home to my family and seeing that my grandson and my daughter’s okay, and I love knowing that my grandmother’s fine. These are the people that believed in me and pushed me to do and be all that I can be, and then I have, Dr. Butler and Miss Ishman, who is my direct parole officer, and she inspires me. I mean, it’s not a point in time that I can’t pick up that phone and call Miss Ishman and say, Miss Ishman, so and so, and so and so, well, Miss Frazier, let’s look at it like this. I might be upset, and then I’ll call her, and then she’ll just get it, she’ll just iron things out for me.
Tracy Marlow: You built a network up.
India Frazier: I built my network.
Tracy Marlow: And that’s what we need to know in society is you can make it if you build a network up.
India Frazier: – people believe in you and give you that chance. See, this is it. You can’t look at me based on a television program, or you can’t understand who I am until you get to know who I am, until you sit down and talk to me and find out who I am, and that despite something happening 10 years ago, it’s where I’m standing at today.
Len Sipes: But society doesn’t give us that opportunity. If society is going to say ex-con, criminal, I don’t like you, I’m not funding programs for you, I’m not going to give you a second chance, I don’t want you in this job, and I understand, all three of us understand the fears of the public. How can you not watch evening television without understanding the fears of the public? But what do you want to tell the public directly? What are the key things that you need the public to understand, because you’re not one of the failures, you’re one of the successes, but yet, you’re still facing the same baggage. So what do you want to tell the public?
Tracy Marlow: I want to tell the public, don’t look at what I’ve done, look at what I’m doing. My past is my past, and only we’re going to leave it behind if you give me a chance. All I’m asking for is a chance. I’m not saying that I’m going to be perfect. I’m not going to sit here and tell this, oh, I’m going to be a perfect and never do this, but I’m going to live for today and try to do the best I can do in society under society laws. It’s not breaking up anymore.
Len Sipes: Right. India? And what do you tell society?
India Frazier: I have to tell society that you can’t base my life today on my past. I’m a totally different person. I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and don’t look at me and make a judgment call on what’s on paper. Look at me and make a judgment call on how I carry myself.
Len Sipes: We only have a couple minutes left. My heavens, this segment just flew by like wildfire! What is instrumental in your lives? Was it programs, you mentioned, Tracy, the group, or India, you mentioned the group process through Dr. Butler. What is it, drug treatment programs, job programs, what is it that we need to help you and others like you cross that bridge?
Tracy Marlow: Drug treatment first, program, and aftercare. After we come out of treatment, you need some aftercare. You need sessions, groups. The group that Dr. Butler runs is wonderful. Somebody’s talking about everyday life. We need to know about every, going on in your life, this life, productive other people in life. We need groups and more programs.
Len Sipes: If we had sufficient numbers of programs, how many additional people could we create, if you will, taxpayers instead of tax burdens? How many additional people would cross that bridge over to the taxpaying side of the coin?
India Frazier: You would probably have, maybe, at least 25% more instead of a 50% going back in, you might have 25% more. I’m not going to say 50%, because, you know, like Tracy said, it’s not, everybody’s not perfect. Everybody’s not ready to live that right life. You know what I’m saying? Everybody’s trying, some people try to find the easy way out. But you would have at least 25% turnover. I would say at least 60-75% wouldn’t go back.
Len Sipes: If society was willing to look at you as individuals, especially in terms of jobs, and if the programs were available, would that make a significant difference in terms of how many people go back to prison and how many people commit additional crimes?
Tracy Marlow: Of course.
India Frazier: Definitely, yes!
Tracy Marlow: Definitely!
India Frazier: I mean, you have jobs in the District of Columbia that, for real, for real, could save a lot of people’s lives. People gotta eat! You’ve got to feed your family! You know what I’m saying? You’ve got to pay your rent! You know, the rent lady don’t want to hear about, you can’t pay your rent because you couldn’t find a job. You’ve got to pay your rent. So what you going to do? You’re going to go out there and do something stupid and go right back to where you were. So if you have these openings within the District for these ex-offenders, or parole, probation, you know what I’m saying, that would gear them towards working harder toward accomplishing things they need to accomplish, the goals they need to accomplish. It worked for me.
Len Sipes: I think the point is, is that, again, we hear the failures. We are never exposed to the successes. I’ve spent 40 years in the criminal justice system, 30 years talking to people caught up in the criminal justice system. I see a lot of success stories. But those success stories are simply never told. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this program today, is to talk about the fact that there are successes.
Tracy Marlow: Yes, it is. It is. And I’m definitely one of them, and the best is yet to come! Because I’m not finished. I have kids, I’m raising kids, and they are not going through the system! They are not going to go through the system. I am raising them to understand that, if you break the law, these are the options that happen. We have to break the cycle. The cycle has to be broken.
