Archives for January 21, 2009

Public Relations and Branding Parole and Probation-American Probation and Parole Association

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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=98

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Ladies and Gentleman, we have an extraordinarily interesting show today from the National Criminal Justice Association, we’re doing a series of shows with the National Criminal Justice Association looking at outstanding programs and pertinent issues regarding the Criminal Justice System, and what they’ve done today is to bring in the outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award winners, and I’m going to introduce three individuals; Pat Dishman, who is with the state of Tennessee, the Office of Criminal Justice Program. She is the Director. Linda Leather is the Chief Executive Officer, and she is with “The Next Door”, and “The Next Door” is a program for woman coming out of prison, coming out of the jail system. Also, we have the Chief Clinical Officer, Cindy Snead. She is also with Next Door and to Pat, and to Linda, and to Cindy. Welcome to DC public safety.

All: Thank you so much, good morning.

Len Sipes: Before we continue, a little commercial. We are way above 1,000,100,000 (one million/one hundred thousand) requests for the program. We’ve listened to every suggestion that you make, and we incorporate most of those suggestions you make into the show. Feel free to contact us at DC Public Safety through your search engine, or simply go to http://media.csosa.gov. That stands for Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the agency that I am with, and getting back to the program.

Okay, so the National Criminal Justice Association wants to feature dynamite criminal justice programs throughout the country and you guys run this program dealing with women and coming out of the prison system, coming out of the jail system. Linda Leathers, you are the Chief Executive Officer of “The Next Door”, Inc. Why don’t you start off the program and explain what “The Next Door” is.

Linda Leathers: Thanks, Len, we are so excited about this opportunity to tell the nation about “The Next Door.” We’re a residential transition center that focuses on the needs of women coming out of incarceration. It’s housing. It’s recovery-based. It works with workforce development. We work with the needs of addiction and the mental health needs. We really concentrate on giving the woman the greatest opportunity for success when she re-enters society. That’s our goal, that’s our mission, and that’s our passion.

Len Sipes: Cindy Snead, you’re the Chief Clinical Officer. That means that you have to diagnose and make decisions as to who these individuals are and what they need.

Cindy Snead: Exactly, and we make the assumptions that everyone coming into our system has a mental disorder or at least some underlying mental health needs, as well as an addiction to a substance, and most woman who have an addiction to a substance also have cross-addictions, such as sexual addictions, gambling addictions, etc.

Len Sipes: And I’m going to go to Pat Dishman, the Director of the Office of Criminal Justice Program. Pat, now, you are principally a guiding agency for the state of Tennessee in terms of guiding criminal injustice endeavors, and my guess is that you also provide funding, and you also provide some of the funding for “The Next Door.”

Pat Dishman: That’s correct, and we are very happy to be a part of that collaboration. The State of Tennessee, as many of the states in the country, are looking at ways to deal with the whole re-entry issue of people who have spent time in the Criminal Justice System, as they come back into society, and “The Next Door” offered us a wonderful opportunity to support that, along with services for woman who had been institutionalized.

Len Sipes: I’m going to give out some contact points now, (202) 628-8550, for the National Criminal Justice Association, www.ncja.org and for “The Next Door”, and this is simply if you are going to search for information on “The Next Door” and it’s simply, www.TheNextDoor.org, and do I have that correctly, everybody?

All: Yes, Sir.

Len Sipes: Alright, let’s get into the gist of the program, and what we have is a situation where woman are now facing an increasing rate of incarceration. There are a higher percentage of the prison population than ever before, and I’ve done some radio shows and television shows at DC Public Safety on women offenders, and one of the astounding things is the rate of sexual violence towards woman as children. The research seems to indicate that the majority come from backgrounds of neglect, abuse and sexual violence.

I sat down with a group of women offenders once time at a prison in the state of Maryland, in a pre-release center, and I was astounded when I heard that an awful lot of them didn’t want to leave, that in that institution they had their meals, they had the counseling, they were getting their GEDs, they were getting occupational certificates in the big jail. This is a prison. The pre-release center. There, they felt safe. There, they felt that the world would not abuse them. Outside, there were no guarantees. Any comments to what I’m saying.

Linda Leathers: Well, we hear the woman commonly say in our program there are worse things than jail, and what you’ve described, you know, is the true state of affairs for many of our women, and they don’t have safe places to return to, and many of their families are in active addiction. The stressors of, inasmuch as they want, and since we’re talking about women, we have to bring in the children factor. You know, most of our women have children. Statistically, I believe, it’s over 50% of the woman incarcerated, and I think that’s low. Women across the country have at least 2.5 children a piece, and given that, they will say, “I’m ready to go home to be a mother to my children,” but when they return without the proper support in those homes, their children themselves, and the issues related to parenting, become huge stressors that drive them back into addiction and many times back into the Criminal Justice System.

Cindy Snead: And I would say, Len, that we’ve served, with “The Next Door”, since we opened in May of 2004, over 475 women and over 88% of those women would say that they were traumatized. They were abuse was as children, and you are right, it is sexual, and it is horrible, and it was never treated, and so then we get in this cycle of having to self-medicate because I don’t know how to deal with my pain and then you do whatever it takes to get your next hit of drugs, and so it becomes a vicious cycle that leads to criminal behavior. Sometimes, we get a chance here, at “The Next Door”, to tell them for the first time ever that it wasn’t their fault and to help them get help from the core abuse that has caused them great, great pain in their life.

Len Sipes: You know people are going to accuse me of being a screaming liberal here, and I come from a law enforcement background as where I started off with the Maryland State Police before I left to go to college, and you know I can be quite a bit of a conservative on a lot of issues when it comes to the Criminal Justice System, but here is my guess, and any of you can jump in and/or say I’m wrong, but an awful lot, and I’m not making excuses for these individuals. If they have done the crime, they should do the time, but I found that the overwhelming majority of the women offenders that I have been in contact with, throughout my professional career, are not what I consider to be a danger to society. In many cases, they are acting out their own addictions, or acting out their own mental health issues and they are more of a pain in the rear to society, more than they are a danger to society, and if given the treatment services, mental health services, substance abuse services and if they are given assistance in terms of dealing with their kids, they will be taxpayers and not tax burdens. Response?

Cindy Snead: I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s absolutely accurate, and you know, if the world were perfect, we could get to these woman before they ever reached the Criminal Justice System in the first place, and the reality is that there’s a phrase, you know, when you go to prison, you’re rehabbed, and there is the other thought that you have to be “habbed” in the first place, and the women that are entering our criminal justice society, they don’t have the tools to survive on their own, and the majority of the woman are being incarcerated as a result of some drug-related offense, be it prostitution, or larceny or theft in order to obtain drugs, in reality, the majority of it is drug-related. I believe that it’s not enough to know that the woman uses drugs, and that’s what sends her to prison. You have to get to why she uses drugs in the first place.

Len Sipes: Right, and Cindy Snead, you are the Chief Clinical Officer, my guess is that the heart and soul of their substance abuse, and the heart and soul of their acting out, is the fact that they were neglected as kids, and in many cases hit as kids, and in many cases sexually abused as kids, right or wrong?

Cindy Snead: That’s absolutely true, and basically that is proven again and again, and really the women and the statistics of the women coming into “The Next Door” and moving into society after leaving our program mirror that of the prisons. I mean, that’s common sense, and that’s why a lot of our program has been set up as a recovery and we are in the system of care to address all of those needs.

You know, a mental health disorder or an addiction, to me, is not an excuse for bad behavior.

Len Sipes: And we have to get that point across. It is not an excuse for bad behavior. In all the ills of this world, and all of the millions upon millions of individuals who turn to our Criminal Justice System, I mean we can make excuses in terms of their childhood and their upbringing for probably the majority of them, but yet there is a certain point where society has got to say no. There is a certain point where society has got to say, the prostitution brings down my community, the drug use brings down my community, the other crimes you were involved in bring down my community. So I understand why people are saying, “Hey, you know, they committed crimes, for the love of the heavens, shouldn’t they be held responsible?” But, I think some of the scariest things that you can do to a female offender is to put them in treatment to confront what’s happened to them previously and to go through the therapeutic community, and to go through the drug treatment. That, to me, is the scariest thing, and is the harshest thing, in fact, that you can do, if you will, to these individuals, so I don’t know how, and I’m stumbling here. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but if there are people who want that pound of flesh for individuals disobeying the law, to me, that is the pound the flesh. To me, that is the most difficult thing they will ever do in their lives, confronting their past.

Pat Dishman: Len, I think you’re right, and from a state’s perspective, and I also think from a national perspective, the re-entry issue, which is really part of what we are talking about here, whether it is women or men, “The Next Door” is just a wonderful example of a program for women, and we really have to confront. I mean, not only is it the right thing to do, but also it is a hugely important budget issue for the country and for the state. Do we continue to build more and more beds, more and more brick and mortar, or do we really try to deal with the issue of recidivism and reduce that and get to the heart of the program and help people not re-enter the system once they’ve paid their pound of flesh, and they’ve left.

Len Sipes: I have a woman who we were serving warrants in a section of Washington DC one time, and I think she summed up the whole re-entry movement, in my mind, beautifully. She was a member of the community and she simply said, “You know, the ones that need the help. The ones that really want the help, need the help and are willing to change, help them, but the ones who aren’t take them. Get them out of my community,” and I think that’s the heart and soul of it, that there are literally millions of people who can be helped, and there are literally millions of people who probably, at this stage in their lives, are unwilling to be helped, so there should be the re-entry programs in place for those individuals who are ready to be helped.

Cindy Snead: I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think what you are describing, Len, is a point of readiness. You know, I can see a woman that says, you know, “I’m ready to change, and I’m ready to change this, that and the other, specifically, in my life,” but she goes out and commits another crime, is re-incarcerated, and I ask her again, “So, are you ready to change now?” and she says, “Yes, I’m ready to change.”

So many times, my experience has taught me that those points of incarceration are moments of opportunity and that they are safe off the street long enough to really work with that woman, engage her and encourage that change in her life, and as Linda said early in the program, recovery from mental illness is absolutely possible. Recovery from addiction is absolutely possible, and recovery from going out and getting that fast money versus trying to make it on minimum wage with two children, you’ve go a lot of societal factors that are working against you, but you know recovery is possible with the right people and the right system that never gives up on them.

Pat Dishman: And that’s another reinforcement, also Len, of “The Next Door” for us, as a state funding agency. We are charged with, and of course the federal government continues to press this point, as we do in all the states, we don’t have the resources to place in programs that are not effective, that do not produce the outcome that we all need.

Len Sipes: That gets to the heart and soul of it. At what point can we, as governmental people, look the citizens square in the eye and say, “You know what, this program works. These people, a certain percentage, will become taxpayers instead of tax burdens. Your life is going to be safer because of it, and you are going to save money.” Can we do that? Can we look the citizen in the eye in terms of “The Next Door” Incorporated and say, this works.

Cindy Snead: I would say absolutely, and we show it through outcomes. We welcome accountability from all our funders. It’s important, and if we receive funding, there ought to be results, and we realize that, we welcome it, and actually we look forward to it because it allows us a greater platform to say, “Look what is happening.” I would just say, Len, 14% of the recidivism rates of women who come through our six-month program, and then leave our program after four years, 14% which is phenomenal.

Len Sipes: It is phenomenal. People don’t understand how good that is.

Cindy Snead: Right, because that 14%, that means that 86% are doing great and are working hard on their recovery, or if they’re having challenges, they’re calling back home. We are home for women, and programs like this can be established all over the country for both woman and men, because they just need a chance.

You said something earlier, that I just wanted to go back to. Our women are not bad women. They just make terrible choices, they want a second chance, and that is what we are here to give them.

Len Sipes: That’s the difficulty in terms of the larger discussion throughout the country, because, you know, and the people who have listened to this program have heard me give this example endlessly that my wife, who was the vice president of a PTA, said, “Why are we giving money to people who have harmed society? Why don’t we give this to the schools where we can wipe this out? We can do a much better job with our children if we put all this money into the schools.”

My mother, God bless her soul, said, “I’ve been through the Great Depression. I’ve been through the Second World War, at what point do we take care of the seniors of this country? Why is money going to people who have harmed other human beings?”

And the third question, is, okay, if these programs are so great, why aren’t they in every city and every community throughout the country?

So, there’s got to be a reason for the general reluctance, or we are just beginning to prove ourselves. I don’t know how to respond to all that.

Pat Dishman: I think it’s the second part, Len, that you just said. When you have so much as a funding agency, at the national, state or local level, tied up in, if you will, beds and/or bricks and mortar, I think it’s very difficult to find the dollars to either use on the front end of the system, which is prevention, which is what your wife is saying, obviously, and/or the backend which is ensuring that once the debt to society has been paid that services are available like “The Next Door” that are effective that can help to support those woman as they continue crime-free, hopefully, throughout the rest of their lives. It’s all a balance, and we never have enough money throughout the whole system, and I think that’s the best thing to say, at the time that you need it, but if we produce effective and support effective programs, then obviously one would hope over time that we can handle all of those budgetary problems in a way that citizens can feel good about.

Len Sipes: Ladies and Gentleman, you are listening to DC Public Safety. We have a program today from the National Criminal Justice Association. The National Criminal Justice Association has nominated this program for the Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award, and I want to give contact points out, (202) 628-8550, for the National Criminal Justice Association here in Washington, DC, www.ncja.org and the program we are talking about today is “The Next Door”, and you can find them through the internet at www.TheNextDoor.org, and do I have that correctly, everybody? We have three individuals: Pat Dishman, Director of the State of Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice programs; Linda Leathers, Chief Executive Officer for “The Next Door”; and Cindy Snead, Chief Clinical Officer The Next door. An extraordinarily interesting program. Cindy, do you go home broken-hearted at times in terms of all the stories of the individuals who come to you? I had a woman one time in a forum we were doing, stand up and simply said, “The woman I’m living with pulled a knife on me and my two children and told us to get out, so I’m now homeless with two kids, what are you going to do about it?” and that’s the day to day reality of women offenders coming out of the jail and prison systems. They have kids. They have the enormous responsibility of taking care of those kids. They want to be clean, but it’s very difficult making your way from point A to point B.

Cindy Snead: Yes, it is, and yes my heart has been broken many, many times, and I have to say that if I don’t feel their pain to a certain extent, then I’m impaired professionally myself, and that’s a dangerous balance, and trying to maintain self-care for all of our staff because we do put so much into the work of “The Next Door” and we believe every woman is worth another shot and another opportunity, so I will say, as well, that one of the things is that, the more you work with these women, and you mentioned earlier how this has got to be one of the toughest things ever to do, which is to face whatever caused that pain, and being here for six months in our transitional living program, you have an opportunity to really begin to work on that, and do it with a lot of support around, so it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid really fast versus ripping it off slowly and then beginning to dig into that wound, and what has caused that pain. The more you work with them, the more you figure out that they are not victims as they have seen themselves in the past, but they emerge as survivors.

I mean, the things these women have survived, every story that you hear is a privilege to hear, and it is just as painful as the one before it, and one of the things that “The Next Door” has really learned a lot in the past couple of years is that we need to put more of our injury into the intergenerational impact of addiction, and subsequently the crimes that come with that, and that means backing up and doing some prevention work with the children of the woman coming out of our programs, so we are really taking a strong interest in working with these little kids, and some of them are adult children of these woman, and try and help them learn how to talk to one another and help the mom explain where she has been and why she has been where she has been.

Len Sipes: Well, the research on the children of incarcerated parents seems to indicate a lot of this dysfunction, of early age of onset of drug use, of alcohol, and getting involved in the Criminal Justice System, so if there are 2.5 kids for every woman in the Tennessee Criminal Justice System, and I don’t know if that’s a national figure or a Tennessee figure, we are at the same time, I am assuming, addressing the needs of those kids by addressing the needs of the mother, and we do that collectively.

Pat Dishman: Exactly, Len, and back to that point of balance, I think that we’re trying to make certain that everyone gets the services that they need, but also the balance in regard to funding effective programs versus programs that are not as effective. I would just like to make the point, and I know your listeners are well aware of this, but struggling with funding at any time is always an issue, but lately during the last few years we have found ourselves in a situation of almost, for all spending in our country because of a our problems, where we are looking at perhaps reduced funding, and one of the things that we have been very concerned about with “The Next Door” is that if cuts are happening to our level of funding that we can use to support these kinds of programs, then what will we do to address the issues of the women and their children if we are faced with those kinds of real happenings that could occur.

Len Sipes: Well, you have federal budget cuts that go down to the state, and agencies like yourself, the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, virtually ever state in the country has a similar type of office where monies flow through. You’re supposed to coordinate the anti-crime effort in the state of Tennessee, as the other offices are supposed to create anti-crime efforts in their own states, and if you don’t have the funding flowing from DC, then you don’t have the ability, or you have less of an ability to fund innovative programs like “The Next Door.”

Pat Dishman: That’s right, and I would like for Linda and Cindy to talk a little bit about how wonderful their collaboration has been. Our office, the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, has used the Bar and Justice Assistance Grant to offer funding “The Next Door.” Now, I know that they also, because they have done such a good job of collaboration, and really using funds to leverage against other funds, they have money from different state departments, and I think Linda you also have another federal grant, but in regard to that Bar and Justice Assistance Grant, Len, we have seen that funding go up and down for the last few years, and unfortunately this last year, which was the Federal Fiscal Year 2008, we received reduction in that formula grant, and everyone of course, almost 67%, which is pretty staggering when you are trying to deal with how do we keep this money flowing to programs like “The Next Door.”

Cindy Snead: And I’ve said, Len, it’s so important that we provide housing with the supportive services. It’s not either/or. It must both, and with the Bar and JAG, I felt it was an amount of money for three years in which we could really invest in our substance abuse treatment, our recovery support services, and so we do believe as an organization, and we would encourage any organization to think about diversity of funding, but not all of any funding that is coming from one source, but this has been a tremendous source of funding for us that really established a program that has now become a national model, so groups, the treatment plans and the goal setting are all a part of this grant, and I will tell you we are so grateful for the accountability that the Criminal Justice Program demands of our program. I know that they are utilizing that money very faithfully, because the requirements of the program are great, and that is what should happen for government leaders and therefore, for taxpayers like me, it’s great to know that the money has been administered well.

Pat Dishman: And that actually gets to your point, Len, you can actually look at the taxpayer and say, “For this dollar invested, this is what we got back for you.”

Len Sipes: Yeah, and I think that’s probably the most important thing that we can do for the taxpayer because they are simply asking, “Where are my dollars going, and what is that doing to make me safer, and what are you doing to relieve the tax burden from me?” and I think that has to happen. But, now, to be perfectly fair, there are going to be a lot of people who will say, “Look, Ladies, if the program is that wonderful, why doesn’t the state of Tennessee fund it?”

Pat Dishman: Sure, absolutely, and it , Linda, I’m trying to think. I know you don’t have any state dollars from us. Are their state dollars from any other department at this point.

Linda Leathers: You know, we do. Again, diversity of funding from those private donations, corporations, foundations, some governmental, local, state and federal are so crucial to the mix, that we can’t get lopsided on any one of those. We do receive some money from the Department of Mental Health and Development. We do receive some funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) through the Accessed Recovery Grant, but the Bar and JAGrant has been most instrumental in helping us get to the point of building the quality program in which we are showing the outcomes and for which we definitely need for this society.

Pat Dishman: Len, your point about the state’s support, you are absolutely right, and what our job is, in this office, as in the other state departments, is to make sure that we are not duplicating services, to work together and to also have a team put our money, the taxpayers money in Tennessee that comes through Tennessee State Government, into the programs that are the most effective in that we can produce the best results for the least amount of money.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the whole idea behind all of the Offices of Criminal Justice Programs throughout the country, and I think there are different reasons why the National Criminal Justice Association is as interested in this discussion, because everybody understands that we have to maximize our dollars and we have to prove our worthiness to the taxpayer, and I think that as long as we do that, we are going to receive some support, and that’s why I think that the state of Tennessee and “The Next Door,” I think is a profoundly good example of holding ourselves, we in the Criminal Justice System, accountable because I think in the final analysis, if we can’t prove our worth, then it’s going to be awfully hard to go to people and ask for money. You got to prove your worth.

Now, we have two minutes. Ladies, any other final points?

Linda Leathers: Well, from “The Next Door” standpoint, it’s wonderful to see changes occur in the lives of women, because we know that transformation is going to work down to the families, so we are changing generational patterns, and that’s what funding does. That’s what peer relationships does, that’s what quality services do. We can’t say thank you enough to the Criminal Justice Program, to the Bar and JAG, and so many people out there that are working in the system and outside the system when they come out, to make a woman’s life successful when she come out.

Pat Dishman: And then what we are going to do, is that we are going to continue as a state to work, and obviously with the state dollars that we have, but also with the National Criminal Justice Association, as we continue to tell the story, as you have said, to the American Citizen about what is needed and how we can ensure that the money that is placed in our stead to use is used most effectively.

Len Sipes: Cindy?

Cindy Snead: Well, Len, I would say in closing that the message that I think that we are trying to communicate here today is that a woman is not her crime, and “The Next Door” exist to give the woman the tools to prove it.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ll tell you, I think that your program, and I’ve been in touch with other programs throughout the country, and a program here in the District of Columbia, and I think these programs are extraordinarily important. I think they allow an individual, if they are ready, to cross that bridge and take care of their kids. All of us in the Criminal Justice System have simply seen way too many kids go neglected, and we say to ourselves, that if we can somehow, some way deal with this problem of neglect and have people raise their kids responsibly and we can have a real impact on the overall issue of crime and justice within this country, and I think that’s what you are trying to do. You are trying to help the individual offenders cross that bridge and take care of their kids, and that’s what everybody wants. I think that’s the bottom line to me.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety Program of the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington, DC. The program today has been coordinated by the National Criminal Justice Association, and their program “The Next Door” was their Outstanding Criminal Justice Program award winner. The contact points for the National Criminal Justice Association are (202) 628-8550, or www.ncja.org and for information about “The Next Door”,” it is www.TheNextDoor.org and to Linda Leathers, Cindy Snead and to Pat Dishman, thank you ladies.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is again DC Public Safety, and we do listen to every comment that you make. We take them into consideration, contact us at DC Public Safety through your internet search engine, or simply go and search for media.csosa.gov and have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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RI DWI Program Matches Offenders and Victims With Students

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.
See http://media.csosa.gov/blog for the “DC Public safety” blog.

This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=88

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphone today is Tracey Poole, Chief of Information and Public Relations for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. One of the things that Tracy did, she brought a program to our attention called “Zero Fatalities Project,” a very successful program there in Rhode Island. This is the first time we are doing a Skype-related interview. For those of you who are not familiar with Skype, it is a digital interview between myself and Tracey, and this is the first time we are trying it, and I just want to tell everybody that DC Public Safety is way over a million requests now for the program, since its inception in January of 2007. Government Computer News just gave us the ranking as one of the ten best websites in state and local government. So please get in touch with us. We respond to all of your comments. We respond to all of your suggestions at www.media.csosa.gov or simply search for DC Public Safety.

Tracey, now you and I have a lot in common. I was a Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which was with Corrections and Police. How long have you been Chief of Information and Public Relations for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections?

Tracey Poole: I’ve been in this position for two years and in public relations for over 20.

Len Sipes: Okay, did you do public relations for Criminal Justice or emergency agencies before you came to Rhode Island, or before you came to the Department of Corrections?

Tracey Poole: No, actually, I didn’t. Most of my career was spent in higher education.

Len Sipes: Okay, now is it crazy. The 14 years I spent in Maryland I found to be extraordinarily taxing and extraordinarily exciting, being on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and wow that’s an eye opener.

Tracey Poole: Yes, it is. It’s absolutely never boring, I always tell people, and I never know what the day will bring, and I love it. It’s fascinating work.

Len Sipes: It is fascinating work, but it does get a bit tiring. I can remember sitting and having dinner about 300 miles away, in a lakeside restaurant with my wife, and we are sitting there having this lovely candlelit dinner, and the phone goes off, and even though I’m on vacation, they are demanding that I take this particular media call, and my wife wanted to tell the Secretary of Public Safety to, oh, I don’t know. I can’t say in public what she said me to do, but I said, “Dear, I’m stuck with this. I’m just the one who has to respond to this question,” so I would imagine you are basically in the same boat.

Tracey Poole: Yes. Yes, that was made clear to me during the interview process that it is that you are on-call 24/7 and you know I do get calls in the evening sometimes, or on the weekends, but I have a great boss and I work with a lot of wonderful people, and I think it’s worth the trade-off.

Len Sipes: I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in the Criminal Justice System for an awfully long time, close to 40 years, and you’ve been in the Criminal Justice System for two. I’m very impressed with the caliber of people in the Criminal Justice System and I would imagine you are too. Most people are surprised as to how good and how dedicated and how smart and how educated the people in Corrections really are.

Tracey Poole: I definitely agree with that. We’ve had a lot of people retiring over the last couple of weeks. We have some changes going on in state government here in Rhode Island, so I’ve been attending a lot of farewell parties and listening to tributes to people and it really brings it home how dedicated and fantastic so many of the staff are who have been here and have seen changes over the years, and really been through a lot.

Len Sipes: Okay, Tracey one of the things that we are here for today is to talk about the “Zero Fatalities Project.” Now, from what I understand, you are presenting this to students and various groups and they go inside of a prison. They go before inmates, and these are people who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated on charges, and sometimes the individuals who go inside of the prisons get to hear from parents of victims. So, one of the things that I remember, because I started off my time in the Maryland State Police, and my career in the Criminal Justice System, was the outrageousness of the drinking while intoxicated accidents. People without arms, people without legs, and I’ve seen an entire family virtually wiped out by a drunk driver, so this is something that is of immense importance to every person in the country, and probably every person in the world, where there are cars. And so you think you have a program that has an impact.

Tracey Poole: Yes, we hope so. We launched it last spring during prom and graduation season, and I just wanted to let you know that while it is a project of the Department of Corrections, we do have quite a few partners who are helping and supporting us in this effort, and those include the Rhode Island Attorney General Office, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Family Court, the Police Chief Association, the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. So, it is a joint initiative.

Len Sipes: One of the things that really amazed me is that you did a survey, and 49% of the people who you surveyed, who participated in this, said that they were a passenger in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. Now, I find that to be astounding.

Tracey Poole: Yeah, by someone who had been drinking. Yeah, we didn’t get specific about how much, but any amount is probably too much, and we had 1600 people come through the program just through the month of May, basically last year, which was when we launched.

Len Sipes: Wow, that’s a lot of people.