Len Sipes: And the cycle is broken when mom comes out of the prison system, gets programs, gets treatment, gets a job, and the case, your case, your own three ice cream trucks, you didn’t let anybody stand in your way, Tracy! And you’re saving, not just yourself, you’re saving your kids. India, you’re doing the same thing.
India Frazier: Yeah, I love my family. I love my family, and my grandson, he’s the most inspirational power, power behind every move I make, because I want him, I don’t want him to go through what I went through, you know what I’m saying? I can’t make the choices for him down the line, but I don’t want him to go through what I went through, and I’m going to give him and push him, I say, lead by example, and the rest will follow.
Len Sipes: Right. Now, again, so many people come out of the prison system, and they say, Mr. Sipes, or Leonard, I’m not going to go back. I’m not going back, I’m not going back, I’m not going back. 6 months later, they’re back. Now that’s a reality. There are individuals who cannot make it, or they’re not ready to make it in society, and they go back to the prison system. So we have to acknowledge that. Again, part of the fears and the perceptions on the part of the public, but I’ve encountered, again, hundreds, thousands of people just like yourselves. One out of every 45 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system are in, I’m sorry, one out of every 45 people in the community are caught up currently in the criminal justice system. That’s like one out of 20 minimum, if you count people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the past. That means that all of us are running into offenders and ex-offenders and people caught up in the criminal justice system every day! By the scores! We’re running into lots of people. I mean, is the question, do we want them to get the mental health treatment, do we want them to have drug treatment, do we want them to be involved in programs, do we want them to be employed, or do we want to interact with these individuals without those programs, and without those skills?
India Frazier: Well, if you don’t implement programs, if you don’t implement treatment, you don’t set aside a certain amount of money or set aside programs to help these people take their life and create a new person within, you know what I’m saying, or guide them, or steer them towards the goals they need to go towards, you’re going to keep on having a return rate of 50%, you know what I’m saying? So yeah, we need mental health. We need drug treatment. We need voc rehab. We need certain little groups that Dr. Butler be having. You know, you need all of these things because they’re reconditioning your mind to go towards what you need to go towards to be a better person.
Len Sipes: The final minute, Tracy, in terms of, we’ve heard Dr. Willa Butler several times throughout the program. She runs a women’s group where people who have been in the prison system as women offenders, they come together, they talk about their issues, they talk about how to solve their issues, that’s tough. You’ve got only a couple seconds.
Tracy Marlow: Yes it is. Yes, because that is very powerful, because women need women, and when you talk in them groups, you get real deep. You talk about some personal things that’s going on, because one thing, to deal with a person that’s on mental health status, is really something, because first thing society, oh, they crazy! People have complications, anxieties, pressures in the world, and they can’t cope with it and deal with it, all they need is somebody to talk to, and these groups are very important.
Len Sipes: And that’s the point that I wanted to make. Thank you, ladies, for being on the first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for sticking with us as we explore this whole issue of offenders coming out of the prison system who make it, who become taxpayers, not tax burdens. Look for us in the second segment as we continue to explore this topic with two additional guests. Please stay with us.
Len Sipes: Hi, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes. Our guests today on the second segment are Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman, both individuals currently under the supervision of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. As I explained in the first segment, we are a federally funded, a parole and probation agency here in Washington, D.C. The concept is people being released from prison. 50% go back after 3 years, they go back to the prison system, but 50% don’t. The story of the 50% who don’t go back just doesn’t seem to be told. Again, you’re exposed every day to the media about the stories of people caught up in the criminal justice system who do go back, you’re never exposed to the fact that there are lots of individuals who don’t. To talk about that, Cortez and Donald, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, and Cortez, we’re going to start with you in terms of the second segment, and what is it that you think the public needs to understand about people coming back from the prison system? I mean, they say the word convict, they say the word ex-con, they have another vision in their mind. I’m not quite sure they have you in mind. Correct or incorrect?
Cortez McDaniel: That’s probably correct. What I would have the public to think about is how they’d like to be associated with us as homecomers. We like to refer to returning citizens as homecomers, and understand that these folks are coming home anyway, whether you like it or whether you don’t. Now how the public is associated with them is kind of up to the society as to how they accept them back. They need to understand the impact that we’re capable of having on society in a positive way, the value that we have, the talent that we have is a very, very large talent pool, and a large number of men who are very capable of being productive members of society.