Tracey Poole: Yeah, quite a few. I think 26 different groups.

Len Sipes: Now was that involved with prom season?

Tracey Poole: Yes, right. We targeted prom and graduation seasons because we know that’s a time when there’s a lot of vulnerability for this. You know, a lot of kids are going out, unfortunately, partying and there tend to be more accidents at that time.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I told both of my daughters I was putting GPS devices on the cars, and I was not joking, although I really was, but they didn’t know that. Let’s see, now the inmates who get involved in this, now they are serving time in a Rhode Island Correctional Facility for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)?

Tracey Poole: Yes, and it just so happens that all of the panelists that we currently have are doing DUI, death-resulting sentences, the majority of about ten years.

Len Sipes: Wow, now are these chronic DWI drivers, are these first-timers, or is the primary variable here the fact that they were involved in an automobile accident where somebody died?

Tracey Poole: Yeah, that’s the primary variable. They get up and they speak about their experience, what led up to the crash, what type of behaviors they were engaged in, and there is quite a range. We have male and female panelists, which is kind of a first in our system. We don’t normally bring together male and female offenders for programs, so that was kind of a hard sell in the beginning with the staff here, but I think everybody realizes that this helps make it a panel that everyone in the audience can relate to. There is somebody on that panel that everybody in the audience can connect with. We have a woman who was a young mother at the time of her crash. We have a woman who was a senior in high school at the time of her crash. We have a male offender who was climbing the corporate ladder and had a successful career and was engaged to be married, and he was a college graduate. And then there are a couple of male offenders who were younger, high school age, and one just out of high school at the time of their crashes. So, it’s quite a diverse panel.

Len Sipes: Bringing the victims in, or the parents of the victims, I would imagine, and so what we are implying here is, in terms of parents of the victims, that they were younger people when they died?

Tracey Poole: Yes, we have the father of a young man that was killed November of ’07 by a drunk driver, and he speaks very movingly and eloquently about the experience. I mean, we were all kind of blown away by his willingness to get up and talk so soon after his son’s death, but he finds it therapeutic, I think, and also has a very strong passion about wanting to spread the message wherever he can to try to prevent this from happening to other families. And the other parents who have participated have a daughter who is still alive, but basically completely disabled, as the result of a DUI crash, and she was 13, I believe, at the time of the crash, and she’s about 18 now.

Len Sipes: I have done death notifications, knocking on the door and grabbing a priest or a minister and generally speaking, and this is quite some time ago, I think they were all driving while intoxicated-related offenses, where you go from the scene and the medical office comes along and picks up the body, and then your next step is to knock on the door and tell a wife her husband is now dead, or tell parents that the child is now dead, and you don’t forget that.

In all of this, Tracey, do you get a sense that it makes an impact because we have this society that almost celebrates the concept of alcohol, regarding major life events, and I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite. I’ve had more than a couple of drinks myself throughout my years, but the concept of drinking and then getting behind a steering wheel is something that leads oftentimes to horrific results, and I’m not quite sure the students, before they come to your program, fully understand the unbelievable tragedy that this inflicts upon, not just families, but entire communities. Before they get there, is there an impact? Does the program have an impact on them?

Tracey Poole: Well, there isn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence to it, although we did survey everyone who came through, and we had a pretty good response rate, about 34%, so our planning and research unit analyzed those surveys, and according to the surveys, about 46% said that they would change their behaviors as a result of attending, and I think 669% said that they would share what they learned with friends and family. I think just from having sat in the room for every one of the presentations, that impact is something that you cannot necessarily capture in the survey, and I’ve had parents call me and teachers speak to me and say how powerful it was, and how much the kids were impacted, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary reflected in a survey, but I mean we are not naive enough to think that we are going to stop teens from drinking, although that would be great, but what we are trying to do is get them to at least make better choices, and to take this seriously and realize they are not in control.

Len Sipes: Well, Tracey, I’m asking the question because there is a variety of research that in terms of a “Scared Straight” type of programs for criminal populations, where individuals who are in trouble with the law, do not seem to have that much of an impact on them. This, however, I would imagine would have an impact. It’s just that, and I guess I’m editorializing just a tad, and that is to say that so many people seem to take this concept of drinking and driving in a fairly cavalier way. The younger individuals seem to be more prone to it, than the older individuals, and I have no idea if that’s true or not. That’s just my inference, but sometimes you get frustrated with larger society and the mixed messages we give about the consumption of alcohol, and what it does to your ability to make good decisions. Now, that transcends drinking and driving. That could be young girls who are the victims of sexual assault, because , well, not because, but drinking is part of that, and to me that is a tremendous tragedy of individuals getting in fights or engaging in other criminal behavior while under the influence of alcohol. In fact, alcohol is one of the biggest correlates that you will find in terms of violent crime, especially interpersonal violent crime. So I sometimes wonder what the mixed message is that we give in society that this sort of a program can really cut through the clutter and remind people that alcohol has some real consequences regardless of whether you are 16 or 56.

Tracey Poole: Yes, that’s right. I mean, we certainly help that this is going to make a difference and that it has only been that one targeted month of May that we really did it intensely, and now we are gearing up for another school year, so the reservations are starting to come in by word of mouth, and we did a brochure and a mailing, and I’m starting to get bookings now for this year, and hopefully we will reach a lot more school across the state, and we would like to get parent groups involved, because I think one of the keys is not just having the kids come and hear the message, but having their parents here and then having dialogue between the parents and the kids.

Len Sipes: They say that dialogue is the biggest factor in terms of all of the research that I’ve looked at, it’s the biggest factor in terms of keeping kids off of drugs and kids away from alcohol, it’s that conversation that parents have with their kids and setting “no nonsense” goals with their kids and expectations for their kids. Do you think that’s correct?

Tracey Poole: Yes, I do, definitely. I have, if you want to bear with me for a minute, while I look at the brochure, I have a couple of quotes here from some of the panelists that kind of convey how powerful this is.

Len Sipes: While you are looking I am going to reintroduce you. Ladies and Gentleman, you are listening to DC Public Safety, our first Skype and/or digital interview with somebody beyond the studio that we have here in Washington DC. We are talking to Tracey Poole, and Tracy is Chief Information Officer in Public Relations for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, and she’s talking about the “Zero Fatalities Project.” Tracey, do you have your quotes?

Tracey Poole: Yes, I do. One of our offenders, I mentioned earlier, who was older at the time of his crash, in his 30s, actually, and climbing the corporate ladder says, “No words can capture the pain that was in that courtroom, but you could feel it. This is a burden none of you ever wants to carry around for the rest of your life.”

Then, we have a woman who had two young children at the time of her crash, and she is here for ten years, and said, “A ten-year sentence is nothing compared with the pain of knowing I took a mother’s only child.” Her crash resulted in the death of a 17-year-old.

Then, we have a father of a young man who was killed by a drunk driver, who speaks and says, “Close your eyes. Envision the person you love more than anyone else in the world standing up here in my shoes talking about your death. This is as real as it gets.”

Then, we have another young woman who was a senior. I think she was going to the beach with friends, you know, around the time of graduation, and had way too much to drink and was in a crash that resulted in the death of two elderly woman. She says, “Prison is like another world, especially for someone young who has never been in trouble before. All it takes is one bad choice.”

Len Sipes: You know, I had friends, and I have to put this gently, friends of mine who, these individuals were truly, truly community-oriented individuals, and they gave an awful lot of active time to sports teams in the area, and they were just fun to be with and friendly and known to be staunch supporters of community-related activities, yet they allowed their under-aged son, when he went to a resort, to have alcohol in the car, and I always said, I said to my wife, I said, “As nice and as community-oriented as these individuals are, they are just wonderful people, I think what they’ve done/what they did was just making a huge mistake, and they are never going to live it down if he gets involved in an alcohol-related crash where he kills somebody else or kills himself,” but I guess I’m going back to that sense of people being cavalier. You’ve read three quotes. Those three quotes were profound. They were very moving to me, but yet I go back to that sense that society is somewhat cavalier about drinking and driving.

Tracey Poole: Right, I mean there are messages everywhere that are hitting our kids, in the media and all over the place, and it’s definitely going to be a difficult thing to combat, and I think that there are all kinds of efforts out there, and this is just one of them. What we hope is that the actual experience of coming in to the prison is something that is going to stay with the kids. You know, they are not necessarily used to thinking of it from the perspective of the offender. I think that a lot of the messages they are getting are more from the victim’s perspective and that’s equally important, but you know a lot of times I think kids don’t realize, “If I get behind the wheel after a couple of drinks, I might end up, not only killing somebody, but ruining my own life, ruining my family’s lives,” and the results are just devastating, so when they see somebody up there and they are in inmates clothing, who kind of looks like them, and talks about having been very much like them when they were in high school, it does hit home.

Len Sipes: Well, it to me, there are profound decisions that individuals make and they don’t realize they are profound decisions, and one of the most profound is having, as far as I’m concerned, one drink and driving a vehicle. I’ve seen people who are not even close to the legal limit affected by one beer, one glass of wine, and they are now dangerous to themselves and dangerous to others. So, other people would say, “Leonard, you are going way overboard. You are being way too strict,” and I’ve seen it firsthand how people with one glass of wine or one beer go out and get involved in terrible accidents, so in any event, Tracey, what did I miss about your program? It’s fascinating, the “Zero Fatalities Project.” You are getting a lot of publicity there in Rhode Island, and more and more people are coming to the program, I understand?

Tracey Poole: Well, one of the reasons that we decided to do this in the first place, is that there is a community in Rhode Island called Barrington, and in Rhode Island, this is a fairly affluent community that has been getting a lot of attention on the press because there were a series of DUI-related crashes there and it seemed that all of a sudden the media kind of glommed on to Barrington, and then it became this Barrington’ issue.

Len Sipes: I remember that.

Tracey Poole: When, in fact, it’s really not just Barrington, and if you look at those statistics, and the Attorney General Office is a little bit more up on those than I am, but there have been crashes in every community, pretty much, in the state, so it’s not just Barrington, but I think the fact that there were quite a few in close proximity, and just the idea that it’s this affluent community just brought the focus onto Barrington, and we had a request for one of our offenders who is now on the “Zero Fatalities Project” panel to go and speak at Barrington High School. The director actually granted him a furlough and he did. He’s a minimum security inmate, so he was allowed to go and speak, and that had a tremendous impact, I guess, on the students in Barrington, but the director did not want to focus on one particular offender, and make a celebrity out of anyone, and so that’s when I started thinking, “You know, let’s do something where instead of taking offenders out, which is difficult on many levels, and we’ll actually invite students here.” We have a program here that’s been in place for many years called the “Score Program,” that is sort of similar to that “Scared Straight” idea but not quite along those lines, but it’s a similar format to this where we have a panel of inmates and students come in and hear them, but they are serving for a whole variety of offenses, and they talk about gang behavior, better decision-making and that’s just the common thread, bullying, drugs, and all kinds of different things. And so we have sort of the model in place, and high schools from across the state have been coming to that for years, and some middle schools. So we kind of modeled this “Zero Fatalities Project” along the “Score Program” but targeted it specifically to DUI offenses, and it seems to be very well received. I have had lots of response from taskforces around the state, prevention taskforces, substance abuse coordinators, and as I mentioned we have all these partners, so the word is getting out through them. The family court has sent kids to us for it. Our partners in law enforcement are getting the word out, so it seems like there was a niche that we could fill, and hopefully it’s going to have an impact.

Len Sipes: Tracey is there a place where people can get in touch with you for additional information?

Tracey Poole: Yes, they can call me at (401)462-2609, or also email me at Tracey.Poole@doc.ri.gov, and we also have some information on the program on our website which is www.doc.ri.gov and if you click on the left-hand link for “media and community relations” there will be a link to a PDF version of the brochure on the program which includes a registration form, and all kinds of information.

Len Sipes: Alright, Tracey. Ladies and Gentleman, Tracey Poole, Chief Information Officer in Public Relations for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, and she is talking about the “Zero Fatalities Project.” Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety, and I’m your host Len Sipes, and we respond to every email, every comment to you get to us at www.media.csosa.gov or simply search for DC Public Safety. We enjoy your comments and we respond to each and every suggestion that you have for the program. And Tracy Poole, again, (401)462-2609, or Tracey.Poole@doc.ri.gov, and have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[End Audio]

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Released from Parole Supervision-Faith Based Programs

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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=86

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Back at our microphones in sort of a joyous reunion, if you will, is the Reverend Yvonne Cooper. Reverend Cooper is a faith-based counselor. She is with the Allan Chapel AME Church, and the reason why we are celebrating is that Paul Tranthan is a former offender. As of today, Paul went before the Parole Commission and was released from our supervision today, and with all of the issues in the country regarding offenders doing well, successfully completing their terms of supervision, well, we have somebody fresh from the parole commission hearing, and Paul Tranthan, and to Yvonne Cooper, welcome to DC Public Safety, once again.

Rev. Yvonne Cooper: Thank Lennie.

Len Sipes: You know, and one of the things and the reasons why we talk about this again, is that they had been here about 1-1/2 years ago, and in the show notes, I am going to mark or show you how to get to their original show, and we can hopefully get a progression of how Paul has proceeded from that earlier show to today, but before getting into the interview with Paul and Yvonne, I want to remind everybody that at DC Public Safety, we read every email that you send us. We take it all into consideration, all of your suggestions, and feel free to contact us at media.csosa.gov or go ahead and simply search on your internet search engine for DC Public Safety and my email address is there or you can respond in terms of the comments mechanism that is already there. We are now one of the top ten websites for state and local government, per Government Computer Magazine and we are now well beyond a million requests for the show, so I want to thank you, the listeners, and the viewers to DC Public Safety, and with that long and complicated introduction, Reverend Yvonne Cooper and Paul Tranthan.

Paul, how are you doing?

Paul Tranthan: I’m doing great.

Len Sipes: How do you feel today?

Paul Tranthan: I feel really good about myself and about what I have accomplished over the years being on supervised parole, and I think that I’ve accomplished a great thing today.

Len Sipes: Well, I think that you have too because within the Criminal Justice System, Paul, as you well know, there are a lot of people who don’t make it. You know, there is research from the department of justice that in essence states that about 66% of offenders are re-arrested while under supervision, 50% go back to prison, and now that’s just for arrest, and for serious arrests as measured by the Department of Justice, if we included all arrests, and if we included technical violations, some people have said, “Well, that 66% would go up to 85% and maybe even 90%.” So a lot of people do not do well under their supervision and you are one of the ones who has done well. So, first of all, congratulations, you are a former offender. Reverend Cooper constantly reminds me that the term offender drives her crazy and she can have a chance to respond to that, and she will give her own reasons why as to this concept of “offender,” but that is how most people respond to people under supervision, Paul, and that’s why I use the term. I don’t even have to do a permission slip for you today. You are free and clear of us.

Paul Tranthan: And that’s good, but let me touch back on something that you spoke on about individuals coming out on parole and returning back in. I once was like that, and I did do that myself, made the mistake of an accident on parole and caught a new charge and to be returned to prison, because alcoholism and narcotics abuse. Well, I told myself, this time when I went back in, that I wasn’t coming back in these bars again, so the training started on the inside of that prison, right then.

Len Sipes: And I think one of the reasons why the program is important is to give people an understanding as to that whole sense of the changed process. One of the reasons why Yvonne is so important to us is that she takes people under her wing who come out of the prison system and out of jails, and she through the Faith Based Initiative takes them under her wing and provides them with guidance, provides them with care. The faith-based community, I think, is a very important ingredient in terms of assisting people who come out of the prison system. I did an interview with the Director of Prison Fellowship, just a little while ago, and we called it the Gang for Good. Instead of coming back out into the old friends, the old gang, or the gang for destruction, this was a Gang for Good, and that’s how we referred to the faith-based movement. So you have to have that personal conviction. Okay, every offender that I have ever talked to, every person caught up in the Criminal Justice System, and Yvonne is looking at me (regarding the term offender), has basically said the same thing.

Okay, so if you are not ready, there is nothing we can do?

Paul Tranthan: I believe the individual must be, they have to be ready. It’s on them. You can do everything you would like to do to help this individual to see the other side of life or see ,

Len Sipes: How do you figure out who is ready and who is not? Because every person I have ever talked to in person, every person says, “Yeah, man, I’m not going to go back. I’m not going to go back,” and some of these people have been through a lot of programming, and then when I ran group in the Maryland Prison System, you would get a call from his wife three weeks later saying, “Leonard, he’s back on the corner.”

Paul Tranthan: Short and simple, you will know not by their words, but by their actions.

Len Sipes: Well, but we’ve got to supervise offenders, and there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people coming out of the prison system every year, between 650- and 700,000. That’s not including the ones, the millions, that are already out there under supervision. How do we, within the Criminal Justice System, make that miraculous discovery as to who is good and who is not? I mean, their actions speak for themselves, I understand that, but at what point do you wait? How many times do you wait? Three drug positives? Four drug positives? Five drug positives? Not going to treatment? Going but not cooperating? Employed but not successfully employed? At what point do you simply yank that person and throw him back in prison?

Paul Tranthan: Well, what had happened for me was that I had to believe in myself and once I believed in myself and told myself that I was not going to come back behind these bars ever again, you know, change automatically started for me. As far as when individuals come out and start off doing good, and then end up back in there for whatever reason it may be, well if they need to communicate with their supervisor, or whoever the parole officer is for them, and the parole officer must have an understanding to this individual, not excusing their negative behavior, or negative actions. Now, if an individual comes to the parole officer or probation officer and tells them about a problem that they are having on the job, or at home, then the probation officer tries to intervene and tries to give them the best advice and help and counseling through counselors, or helping them, and then they don’t adhere to it, then it’s the part of the parole officer of the probation officer that needs to make a decision whether or not this individual should remain in the street or be re-incarcerated.

Len Sipes: I know that. We all know that. What is the magic formula that we can use, and the answer is, there is no magic formula. You know what I mean? You know, I had a very interesting case in Baltimore when I worked for the Maryland system, and here is a guy. He comes out of prison. The wife lets him come home, and he’s being a good father. He’s being a good husband. He’s going to work. He’s going to drug treatment, but he keeps pulling positives for marijuana. Okay, now one marijuana, two marijuana, three marijuanas, that’s one thing. Four marijuana and five marijuana, and I think you are talking about drug positives and we are up to six now. What do you do with that person? So they are reading this guy the riot act, saying he’s about the blow the whole thing, and there is a certain point where there is no choice but to send him back to prison. Seven positives, eight positives, nine positives, you know? There’s a certain point where you’re just risking everything. Now, what had happened with this person is that we did intervene and the entire family intervened, and that’s when he stopped. That’s when he stopped, but if head gone out and committed a crime, and the public knew that we knew that he had pulled nine positives for drugs, and we didn’t do anything with him, and he goes out and hurts somebody, boy, they are going to be yelling at us and screaming at us, and it’s going to be on the front page of the newspapers. That’s what we, in the Criminal Justice System, have got to deal with. What I’m doing, is trying to figure out from you, what can we do better? What should we do better in terms with dealing with offenders because virtually all offenders bring problems to the table?

Paul Tranthan: Well, once again, I truly believe that it is on the individual themselves. Now, the question you are asking me, what can you all do to better help the offenders? I believe that you can get more deeply involved with the individual, you know, instead of giving so many offenders to a few parole officers or probation officers, you should have more probation officers where they can afford to have like one to maybe three offenders at a time, and I’m just saying that number, maybe a little bit more where they can put a little bit more quality time into this individual and maybe can help this individual stay on the street. But, once again, no matter how much one does for an individual that has come home and decides they want to continue, no matter how much you do, if they want to use drugs, they are going to use drugs. They will get around the system, do you know what I’m saying? I can remember when I was doing drugs back in 2000 when all this began for me. I knew when to get high and when not to get high. I knew when to come down to the parole officer and I knew my urine was going to come out clean, and I was totally dirty, so it’s on the individual, and I say that because I used to be a drug addict. I used to be an alcoholic addict. So it’s on the individual. Now, that’s my only solution to helping an individual that is incarcerated that comes home, and then talking to them, counseling them, and letting them know you don’t have to come out here and try to get and obtain everything just like that. It took time for you to destroy your life. It’s going to take time for you to rebuild your life. It’s going to take time for you to get the community to trust you again, and I won’t say that they won’t because so many people have trusted me. You would not even begin to believe or imagine all of the trust that I have received from the community and from those in high positions, nice jobs, and just have trusted me, and I have not violated that trust, or betrayed their trust or belief in me. I believe that individuals, and once again, I’m strongly believe that it has to be on the individual themselves. You know, CSOSA ,

Len Sipes: Which is our agency, Court Services Offender Supervision Agency, go ahead please.

Paul Tranthan: CSOSA, and anyone. Your parents, your pastor, they can do everything in the moon or up under the earth to try and help this individual to see the light, but if this individual does not believe within themselves or is not ready, there is really not too much that you can do.

Len Sipes: Alright, let me ask you this, this organization, and I won’t ask you to comment on all 50 Parole and Probation organizations out there and throughout the country, this organization. Do you feel that , you know, I had somebody tell me at one point, when we were having this same discussion, “Just be ready for me. When I’m ready to make that change, please be ready for me.” Please be ready for those people who have made that personal commitment to substantial change. Do you think that were ready? Do we have enough drug treatment? Do we have enough mental health programs? Do we have enough vocational programs? Do we have enough interventions to meaningful help those people who do want to make that break?

Paul Tranthan: Mr. Sipes, the answer to your question is yes. You all are more than ready, and the reason why, back in 1989-1990, the judicial system wasn’t as sensitive to individuals being incarcerated and coming back home. They showed where they could care less, you know what I’m saying? It was a revolving door, and they could care less? Okay, if you violate or you mess up, you are going back in prison, that’s it and that’s all, but today there are more programs for ex-offenders. There are more jobs now that would never hire ex-offenders in my belief, such as metro. Metro has hired.

Len Sipes: The subway and the bus.

Paul Tranthan: Exactly, correct. There are places and there are jobs now where you can go in and unless they tell you, you wouldn’t know it, that they are an ex-offender and they have been incarcerated. They might have been in on a minor misdemeanor, or it may have been a felony, but the bottom line is that they are in positions or working jobs that one time you would not see someone that was an ex-offender.

Len Sipes: That’s part of my contention of the fact that, you know, people feel that they are free of the issue, depending upon where they live, whether they live in a low-crime neighborhood in Washington DC, or whether they live in the suburbs, my contention all along is that anywhere in this country, if you live within a 15-minute drive of any major metropolitan area, you are interacting with hundreds of ex-offenders every day, and you just don’t know it.

Paul Tranthan: And you just don’t realize it. You know, that’s ironic that you said that, because I said that last night to an individual that was talking about that. I said, “Unless that individual told you that they was a offender, or unless I told you that I’ve been in prison, you would never know, according to how I act, how I dress, how I talk ,”

Len Sipes: And how you carry yourself. That’s exactly right, but you can tell in many cases because some people wear it like a badge of honor. I don’t know why they do what they do, but some people just scream, “I’ve served time,” correct?

Paul Tranthan: Some do, and a lot don’t and you know I believe that the reason why is at one time it was ignorance, and I would even say it’s the epitome of ignorance that you want to say, “Yeah, I’ve been locked up, and I’ve done time for this, you better check my record?” I don’t need to check your record, do you understand? I don’t want to check your record? I mean, what can you do for society today? And what are you doing for society if you are not a locked up man?

Len Sipes: What are you doing for your kids, because 60-70% of people coming out of prison have kids.

Paul Tranthan: Right, exactly, and you know what were you? At the time that you were incarcerated, what was that young lady going through? How was she struggling? How was she making it to take care of your child and the kids? So, personally, I’m not ashamed of being locked up because I don’t think that God sends anyone to prison, but he will allow you to go to prison, and but once I went to prison, I realized for myself that I am not no jail mate or jail material and I cared enough about myself not to be sitting in behind these bars. I thought enough of me as an individual, as a person, as a human, you know, that this is not my life, and this is not what I , I would rather be out in the street, walking the streets than to be incarcerated in a room where I could not move at my own will.

Len Sipes: In terms of all of that, is that so many people that I have known throughout my career have said the same thing but still end up with the needle in the arm, still end up snorting, still end up drugging, and still end up back in prison. So it’s always the fascinating thing to me, and that is an honest to god success case. You and Yvonne, I mean, you set the perfect example for what it is that we could do, should do regarding individuals coming out of the prison system, but the tragedy is that there are a lot of people that simply get sucked back in to the lifestyle, and that’s always puzzled me as to what the difference is to those people who don’t get sucked back into the lifestyle, and the people who do.

Paul Tranthan: Well, for me, Leonard, what helped me and what encouraged me, and I have to give respect and acknowledgement to those that supported me the entire time that I’ve been out in the community, and I’m not going to say the streets, because I’m back into the community. You know, no one, and my church, yes, number one, my church and my pastor. The first pastor that believed in me was Reverend Lipscom, okay, and another pastor, minister, reverend is Reverend Yvonne Cooper.

Len Sipes: Who is by these microphones.

Paul Tranthan: Right beside me.

Len Sipes: Okay, I’ve never seen Yvonne so quiet in my life. Go ahead.

Paul Tranthan: And who sits besides me who not only guides me, but she has become comfortable in favoring me that one day she called me and she said, “I don’t want you calling me Reverend Cooper anymore. I want you calling me Mama, or Mother Cooper,” and at first I had a hard part in doing that because of my background and about my family, my personal family, and then I thought about it, and I said, “She has been a mother figure with me.” And I also want to thank my pastor now, my present pastor, and that Michael E. Bell, Senior, and he has encouraged me and supports me as well as I am his steward. You know, a lot of people have placed, and I’m going back to the trust part. A lot of people have put a lot of trust in me, even CSOSA, and I want to thank them. They have called and asked me to be a mentor to people that’s coming out of prison.

Len Sipes: And your being a mentor right now to so many people. I mean, I want to go over to Yvonne in just a couple of seconds, but the key issue for me is, by the way, in terms of the question, do we have enough resources here at CSOSA, and my answer is going to be no. I believe that there should be more drug therapy that we control, more job placement, more mental health. You know, 50% of offenders coming out of the prison system are claiming mental health issues, and that’s something we should be doing more about. If you can’t find a legal place to live outside the shelter, I would like to see us have some capacity for having a legal place to live. So, you are being kind, I think, in terms of do we have all we need. And we are one of the better-equipped probation agencies in the country. We are probably the shining star of an example in terms of all of the programs we have. My heavens, we have this whole hospital wing that we control, that we built in terms of helping people, the really hard cases, escape that life of drugs and crime, so we do a lot, but in my own personal opinion we could be doing a lot more.