Len Sipes: Okay, and I think one of the reasons, in terms of doing this program, they come to my mind, is employment. There’s literally thousands of individuals under our supervision at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency who would make perfectly good employees out of the 16,000 on any given day. They are years away from their crimes, they are years away from their last substance, positive substance abuse test. But they can’t find work, and they’re having trouble finding work, and that makes it difficult for them, it makes it difficult for us. To me, that stereotype of ex-con, ex-offender, is the barrier. So what do you say to people in terms of, in terms of that? They have this sense that, you’ve been in the prison system, I don’t want to hire you, that’s all there is to it. I’ve got lots of people to choose from, you were there, you’re not getting this job. What do you say to that person?
Cortez McDaniel: Well, I would ask them to actually look at forgiveness and what that encompasses. If a person has served their amount of time that they’ve been given to serve in prison, if they’ve done that, and they’ve successfully completed that, and they come out, and they do the things that they need to be doing in terms of supervision, then there’s absolutely no reason why this person doesn’t deserve to be able to experience some quality of life themselves.
Len Sipes: Now Cortez, I’m completely at fault, I didn’t properly introduce you when you came onto the program. You were with who? What is your job today?
Cortez McDaniel: Again, my name is Cortez McDaniel, I’m a transitional coordinator with the Father McKenna Center.
Len Sipes: Okay, and what is the Father McKenna Center?
Cortez McDaniel: The Father McKenna Center is a daytime service for homeless men, underprivileged men of Washington, D.C., predominantly African American men who come in for our services during the course of a day. What we do is we assess men, and we act as a triage to link people up with whatever their needs might be, whether it be drug and alcohol rehabilitation, whether it be mental health services, housing issues, whatever the issues might be, we try to work with them and link them up with agencies that will help them in that direction.
Len Sipes: Did you have a hard time getting that job?
Cortez McDaniel: Actually, the way I got that job is I’m also core counsel person on the, with the Phelps Stokes National Homecomers’ Academy, and we were asked, as a result of a newspaper article, to send some people over to speak to that group of men, and once we were there, the people, the administration in place there were pretty impressed with what we had to offer, and so a relationship started with me there –
Len Sipes: And that’s how you ended up getting the job.
Cortez McDaniel: That’s exactly right.
Len Sipes: Okay, Donald, you’re with the same operation, correct?
Donald Zimmerman: Yes, sir.
Len Sipes: And tell me a little bit about your story. You came out of the prison system, and what happened?
Donald Zimmerman: Well, I came out of the prison system, and initially when I came home, I was a general manager of a trucking company –
Len Sipes: Before or after?
Donald Zimmerman: This was after my incarceration.
Len Sipes: Okay. How did you get a job as a general manager of a trucking company?
Donald Zimmerman: Some friends of the family, you know, they just –
Len Sipes: Okay. You had family connections.
Donald Zimmerman: Yeah. They just hired me on, and I learned the business, and I was doing that for a while until the economy folded, and then I went to school to be a chef, so now I’m currently working at a Hospital through a temporary agency called Food Team, and I do temporary cook positions there, but –
Len Sipes: Can I get into the larger issue? I started off with the larger issue before a proper introduction of both of you, of once again, the stereotype. Now I’m not going to be upset with society about their stereotypes. With the ladies on the first segment, I was watching television, I turned to the National Geographic channel of all channels, and then there was a story about guys in prison, and then I’m flipping through the channels, and there’s the Arts & Entertainment channel, there’s another story about guys in prison, and I sat back and said, you know, if that’s the public’s perception of people caught up in the criminal justice system, there’s no hope. The story they’re telling was a perfectly accurate story. They weren’t being dishonest, but it scares people. The evening news scares people. What happens when they read their newspapers scares people, and then we have the two of you, and you’re not scary. So what does the public need to understand about this issue of people coming out of the prison system? What does the public need to understand to get them to support programs or to get them to give you a chance at a job?
Donald Zimmerman: The first thing that the public needs to realize is that we’re human, and that we have made mistakes like everyone in life, and we have learned to overcome our mistakes. They have to learn to accept us and give us that second chance, as if, like a parent would do with their child. They say, once you finish your prison sentence, that your debt is paid to society. But is that truly happening? We tend to have labels put on us like ex-cons and ex-felons, see, but the thing is, you have to take all them labels away and recognize that I am a man and I am a woman and I will stand for something, and I will push, by any means necessary, I will be accepted, and with that positive attitude, only good things will happen.
Cortez McDaniel: I don’t want to take away from that, the homecomer’s obligation to change their whole approach to life, their whole thought process, and matter of fact, before I came home, about three years actually before I came home, I wrote a book called recidivism prevention workbook. For people that don’t know, recidivism is commonly used to describe the tendency of a person who’s been convicted of a crime to relapse or return back to criminal behavior.