Paul Tranthan: Okay, let me be clear on you with that, and I still stick with the answer yes because of the simple fact that a lot of the programs that you have now, available to ex-offenders coming out, you did not have back then.

Len Sipes: Yes, I agree.

Paul Tranthan: So that was the reason why I said you all are doing great right now. Yes, we can always do better in helping individuals that come out of prison and try to keep them out, but I’d be returning right back to the same thing that I originally said in the beginning, it depends on the individual, and for me, you know, I want to touch base on this mental health issue. You know, when I went to jail, they tried to say that I had a mental problem, just because I wanted to defend myself in jail, and I wasn’t going to let anybody beat up on me. I didn’t go to jail as a punk, and I ain’t coming out as punk, you understand? So, therefore, they wanted to give me drugs, mental/psychotropic drugs because they felt as though I had a problem. Well, Mr. Lennie, I don’t boast about it, but I’ve been home since 2003 and I’m not on one psychotic drug, you know what I’m saying? And I haven’t committed a crime, and I even stopped smoking, October the first of 2000, at 6:45 a.m. in the morning, and I stopped smoking cigarettes in jail. And I’ve gone through a lot of stuff out here that would cause a lot of people to return back to smoking, and everything, but I have not decided and do not have any intention ever of going back to smoking cigarettes, so like I said, I’m going to stick with it, and it depends on the individual. If you choose to want to do it, then you do it. Accept the responsibility, do you know what I’m saying.

Len Sipes: Okay, we are going to go over to Yvonne. Boy, Yvonne, you’ve been quiet throughout this whole process. I’ve never seen you so quiet. Tell me a little bit about Paul and give me a little bit of history now. We only have about nine minutes left in the program, but give me a little bit of history and the chemistry between you and Paul, and did you feel when you first met Paul that Paul was a done-deal, that Paul was going to succeed, or that Paul needed work?

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Well, first of all, let me say I’ve been sitting here just beaming and smiling from ear to ear, so very, very proud of Paul, and yes he is my son, and he knows I’ll go up aside his head if he doesn’t call me mom, because he is like a son to me. And, you know, when I first met Paul, Pastor Lipscomb, introduced me to Paul and I was skeptical. I’m skeptical even today as I meet people who come home from prison. I know people who are skeptical of me when I came home from prison and it did not mean that I was not going to give Paul a chance, and I did give him a chance, but I did not close my eyes. I kept my eyes open, one eye open all the time, watching him, and I tried to see him and figure him out, and he truly, it didn’t take him long, for him to prove to me that he is somebody that you could truly trust. And I’m so excited that Paul mentioned the fact that he’s a steward at our church. It takes a big to-do to be called a steward at an AME church, and he is a steward, the pastor’s right hand man. The Pastor trusts him not only with the goings on of the church inside, but with his family and other issues as well, and so Paul has really stepped up to the plate and I am very, very proud of him.

Len Sipes: Tell me a little bit about the Faith Based Initiative, quickly, because the power of the Gang for Good, and I did that radio show on prison ministries and we both described it as a Gang for Good, and I mean a lot of people when they come out of the prison system they want a group experience, and that group experience, eight times out of ten, seven times out of ten, is your old buddies. It’s your old friends, and you are hanging out around that same corner, doing that same stuff, is reinforcing, it’s embracing. It’s something familiar. It is really hard for people to give up their old friends. The faith based community, and whether it’s the Islamic community, or whether it’s Judaism, or whether it is Christianity, the faith based community seems to have this magical formula for helping people cross that bridge from tax burden to taxpayer.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Well, you know, you asked earlier to Paul what is that magic thing? How many times do you help this person out that keeps going back and forth in the prison making it appear to be a revolving door? Well, when you deal with the faith based folk, particularly Christians, and Judaism, Jesus said, and he was very clear, how many times are you going to forgive a person? Well, he said 7 x 70, however many times it takes, we are going to have to make sure that we allow the person, that we will allow the person an opportunity to do the right thing.

Len Sipes: But the Criminal Justice System can’t do that.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Well, I don’t know what you mean when you say that.

Len Sipes: There’s a certain point where if the person screws up and makes a certain amount of mistakes, there is a certain point where you’ve got to do something.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Oh, no, I’m talking about the faith base. I’m talking about faith base. I’m not talking about the Criminal Justice System.

Len Sipes: So the faith based folks can intervene, and then in some cases it is far more meaningful for you than when we can intervene. The faith based community can come in and say, “Yeah, he’s got three positives. We are going to have to redouble or re-triple, if there is such a word, or efforts to help him kick this issue once and for all.”

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: You’re talking about three positives, and I’m glad you mentioned that. You know, the biggest problem that people have today, those that are incarcerated, is drugs, and you hit the nail right on the head. They keep coming back because they keep relapsing, and if they relapse, well then they are going to go out and do things that a druggy will do, and so if CSOSA would identify more drug treatment programs, because there is a lack for them. We need more drug treatment programs. You, today, a person goes in and they get seven days of treatment at detox, here in Washington DC, and they are out the door. There is no place for them to go.

Len Sipes: Or, if they go into, and this is the national experience, if they go to treatment, it’s cookie cutter treatment, and it is not designed for that individual, and at most, at most it is outpatient and twice a week in terms of a group setting. A lot of people need a lot more than that to kick drugs, and that’s just the hard cold reality of the research.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely, you are correct about that, and I’m conscious about the time as well, but just to piggyback on this issue concerning what you just said, and just related to Paul. When Paul came home, Paul came from an adoptive family, and he was a foster care kid, as I guess I should say, and so he didn’t have the kind of structure or love that you might have grown up with, or the structure that I grew up with. We had to surround Paul with love and let him know that we loved him, that we supported him, and that we cared for him. A lot of these people in prison today, and I’m speaking from experience, not just having been there and done that in prison myself, but working with those that come home and have come home now, and a lot of these people have not even had a hug from someone. I ran into a young man who was 17 years old who was pressed about getting a hug, and I’m saying, “Why do you want a hug,” and I learned later, he raised himself since he was seven years old. He had never had a hug.

Len Sipes: And that’s not unusual, and I understand that the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the Criminal Justice System have a similar experience. Yeah, and when we are talking about raising themselves, early onset of alcohol use or early onset of drugs. You know, getting involved in the lifestyle very early. I’m talking about 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. So, they don’t know what to come back to, and so that’s my point in terms of the faith based community. Government cannot offer that welcoming structure. Government cannot create this Gang for Good. Only the faith based communities can do this.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: I think I might have mentioned this before, and if I’m redundant, it needs to be said again. It is not really the government’s responsibility, in my mind’s eye, it’s the faith based community’s responsibility, and back in the day, in biblical days, there were cities of refuge that were put in place when a person committed a crime, and this was in Bible days, in the biblical days, and then after that, after the cities of refuge, then there was penitence that was put in place by the Catholic church. If you did something wrong, you have to pay penitence. Then, after that, you move along, and it was Mormons that put in place the first penitentiary. So, in my mind’s eye, Lennie, it’s the church’s responsibility, not the government. It’s a good thing that the government is helping out, but the church needs to step up to the plate, and I’m talking to all those that might listen to this, all these church going folks, the pastors, the bishops, the elders, whomever it might be. It is our responsibility as a faith based community to help those that can’t help themselves. I’m talking about the least limited and the lost. Someone like Paul, praise God, that did not fall through the cracks because he had somebody to help him out, but it’s our responsibility, but suddenly the government has a few dollars and they want to do a little something with it.

Len Sipes: And I’m not going to disagree with that, but I mean, here is the bottom line about this. Paul’s been out there thugging, and now that means people are going to continue their lives without being victimized. I am going to guess that Paul’s transformation is saving government hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of us putting him back in prison, maintaining him in prison, building him a prison and following him up with community supervision, providing him with programs. I mean, when a person crosses this bridge, it’s just not a matter of a person crossing the bridge. We are talking about very, very concrete benefits, and Paul I’m going to end the program with you because we are just about out of time. One of the things that you are doing now, by the way, you are the circulation manager for one of the newspapers here in town, correct?

Paul Tranthan: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And what’s the newspaper?

Paul Tranthan: The Washington Former newspaper.

Len Sipes: Okay, and I guess that’s a pretty good feeling, being a circulation manager, and you have all that responsibility and that will give you a chance to move on to other things sometime in the future.

Paul Tranthan: Yes, it’s a stepping stone for me and I really appreciate and have much respect and love for my boss, in actually trusting that I can manage her paper going into the community. Also, I have other individuals that call me ask me to circulate their material, and they trust me. I just, as a matter of fact, I received a job last night. The lady said she expects her boss to really appreciate how I distributed her material, and recorded it and gave her back the information, and when I said I was going to do it. Then, also, I’ve had other jobs. I used to work for Safeway and I used to be a stock book manager there, but I started off as a courtesy clerk and built myself up, and worked myself up the ladder. So, as I go back to it, like I said, in the beginning, there were a lot of people that trusted in me, had faith in me and helped me, and also the belief that I had in myself, helped me to continue to believe that, and my self-esteem has built and built and now I don’t look at the negative. You know, people have helped me and talked to me about don’t focus and don’t dwell on the negative, just dwell on moving forward in your life. So, and like I say, I have to commend CSOSA for allowing me to speak on a radio podcast show, and I have to commend you and thank you Mother Cooper, not Reverend Cooper, but Mother Cooper for walking with me. This journey has not been easy. She knows the majority of my lifestyle and what has gone on with me during the course of my time in the community, and I can’t thank her enough for what she has done, and last, what I would like to say, even though I am no longer on a supervised parole or probation, I still want to volunteer my time in helping ex-offenders that come out of prison, and if that means mentoring or going different places and talking to an individual and letting them see that, you know, it is real that you can make it out.

Len Sipes: And I find that it is not unusual in terms of a lot of people who come out of the prison system who made good, they want to volunteer their time, they want to give back, and I find that to be interesting, and that’s a fairly common experience. Paul Tranthan, first of all, congratulations, you are off of our supervision. We are no longer holding you back. You are now a free and complete person. You have had a miraculous journey, and I’m so happy, tickled pink, that you have made this journey. Congratulations to you. And Reverend Yvonne Cooper, faith based counselor and connected with the Allan Chapel AME Church, Yvonne, thank you for being there, for Paul and for the other offenders.

Reverend Yvonne Cooper: Thank you, Lennie.

Len Sipes: Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety, and my name is Leonard Sipes. I’m your host. Again, if you need to contact us, it’s www.media.csosa.gov or just go ahead on your internet search engine and search for DC Public Safety. I want to wish everybody a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Prison Fellowship and Offender Rentry

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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=85

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphone for the first time is Pat Nolan. Pat is with the Prison Fellowship. He has been there for 11 years. The program has been around for 30 years, and I’ll give out a couple of contact points at the very beginning of the program, (703) 478-0100, or www.pfm.org and Ladies and Gentleman, we are up now to 900,000 requests for the radio and television programs of DC Public Safety. Again, we want to thank you profusely. If you have any comments and suggestions, please get them to us. We are at www.csosa.gov or the address for the program itself which is media.csosa.gov and with that long introduction, I want to say good morning to Pat Nolan.

Pat Nolan: Good morning.

Len Sipes: How are you doing Pat?

Pat Nolan: Great.

Len Sipes: Pat, this whole issue of prison fellowship, first of all give us a sense as to what prison fellowship is, what it does, how it was started and then we will go into the larger issues of religion and incarceration.

Pat Nolan: Prison Fellowship was founded by Chuck Olson who was President Nixon’s counsel and he was convicted of an offense involving the Watergate Scandal and did time in federal prison, and when he got out, rather than going back to practice law, he said he promised the guys inside he wouldn’t forget about them.

Len Sipes: How long was he in prison?

Pat Nolan: It was seven months, and a lot of people told him that it wouldn’t work. That nobody cared about prisoners, and he said it was pretty clear that Jesus called the church to do this, and he thought he could get people interested, and sure enough he built a ministry. It’s been there now for 30 years, and totally supported by private donations and we have volunteers across the country and around the world. We are in 112 nations around the world.

Len Sipes: That’s a lot, 112 nations.

Pat Nolan: Yeah.

Len Snipes: I had no idea. That’s a huge outreach.

Pat Nolan: It really is, and here in the US we are in most prisons in the country. We try to concentrate on the prisons that send people back to the urban areas because that’s where the greatest concentration of crime is. We are an outreach to prisoners and their families and the idea is not only to minister to them with the gospel which is essential, but also then to disciple and help them turn their lives around and get back on their feet, so we not only have bible studies and worship services inside prisons, but we also have life skills classes. We are trying to match them with mentors from their community that they are going home to. We try to involve them in what we call a “community of care” when they get out, working with other nonprofits and government agencies to make sure that they don’t fall between the cracks. We try to be a one-stop place for an offender to help plug them in to what their needs are, spiritually and physically.

Len Sipes: So it is more than just spiritually. You get down to the life skills that are necessary to help the person on the outside. Do you deal with the families at all?

Pat Nolan: Yes, in fact, we have a program that is probably our largest one which is called Angel Tree, which an offender will fill out an application saying where their children are, who they are and people from local churches then take the responsibility for giving gifts to those children at Christmastime. Prisoners don’t have much access to anything to give them.

Len Sipes: Right, and that is a program that I’ve participated in, and you say it’s the larger part of your program, but let’s talk about incarceration first. I won’t speak for you, but I will simply speak for myself, but an awful lot of these people deserve to be in prison for the crimes that they’ve committed, and I think society in general firmly believes in that. But the devastation that it leaves at home, with 70% of these individuals being parents, and often times with multiple kids, it is just devastating from a financial point of view and a psychological point of view. The kids in the neighborhood really do make fun of them, the fact that your father is in prison. I constantly hear about prison being such an accepted experience; and I don’t find that to be even remotely true. I think from the offender’s perspective, and especially their kids, it’s devastating, and the research is fairly clear that the kids of people who are in prison have a higher percentage chance of being involved in drugs fairly early and criminal activity fairly early. So kids are primary outreach for you guys?

Pat Nolan: That’s where we get most of our volunteers in that. What we do though is, as they deal with the children, and work with them, often times the children will reach back into the parent and try to get the parent involved in our programs. There have been several wonderful cases that you’ll talk about in California, a guy, a drunk driver, he had killed a young girl while he was drunk and totally messed up his life, but his two young daughters, and his wife, as you say were just devastated of course by this, but it totally turned their lives upside down. He filled out an Angel Tree application. His daughters received the gifts and also began to go to church with the couple that had brought them the gifts. That’s not required, but they invite for them, and they developed a very good relationship, Mary and the girls, with the whole church and then the daughters told Joe about this, and he said, “Well, this is crazy. Why are these people helping you? Why are they involved in your lives?” and they had a chance to say to him, “Well, it’s because of Jesus Christ and what he has called the church to do,” and so essentially it converted Joe, because of the love of this couple who had reached out, with no strings attached, but what at-risk kids need, and definitely children of prisoners are at risk, what they need are relationships. It’s not just the gift. It’s that relationship. It’s healthy relationships, and somebody that says, “You matter,” and they care.

As you said, they are made fun of. They don’t have a parent there for their birthday, for their play, for things like that.

Len Sipes: Let’s return to prison and the faith-based community. We have individuals that come out of prison and in many ways they are angry, and in many ways they are looking for something themselves, either they are going to find it in a needle, or they are going to find it in their old gang members, or they are going to find it within a religious body. Now, again, being in that I represent the federal government, we don’t take a stand on whether that religious body is Judaism. It’s not up to us as to promote the Koran or Islam. We take a straight-down-the-middle position, as we must, in terms of the federal separation of church and state, but at the same time, we promote the faith-based concept because we’ve seen firsthand how individuals come out and they are greeted by either a Baptist church, or a Jewish synagogue, or individuals within the Muslim religion and you see firsthand how they go from tax burden to taxpayer, angry nasty person with a chip on the shoulder the size of Montana, to a very gracious hardworking person who is now paying taxes and taking care of his kids and is drug-free, and a lot of times the religious entities, they are the bridge that help move him from point A to point B, and that is one of the reasons why Prison Fellowship, and I wanted you to be on the show, Pat, is because your program has been so successful in doing exactly that.

Pat Nolan: Yes, and as you say, the important thing is that the government has to be neutral in this. Give the offender the choice, any religious body he wants to go to, or if he doesn’t want to, that is fine, but the government can facilitate that and help put them in touch should there be that interest and we just see the difference because it is not only the relationship with individual that we may mentor them as we have, but also the congregation. There is something about feeling welcome in a place with many people.

Len Sipes: Is this the same philosophy as the gangs?

Pat Nolan. Yes. That’s right, except with a healthy relationship.

Len Sipes: That’s exactly right. It is a gang. It is a large group of individuals. They want you to follow their rules, but their rules happen to be within society’s best interests and within that individual’s best interest. So, I’ve seen churches. I’ve seen Mosques. I’ve seen synagogues take that individual and provide not only religious interaction but provide childcare, provide housing, provide food, provide a suit of clothes, taking care of the kids, reuniting the family. I’ve seen that happen firsthand, and I think that’s the power of where we try to do that sort of stuff in government, but the religious bodies seem to do it much better than we do. Again, that offender participating cannot be coerced or forced in any way shape or form to join that religion, but often times they do simply because they feel so comfortably there because taking care of both their spiritual and physical and family needs, and that in essence what a gang does.

Pat Nolan: Yeah, that’s exactly it, but it’s just a gang for good.

Len Sipes: I’d also like to point out that it’s not necessarily the physical things. Time is really, and how you spend your time, is important. In prison, your life is totally regulated, everything you do, when you get up, when you go to work, when you shower, when you eat. You have no choice whatsoever. When the inmates come out they have 24/7 of free choice of anything they want to do. How that time is filled is critical of whether they’ll succeed and go on a straight path or get back in trouble, and Mom has already told us, “Idle hands are the Devil’s labor,” well, the church is a place where they can be involved in positive activities, not just in worship or Bible studies. They can help around there, you know, sorting letters. They could do landscaping, but they are around people that are involved with mainstream society. The alternative is just to hang out in their neighborhood, their old friends, and in many cases how many offenders have I had before these microphones and talked to throughout my career who have basically said the alternative is death. I mean, either you get off drugs, you get a job, you get reunited with your kids, and you live a life that is going to bring you peace and contentment and/or you are going to die.

Pat Nolan: That’s exactly it. One of the inmates in our program at Texas said giving up drugs was the easy part, and giving up my old friends was really tough.

Len Sipes: That is your peer group. That is who you are. That is the very essence of who you are. Leaving that behind is really walking across that bridge, and I’ve seen, and like I have said, and I will say it over and over again, firsthand, as to the literally hundreds of individuals who have crossed that bridge. I’m not completely happy, nor am I completely content with all the things that I see within the faith-based community, but I can tell you that probably they are doing a more powerful job than government, and I’m not terribly happy and comfortable with what I see in government either.

Ladies and Gentleman, we have Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship, (703)478-100, and the web address is www.pfm.org, and Pat, when you talk to individuals about assisting offenders, in many cases, the reaction that you are going to get is not positive, and there was something going through my mind in terms of how to describe this. This is sort of like taking out coffee grounds, you know, it and people don’t like dealing, in many cases, with former offenders, and as I’ve said throughout this program, people do this, and they interact with former offenders either through a religious conviction or through a moral conviction in terms of what is right or wrong, or they do it as I do it from a pragmatic point of view because we want to see them as taxpayers and not tax burdens, and I don’t want my family victimized or my community victimized, so there are all sorts of reasons as to why to support the programs that support offenders coming out of prison, but let’s get back to that larger issue. The average person simply does not really relate well to former inmates. They’ve said, they’ve done the crime, they do the time, as my wife has said in the past, “Give it to the kids,” and she’s vice president of a PTA, and my mother who has been through the Great Depression and the Second World War said, “Give it to the elderly. We’re the ones who deserve it. Let’s not be giving it to people who have harmed other people.” How do you react to that?

Pat Nolan: Well, first of all, it depends what our goal is. If our goal is to punish these people forever, then yeah that’s an okay attitude, but that’s not really justice. If our goal is to have more peaceful communities, to have less crime and to have fewer victims, we have to look at the fact that we release, after doing their whole time, about 700,000 offenders each year.

Len Sipes: That’s a lot of people.

Pat Nolan: These people are coming back into our neighborhoods. And they are within, what I’ve said for years, a 10-minute drive of where you live. If you happen to live in one of those safe suburban communities, those offenders interact with you and your children every day, and the way we handle it now is we give them a bus ticket, and depending on the state, $5-100 and often times the officer will say, “See you in a few months.” It’s just expected that they will return, and often times it’s at midnight when they are put on this bus, and they end up in an urban core area with no place to sleep, and I’ll give you an example. When I got out of prison, bunch of my friends came to take me to lunch at a deli near the halfway house, and it was terrific, and they all sat around, and it was great to see them, and the waiter came, and there were about 11 of us, and they all ordered, and I sat there with the menu and my eyes just darting over it and just all those choices, and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t, I just couldn’t make a choice, and so finally I just said what my eyes landed on and ordered it, and because it was so uncomfortable. Everybody was there, the waiter, you know? And it was just this pained silence while they are all waiting, “Pat, would you please order?” and the reason was that for two years I hadn’t decided, and I had no choices as to what to eat, and here I was paralyzed making a choice about a sandwich.

Think about the guy that gets out that didn’t have my education, my background, my responsibilities, that didn’t have my good family, but had none of that and gets off the bus, and at 3:00 in the morning, in the middle of the city. Where is he going to go? Where doe she lay his head that night? How is he going to be safe? People don’t think of that, but sleeping in a park or under a bridge is not safe. He doesn’t have money to rent a room. He doesn’t have an ID. Virtually ever prisoner released does not have any ID and in a post-911 world, you’ve got to have a picture ID to rent a hotel room, to start a bank account, to apply for a job, and a lot of friends and family, for them, that offender has burnt so many bridges that he is not welcome back.

Now, there is plenty of research to say, and in my personal experience, is that they do go back home in many cases, but even when they are allowed to go back in the house, it is, and again with a lot of restrictions as it should be, but there are in many cases so many people coming back with so few connections that they are literally out on the street.

Len Sipes: What did you go to prison for, Pat?

Pat Nolan: I was a member of the legislature and I was accused of taking a campaign contribution for ,.

Len Sipes: The legislature in ,

Pat Nolan: California. I was the Republican Leader of the Assembly in California and so I did 26 months in prison and 4 months in a halfway house in the federal system, and came right to Prison Fellowship from that, and you know, it’s interesting the background I bring as a legislature, a tough law and order legislature, that had voted for a lot of the bills that caused an increase in prison population and then to experience it firsthand and see how little was done to prepare the inmates for release, and then to go through the transition myself and then to be able to be in a position where I’m able to use, not only my time in prison, my training as a lawyer, but also my leadership in the legislature to help other government officials figure out, how do we make this system work better? How do we make our communities safer, and especially reaching out to conservatives and Republicans, of which I am, to say, you know, we all thought that building more prisons was going to make us safer, but it hasn’t, and maybe we need to spend time, while they are in prison, to do something to prepare them to live these healthy lives.

For instance, you mentioned the friction in a family and oftentimes drugs are involved and most probably 80% of those convicted, even if convicted of something else, because they’ve probably been stealing from the family. Certainly, they’ve been lying to them about their drug use. They probably have not been a good provider, because all of these issues leaves scars. Nothing is done in prison to address that, to try and reconcile that family to help them work through it.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s interesting, we simply say, those of us in the reentry community, we simply say that if you can provide drug treatment, if you can provide mental health treatment, if you can provide job training, and if you can provide a GED and that educational experience, and if you follow that up in the community (those four things), a lot of us do believe you can have a drop in recidivism of anywhere between 15-20%. This is what the research has to say.

Now, 15-20%, that’s a huge savings to taxpayers, that’s a huge burden off of law enforcement in terms of crimes not committed, but yet we don’t do it. We don’t do it. We don’t do it. And so the question, and I know there is a ton of talk throughout the country from advocacy groups, and from faith-based organizations that this is something we should do, that this is something we must do; but, we in essence, and in terms of where we are today, in early August of 2008, we don’t and we are not doing it now.

Pat Nolan: And the public would be appalled at that. I was appalled. As a legislator, voting for more prisons, I was the Republican leader in the Assembly and fought for all the new prisons in California. While I was leader, we built nine new prisons, and only one university in California. I did this because I thought it would make us safer. What I didn’t realize is that nothing was being done to change the folks inside, and only when I was a prisoner did I see. In one of these centers, there was this little guy, Gerardo, just a wonderful guy. The only business he knew was gangs. You know, this guy, if he had any of the advantages I had in life would have been president of a company. He had a great personality, great sense of humor, hard working, dedicated, loved his family. The problem is that the business he got into was illegal, you know, but if he had been channeled, and when he was in prison, nothing was done to reorient him.

Len Sipes: A lot of people are simply going to sit back and go, “But you can’t.” Yeah, they are not going to change. They are not going to be rehabilitated and there is good research that says that they are.

Pat Nolan: But isn’t that the response. You talk to the ,

Len Sipes: No, that’s right. You talk to the , I mean, I come from a law enforcement background. You talk to my friends in law enforcement and its like, “Leonard, you’re really rowing a boat upstream, you are not going with the flow here,” and I’m going, “But, look, you know, Ladies and Gentleman, they come out as taxpayers, or they come out as tax burdens.”

Pat Nolan: Yeah, you are absolutely right, Leonard, and they come out as good neighbors or dangerous neighbors.

Len Sipes: Or they take care of the kids, or they don’t take care of their kids.

Pat Nolan: Yes, in so many ways, it’s a double-positive, or a double-negative for us. If we can succeed in helping them turn their lives around, we not only take away all of the costs to the government and the dangers to society, we add positive benefits to society and the myth is that nothing works. And when I was in the legislature, I basically believed nothing works to change these folks. I would say two things to that. One, is that there is plenty of literature that shows things do work, and we can point to people that have made great contributions. Tim, and whatever his name is, was on the , the actor, Tim …

Len Sipes: Oh, heavens, I’m terrible.

Pat Nolan: He was the “Tool Time” Tim.

Len Sipes: Oh, yes, yes. He was arrested for cocaine.

Pat Nolan: Right, he did time in prison, and yet look at the joy he has brought to people through his acting and stuff.

Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely.