Len Sipes: That’s a wonderful –
Cortez McDaniel: So I thought about that through my own life, and I thought of how valuable it could be to a lot of men. So in a sense, in my own life, I realize that my whole thought process had deteriorated into how my approach to life was a way of criminal thinking, and so I had to change my principal system, my moral judgment, everything about that had to be looked at, and I had to be man enough and willing to change that. So I started, I don’t like to use program again, because it’s beginning and end to that, but I started this class that encompassed criminal thinking and criminal behavior, and it was very successful in prison, and I came out here in society with the same ideology that we are capable of being refocused, and that we have a responsibility to approach life differently.
Len Sipes: How many people who come out of the prison system come out of the prison system with that understanding? Lots of people who have told me, I’m getting out, and when I used to work inside the prison system, I’m getting out, and I’m not going back, came back.
Donald Zimmerman: Well you have a lot of –
Len Sipes: Came back pretty quickly.
Donald Zimmerman: Well, you have a lot of men and women who come out with the intent that they’re not going to go back, but when they get out and they see the situation that they’re, no jobs, or they don’t want to accept a job, because I have the notion that there are jobs, people just don’t want to go work at McDonald’s, don’t want to go work at Wendy’s, whereas when you were in the federal prison system, you work for $5.25 a month. So with that being said, they see their situations, and they don’t have that support system on the outside that will reeducate. See, one, you have to reeducate yourself into, like, your morals and your values, saying, you know, positive things to you, like, you know, you can do better, you can find a job. It’s not how much money you make, it’s what you do with the money you make. You know, when you start to understand the simpler things in life and start, you know, understanding true happiness and just knowing that you have to, you know, first, that you’re on probation or parole, you have to first comply, take it one situation at a time, then you can move to the next step. Once you start to comply, then you can start going to your meetings, then you can start building relationships, and then eventually, as time progress, you will start to reeducate yourself with better understanding and more.
Len Sipes: Okay, so the point in all of this is that, if you are willing to go through that process, and if you’re willing to seek help, you can cross that bridge. You can go from the tax burden to the taxpayer. You can be employed, but it’s really upon you if you, and how much –
Cortez McDaniel: Well, the support system is very, very necessary.
Len Sipes: That’s the point I want –
Cortez McDaniel: And that’s, with Phelps Stokes, that’s what we’re all about at Phelps Stokes, the Homecomers’ Academy. That’s what we’re all about is providing a support system for a homecomer that lets them understand that, and helps to reinforce these ideologies in him and helps him understand that he has certain responsibilities that he needs to live up to, but also that he’s not alone, that he has some support and some assistance in getting to where he needs to get to. A lot of times, people will come out of prison with, have purposed themselves never to go back, but they get out, and the support falls through. A lot of times people have become estranged from their families for different reasons, and they don’t, they lack people who care or people who are willing to take a chance on them.
Len Sipes: And that’s what the ladies said during the first segment. If you’ve got that group of people who can support you emotionally and get you through this process, that really does increase the chances of you doing well.
Cortez McDaniel: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Okay. So the point is this. The final minutes of the program is that what I said on the first segment is that there are thousands of you guys out there struggling, but they’re ready to make that move. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. They’re sick and tired of being caught up in the criminal justice system. They would be good employees, they would be good citizens. There’s a certain point where society does have to recognize who is at risk and who’s trying, who’s struggling and who’s trying to make it, correct? I mean, that is incumbent upon employers and incumbent upon people, I mean, we have to fund a certain amount of programs to help people cross that bridge. Am I right or wrong?
Cortez McDaniel: Well, yeah. I think we have to have entities. Like I said, I don’t like to use the word program, because when I talk about a program, I’m talking about a beginning and an end.
Len Sipes: And this is lifelong.
Cortez McDaniel: But we believe in relationships, and we believe in those relationships being everlasting –
Donald Zimmerman: Brotherhoods and sisterhoods.
Cortez McDaniel: The dynamic may change as things evolve, but we believe those relationships are important –
Len Sipes: And the same with the research on Delancey Street out in San Francisco 25 years ago. That’s exactly what they said in terms of the former offenders coming together as a group to help each other out. So that’s the bottom line.
Donald Zimmerman: What we need is real people dealing with real problems trying to find real solutions.
Len Sipes: Okay. And you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve come in contact with Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman. This is D.C. Public Safety. We really appreciate the fact that you’ve been with us today to explore this very important topic of people who are successes who have come out of the prison system, and yet at the same time made successes of themselves. We appreciate your attention, and please stick with us and watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in the criminal justice system. Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.