Pat Nolan: But, I would also say to anybody in your audience that’s Christian, Jesus came to redeem us. We’re all sinners, and there are those of us that have been caught and imprisoned for things that we’ve done, and there are those of us who have done things that were never caught, and never went to prison, but Jesus forgives us all. And, redemption, not everybody is redeemed but he came once and for all. He gives everybody the chance to be redeemed, and so our obligation is to reach out, and he was very clear.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s the interesting thing in this. Jesus commanded us to reach out to those individuals in prisons, and it wasn’t a request. It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a command, yet the average person would rather clean toilets than to go and deal with former offenders.

Pat Nolan: Right, he was explicit and I didn’t realize this until I came to this job. There is a little book in the back of the Bible, called Philemon, and it was written by Paul to a man named Philemon who was a leader a church, and Philemon was a very wealthy man. One of his slaves Onesimus stole something from him and escaped and ended up in a cell with Paul in Rome, and Paul converted him and disciple him, and he sent back this letter to Philemon, with Onesimus, saying, “Please accept him back, not as a slave, but better than a slave, as your brother in Jesus Christ.” The whole letter is about reentry. It’s about saying, “Accept this person who has harmed you, back,” but it also doesn’t say just Olly Olly Oxen Free, it says, “I’ve worked with him. I’ve guided him. I’ve developed him. He can be a leader of the church,” and Onesimus went on to become a Bishop, so he was a great contributor to ,

Len Sipes: A former offender, to bishop. Well, it’s, and I’ve talked to other individuals within the Christian religion, who are former offenders, who are now ministers, but the same thing applies to the Islamic religion. The same thing applies to our friends in Judaism. Across the board, there is this strong sense that this is something we could do, should do, and I’m simply intrigued by the fact that, by and large, in terms of what state government is doing, and what everybody is doing, this whole sense of reentry is not shooting off into the atmosphere. The reentry movement, in terms of provision of programs, the provision and the establishment of faith-based institutions being involved in it, it is not moving nearly as fast as I would like it, and what other people who are in part of the reentry community would like it to be. So I just simply am intrigued that Jesus did provide the command, and the same command seems to be within all religions, yet it’s basically , I’m not saying it’s stalled. I think it’s on the verge of great things, but it’s not moving as quickly as I thought it would.

Pat Nolan: When I was inside, one of the things that inmates said was, when Matthew 25, around 40, comes up, “When I was naked and you clothed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was imprisoned and you visited me,” they said, they’ll read the gospel, but the sermon will mention everything but prison. The next summer, and I’m a Catholic, and the priest read Matthew 25:40 and it came to that and he read it in the gospel but did not mention helping prisoners. Mentioned everything else, and so I went to him and it was unintentional on his part, but one of the problems is, people get sent to prison and we forget about them. They become almost nonhuman, nonexistent, and of course he was very apologetic, and from then on he has preached on it, and we have set up a reentry ministry there working with other churches, so he has been great, but I think it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” and, as you said, people are uncomfortable with it.

These individuals are in every community in the United States, by the boatload, and I keep saying, they are a ten-minute drive from where you live, and where your children are shopping in markets with us. They are in our parks. They are riding on the buses with us. You know, and frankly, most of them don’t get in trouble again, and we are fine. But, they are there, and how much better if they’ve been prepared to be good neighbors, as you say, to be taxpayers, to be contributing citizens to the community, good parents, you know, coach of the Little League, how much better for all us with that? And also, frankly, seasoned by the lessons they learned from prison. Prison can either drive you further away, or it can strengthen you in your beliefs, and that is what it did for me. It drew me closer, and I tell people that I went into prison believing in God, and I came out knowing him, and he was central to my life then, and it helps in every aspect. You know, I’m a better person in the way I treat people and what I do, but one thing about reentry, and I’ve been part of several movements, it’s starting to move, and I would say the real evidence of that was the Second Chance Act.

Len Sipes: That’s Congress talking about the provision of all of the different programs that we’ve been talking about in a fairly limited degree.

Pat Nolan: Exactly, it’s a tiny amount of money, but symbolically, when is the last time Congress ever said prisoners are worth doing anything for, other than giving longer sentences? So this was a major turnaround.

Len Sipes: And nobody argues against longer sentences when it is deserved. They should be provided with those services.

Pat Nolan: Right. That’s right. It should be proportioned to the harm that was done, and use that time. If we are spending that time on bricks and mortar and security, it is not that much time to add the program to it, to then tremendously increase the value of it. The great thing about the Second Chance Act, though, is it was bipartisan and we worked very hard on that.

Len Sipes: Agreed.

Pat Nolan: Two-thirds of the Republicans voted for it, and it was signed by the President. That is a significant change from where Republicans were when I was in the legislature and even up to the last few years, so while it is only a “baby step,” it’s finally a step in the right direction after a lot of movement the wrong way.

Len Sipes: Ladies and Gentleman, we have with us today Pat Nolan, from Prison Fellowship. I want to give out these contact numbers again, (703)478-0100, or www.pfm.org. The Prison Fellowship has been there now for 30 years. Pat has been with them for 11 years. They are in just about every state in the United States and how many countries, again, Pat?

Pat Nolan: One-hundred-and-twelve (112).

Len Sipes; In 112 countries, and truly I had no idea that it was such a worldwide organization. I really want to thank you and Prison Fellowship for your efforts throughout the years. I think it has been an extraordinary movement, and I’m not quite sure that enough people know about you. Again, Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship, (701)478-0100, www.pfm.org, and Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety. We really enjoy your comments, and we respond individually to all of your comments, and we do work your comments into the shows. My name is Leonard Sipes, please everybody have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Former Offender Writes Guide on Reentry

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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=84

[Audio Begins]

Hi, and welcome to DC Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Back at our microphones is Eddie Ellis. Eddie has a front page article in The Washington Post. He’s been at our microphone before. I’m going to read a little bit from The Washington Post:

“I did half my life in jail,” said Ellis who turns 33 this month, “It’s easier for me to go back there and live because it’s less responsibility. Out here, things are harder.”

We’re going to talk about this whole issue of re-entry as we have in the past, but one of the things, and one of the reasons why The Washington Post did the front page article on Eddie Ellis is that he put together a pretty good resource manual to assist offenders when they get out of prison. What are the things that they should know? Where can they go for help? What should they do?

In my 40 years within the Criminal Justice System, I am not aware of anybody coming out of the prison system that turned around and reached back to the people who are still in the prison system, and tried to help them in terms of this manual, so Eddie, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Eddie Ellis: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: Alright, Ladies and Gentleman, we are receiving 122,000 requests for these programs on a monthly basis. Every month it seems to go up and up and up, and we appreciate your comments. We respond individually to all of your comments, and we work your comments into these programs. You can find us at media.csosa.gov or the website, which is the main website for the agency, www.csosa.gov. Media.csosa.gov is the podcast site where we have the radio and television stations and where we have transcripts and a blog, and we are just receiving an award for television production from a county television association, so I appreciate your comments, and I appreciate everything you are doing to make the show a success.

Okay, Eddie, back to you. So, we have this Washington Post article, and you know the President of the United States gets on the front page of The Washington Post, the Mayor of DC gets on the front page of The Washington Post, and you are on the front page of The Washington Post. How does that feel?

Eddie Ellis: It’s an honor. It’s an honor. It means I’m doing what I gotta do. You know, I had the life in prison, and I’m just trying to make my community better, and I think people are recognizing that, and that’s what’s important to me.

Len Sipes: Now, you are out there, even as of today, you are coming from a job interview. How did that go?

Eddie Ellis: It went well. It went well. I went there and pitched myself and hopefully I get another job soon.

Len Sipes: Alright, good, and that’s one of the things we want to talk about, this whole issue of reentry. Again, reading from the article, at 15 he was sent to the Oakville Detention Facility in Laurel, which is the Juvenile Justice Facility for the District of Columbia, and Laurel in Maryland, on an armed robbery charge. He said he was innocent and the court agreed, dismissing the case, but on December 20th 1991, months after his release, he shot and killed another high school student during an argument, and Eddie said it was self-defense, but he was convicted of manslaughter, and the next paragraph goes on to say that while in prison he was implicated in another slaying and sent to a super maximum prison in Florence, Colorado, and one of the things is, that I read this solely from the basis of we want to understand that a good number of the 700,000 individuals that come out of federal and state prisons, every year, a good number have -and when I say a good number, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of them -have violent criminal history backgrounds, and Eddie I ask this question of you just about every appearance, what do you say to the people that say, “Man, you know, with that kind of violent history, I don’t think that you should be out of prison at all?”

Eddie Ellis: Well, you know, people have their opinions, and my thing is this, if we paid our debt to society, we should be given another chance to prove ourselves, and I’ve made some bad choices in my past, and I’ve taken responsibility for those choices, and unfortunately, you know, somebody lost their life, in 1991 when I went to jail.

Len Sipes: That was the school shooting?

Eddie Ellis: No, it wasn’t at a school, but he was a high school student, you know, selling drugs like I was, was in the street like I was, and he pulled a gun, and I pulled a gun, and he was shot, and unfortunately he lost his life, but I can’t bring that back. So, what I want to do now is give back to my community with the resources to help people come home and change the outlook on life, and I want people like ex-offenders to see that a lot of us can do right, and I want people in the community to see the same thing.

Len Sipes: You know, there is a larger issue here, excuse me, both in terms of the ex-offender community, and in terms of the community at large because, again, nothing more than what you and I have talked about repeatedly in the past, is that I go back to the two most influential people in my life, my mom and my wife, and my mom, God rest her soul, simply said, “Leonard, you can advocate for offenders all you want, I’m telling you the money should go to the elderly.” She had been through the Great Depression, and the Second World War, you know, they’ve paid their debt and should be taken care of. You can’t argue with that.

My wife, who was a vice president of a county PTA basically said, “Leonard, the money needs to go to kids,” so that’s one of the reasons why I brought up your charges, is that the reality is that people are just going to have a hard times coming to grips with reaching out to Eddie Ellis, putting a human face on Eddie Ellis and doing what we would say is probably the right thing to do, solely from a pragmatic point of view, because the programs indicate that the more we help you guys that are coming out of the prison system, the less crimes you commit.

Eddie Ellis: That’s true, and I am not going to argue the opinion of your mother or your wife, but I’m just, and I want to say this, we’re here. We’re not going anywhere, and without the help with things, it will get worse, but with help things can get better. Things won’t change fully, but things can get better.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the heart and soul of it, because people do this, advocate for reentry for a wide variety of points of view. Some do it from a biblical point of view. Some do it because it is mandated either by the Koran or, if you are part of the Jewish religion, I am told that there are great similarities in terms of Jesus’ sense and command, if you will, of going into the prison system and reaching out, and going into the jails and reaching out to criminal offenders. Some people do it because they believe it’s a moral duty. Some people do it because it’s a religious duty, and some people do it as I do it, from pure pragmatism, because it is, and this is what I tell people, exactly what you tell people, they are there. They are a ten-minute drive from where you are, thousands, tens of thousands, and if you are in any metropolitan area in the United States, and we have listeners in Australia, England, New Zealand, and I don’t care where you are, there are thousands of offenders with violent criminal histories within a ten-minute drive from where you are right now, 15-minute drive tops. They are there, and so the question becomes whether or not you want them to be a taxpayer, or whether or not you want them to be a tax burden, and whether or not you want them to victimize family and friends and community, and whether you don’t. To me, it’s just that direct, and that pragmatic.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from, but the problem I have is the negative attention that the media gives to ex-offenders all the time, and I’m saying that to say that 90% of the things that you see on the media screen, or in the newspapers, is negative. You know, it’s rare that you actually see us out front and doing good, even though it’s a lot of us out here doing good. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past, and so the only thing that we can do is move on and try and help our community, and I’m doing what I’m doing because I want to help my community. I don’t want see someone kill my little brothers, or my little cousins, or rape them and beat them. I don’t want that, and so if I can give these men and women this information, it’s very important for me.

Len Sipes: And that is your point and my point. It is, and I have a full respect for people who look at this, either from a moral point of view or a religious point of view. I fully respect them. I also fully respect people who say, “You know, Leonard, they should be locked up and the key thrown away, and that’s what’s going to make society safer,” because there is good solid research that says incarcerating people makes the community safer, so I understand everybody’s point of view, but I’m stuck with your point, you are here. I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of people like you that are here, so what do I want them to do? Do I want them to be a pain, or do I want them to contribute, and the research is, I think, pretty clear that you can have a 20-30% reduction in recidivism which for some states, by the way, that means not having to build an entire prison. I mean, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars to build and hundreds of millions of dollars each year to maintain a prison. That’s money that could be going to colleges. That’s money that could be going to the elderly, or to school kids, so you can have a big financial incentive to do these programs and more and more states are looking at it that way.

But still, I mean, we both acknowledge that society is just not jumping up and down and saying, “Welcome home, how can I help you.”

Eddie Ellis: And that’s the problem I have, because they say we must pay our debt to society, right? I’ve paid 15 years of my life, to society, right, for doing what I did, and I’ve taken my full responsibility for what I did, so what am I to do now, come out here and just sit back and just allow society to turn its back to me after I’ve done and paid my debt? That’s the problem that I have, you know, because you have a lot of people out here that make bad choices and make bad decisions and my thing is, like I say, I can’t change what happened, but I will continue to do what I need to do to help those in my situation, so those who are not in my situation understand how can they help us.

Len Sipes: I’m going to give Eddie Elllis’ email address, and it’s in the article in The Washington Post, so if you don’t remember this address, you can go to our main website, which is www.csosa.gov for the Court Service of Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, which is a federal executive branch agency, and you can go onto the website and look at the article. It’s like the fourth paragraph down, and I’ll repeat this throughout the program. His email address is eddieellis_ede@yahoo.com, or again go to our website and it is right at the top of the page www.csosa.gov

Eddie, we’ve been talking a little bit today about the fact that in Washington DC and cities around the country, every summer you come across the issue of violent crime, of people shooting other people, and there’s been quite a stir in DC lately about young people being involved in acts of violence. There was a 13-year-old shot and killed just the other day in the Trinidad neighborhood, not terribly far from where we are right now, do you have any thoughts on all of this? I mean, you’ve been in the street, you’ve been part of the gangs, you’ve been part of the lifestyle, you’ve been incarcerated, and you’ve been around people who have done a lot of things. What is your opinion on this whole issue of violent crime and young people?

Eddie Ellis: Well, to be honest, it’s sad that this stuff is continuing to happen, but I feel that the lack of programs and recreational centers in those areas for these kids could lead to a lot of this stuff, and I’m not, you know, making any excuses for anybody’s actions, but I think that government officials need to be held for these programs not being there for these kids. Where do they have to go? Where is the recreation center? I used to play football on Florida Avenue for the #9 Boys and Girls Club. It’s no longer there, and 90% of the people in that Florida Avenue area played for this boy’s club. It’s no longer there. They don’t have nowhere to go, and the only problem I have with the checkpoint thing is ,

Len Sipes: By the way, let me explain that. The Metropolitan Police Department is setting up checkpoints in the neighborhood. They did it before and crime went down. The neighborhood was ambivalent about it. Some supported it and some did not, but as soon as they pulled out, you had shootings all over again, not just the murder of the 13-year-old, but other shootings there as well, and so they’ve restarted the checkpoints where they are asking for identification for people moving by vehicle in and out of the community, and if you don’t have a legitimate reason for being there, then they will not let you in, and so go ahead Eddie.

Eddie Ellis: The problem I have with that is, as a taxpayer, why don’t I have the right to drive anywhere in my city? I have a real problem with that. I understand what you are trying to do, but for the same time it’s like you violated my civil rights in not allowing me where I want to go, you know, and I clearly understand what they are trying to accomplish, but I also understand that some of these people have given away their civil rights by allowing them to just do that, because if I want to take someone through the city that’s visiting here, and take them through the city, why can’t I do that? Why am I being stopped?

Len Sipes: I guess the larger issue, and I’ve been wrestling with this issue, and everybody in criminology is wrestling with this issue for 40 years now, is that, as you have just said, it’s frustrating that it continues. I mean, the recreational programs, fine. I grant you that. There should be recreational programs, but the problem itself, is it a matter of programming, or is it a matter of parenting? Is it a matter of the community? I mean, at what point does government say, “You know what, this really is a matter for the community. It really is a matter for the parents. It really is a matter for the individuals themselves and the decisions that they make.” Now, some people will say that’s blaming the victims, but in Criminology 101, the most powerful influence over anybody is going to come from their immediate peer group, and that’s parents, and that’s family and that’s community.

Eddie Ellis: Well, I don’t get it. I’m putting blame all across the board. I’m not, you know, dismissing anybody, but the problem I got to say, if the person normally got to do with this child, and that’s like my mother, I know for a fact that my mother done everything she could to keep me out of trouble and away from trouble. You know, and ,

Len Sipes: Your father wasn’t there.

Eddie Ellis: My father died, right, when I was a kid, right. But my mother did everything that she needed to do to keep me out of trouble. I went to school. I played sports. I went on family vacations. I done what I was supposed to do. I went to see my doctor when I was young when I needed to see him, and all that, but my thing is this, I chose to step out of line and make that choice, so I’m not blaming my mother, and I’m not going to allow anybody to blame my mother.

Len Sipes: Right, but I’ve talked to, and so have you, dozens of people caught up in the game, and the research substantiates this. The research is pretty clear on this, a lot of them, they raised themselves. A lot of them, they raised themselves, and they’re angry about it, and a lot of them started alcohol and marijuana at 9, 10, and 11, started crime at 11, 12 and 13, and a lot of them got pushed around in the process, physically, by whatever parent was there and whoever was in that house, so a lot of these kids who are caught up in the game, you know, they had a terrible upbringing.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah, but that’s but that’s not paying attention to them.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s my point. Why isn’t it paid attention?

Eddie Ellis: Because it’s easier to deal with surface stuff, and I always say this, because I think a lot of these men and women are dealing with a lot of mental issues, and I think that is not addressed.

Len Sipes: 50% of all offenders claim issues of mental health, mental health issues.

Eddie Ellis: And I don’t deal with stats myself, but I believe that, and my problem is this, I’ve lived in Montgomery County, in the suburbs.

Len Sipes: And Montgomery County is a wealthy county suburb of Washington DC.

Eddie Sipes: And I witnessed a lot of my classmates that had a lot of problems, and worst problems than the kids I’d been hanging with in DC, but I’ve never around anybody in DC that said they going to kill themselves, and your parents are making all this money, and your house is as big as two or three of our homes in DC, and I’ve never saw this before, so the issues that they deal with out there, it’s a little different, but they are addressed in a different way out there, than it is in the city, and I say this, as to say, when someone shoots somebody in the suburbs, you know what a lot of the times they say? They had mental health issues. He or she was abused when they was young. They have mental health issues. But in the city it’s the blame of the parent. It’s the blame of the lack of something, and I have a problem with that, because it’s like you are overlooking the mental health problem that these kids may have, but out in the suburbs you are not doing that, you are accepting it as a mental health issue, and that’s the problem I have.

Len Sipes: Alright, where does it lead to in terms of the larger issue of offenders coming back out of the prison system? We are going to shift gears from the younger people getting involved in all of this. Most crime is not reported. Most reported crime does not end up in arrest. In some cities throughout this country, there are a sizeable number of crimes that, when they are arrested, they are not prosecuted, and most people who end up being prosecuted do not end up doing prison time. They may go to the local jail for a small amount of time, but they don’t end up in the state prison. They don’t end up in the federal prisons. So, the folks who end up in prison have somehow and some way gone through this funnel, and most of them have some real issues in terms of their own criminal issues, or they would not have gone to prison to begin with, so with that knowledge in mind, these people come back out, and it’s inevitable that they come back out; there are very few people that stay there for life, and virtually nobody is executed, and so they come back out and they have the same issues that you and I have been talking about, you know? That they’ve raised themselves at age 9, 10 and 11, and they had early onset of criminal and drug activity at 12, 13 and 14, and they started doing crime at right around the same age, and they graduated to more strenuous drugs, they dropped out of school, they don’t have a solid job history, and that’s a lot of issues to deal with. Now, tell the audience how we can deal with that?

Eddie Ellis: Well, I think , first of all, I think a lot of mental health issues need to be addressed while they are in jail. You know, when I was in Florence, Colorado, in the supermax …

Len Sipes: A federal prison.

Eddie Ellis: Yes, a federal prison. I saw the doctor once every 30 days, “Are you okay?” and this is the first prison I had ever been in that now I’m behind double doors, and I actually felt like I was locked up, and I’m just fortunate enough that I didn’t lose my mind behind my doors, and a lot of these people come out of there dealing with these issues. A lot of people have drug issues and don’t have nowhere to go. They don’t have the support that I had. A lot of people don’t have the will to say that I want to do right and I’m tired of doing wrong.

Len Sipes: But everybody that comes out, looks straight you in the eye and says, “I don’t want to go back. I do want to do the straight and narrow,” and then five days later they’re shooting up.

Eddie Ellis: I really believe that there are a lot of people who believe that.

Len Sipes: I really believe that a lot of people believe that too, but as far as the reality of coming out, it’s harsher than they imagined.

Eddie Ellis: That’s right, and that’s one of the reasons why I created that book, because a lot of us don’t know about the programs that are available for us, and I’m just explaining to a person. It’s like a hypothetical situation, and a guy comes home after doing ten years, and he has a child, and he’s been communicating with his child through the phone and through letters at the prison. Okay, but he actually never the physical, beyond the prison wall, physical contact with his child. Now, there’s parenting classes in this book. These parenting classes can help this man and this woman now know how to adapt and be a parent. That’s important, and a lot of things are missing when we get out. When we get out, things are moving very fast.

Len Sipes: You know, look at it this way, and this is what different people have told me about parenting, is that they had a lousy childhood, and I’m not saying every person in the prison system had a lousy childhood, but you know I’ve heard it from the great majority of people that they did. The stats back it up. So, you go through this experience and then you have kids, because the majority of people inside the prison system are parents, 70% in some cases, so you come out and suddenly you’ve got this kid. You don’t have any really good background in terms of raising a kid because you weren’t raised right to begin with. How do you suddenly become a parent? I mean, that’s, and different people have told me, you know, it is a matter of housing. It is a matter of having a livable roof over your head, where the house is not filled with people who are doing the things that are going to get you in trouble again, and we have so many things, just with the parenting issue. You come out, and you are a parent. Instant parent! Yesterday, you were behind bars and today you’re a parent. How do you become a parent when you really don’t know how to become a parent?

Eddie Ellis: Well, that’s true, but that’s no different than a new parent that’s on the street, because they can give you a book and a manual on how to be a parent, but actually will that manual work for you. You know, and that’s the same way when people come home from prison, and that’s why these programs are very important for them before they come home so they can understand certain stuff, understand how to take certain steps to learn how to be a parent.

Len Sipes: One of the things that is always confusing to me is why this is a difficult concept because it seems to me that the mental health issues need to be dealt with in prison. The GED issue, reading certificate or whatever it is, should be dealt with in prison. Everyone should come out and know how to work. Everybody should come out with a plumbing certificate or an electrical certificate or whatever, whatever it is that they want to do, and where they are going to find work. So, you have mental health, you have the GED and you have the plumbing certificate, and you have the parenting classes or whatever else there are. The research seems to indicate that you can lower the rate of recidivism considerably if you do these things. According to the statistics and according to the people that I talk to, very few people ever get what I’ve just mentioned.

Eddie Willis: Yeah, all of those are really important, but unfortunately a lot of prisons don’t offer these things.

Len Sipes: That’s my point, or they offer them in such small numbers that the waiting lists, or you’re a short-term inmate, and you are only there for 1-1/2 years, and by the time you get in these classes, it’s almost too late for you to ,

Eddie Willis: They won’t put you in there, and that’s the problem I have when people are complaining about these people who are not prepared. Well, when the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is making all this money for housing these men and women in prison, people think, you know, they don’t get anything. They do get something for housing people.

Len Sipes: Tax-paid dollars.

Eddie Willis: Yeah, it was like 52 dollars a day for like housing me, do you understand what I’m saying. That’s six years’ worth of money, and my problem is this, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is making all this money off these people, which is lower than minimum wage money that these people are making to make the things that they are making.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you are talking about the UNICOR which is what is loosely referred to as factories in prison where the offenders go and theoretically learn a skill and work while they are in the prison system?

Eddie Willis: Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to. They are making less than minimum wage payment, but they are making things that are being sold in government buildings and passed out in other institutions and things like that, and the problem I have is this, why do these men and women not qualify for these things when they come home and then they wouldn’t have such a hard time finding jobs? They’re qualified for something, but most of them are not qualified for it, and if they are qualified for it, they can come home and go to these places and say, “I’m qualified.” That doesn’t mean the place is going to hire them, but it can make their search more easier with their paperwork in their hands.

Len Sipes: And it’s also the inevitable issue of, the guy looks at you and says, “But, no man, you’re an ex-con. I don’t need the hassles.” Now, he may not say that out loud, but it’s there. I understand why that happens with some jobs, but I’m not quite sure it needs to happen with plumbing or welding or laying concrete, or there are a lot of jobs people in the prison system can come out and occupy to make real good money, driving a truck, that really don’t involve ,

Eddie Willis: Being a lawyer. I know people that came home and got law degrees, so it’s just ,

Len Sipes: I know people that have got out and are in sales and are making more money than I ever hoped to make, and that person, by the way, who has a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs was there for a violent crime. He still won’t come on and do my radio show, to this day, but he is a very interesting transformation. I want to mention the fact that you can read the Washington Post front page article on Eddie Ellis. You can go to our website www.csosa.gov, which stands for Court Services Offender Supervision Agency, www.csosa.gov, and it will be somewhere near the front of the page. You can contact Eddie at eddieellis_ede@yahoo.com, and Eddie does sell these things because he does not have the financial wherewithal to give them away, and I don’t have the financial wherewithal to give them away, but there are reductions for multiple copies and we use them here at the Court Services and Defender Supervision agency, as other places do.

Eddie, any final comments? Every time I’ve gotten you on the microphone, it just goes by like wildfire, and I always feel that we never have enough time to fully explore this whole issue. Anything you want to leave with the citizens, the taxpaying hardworking citizen who support the both of us. They supported you while you were in prison and they support me through my paycheck, but is there anything you want to say to those individuals, and not necessarily about you but about people coming out of the prison system?

Eddie Ellis: Well, the first thing I want to say is, you know, those who are coming out of the prison system, most of them are convicted, whether they were innocent or guilty, have made some bad choices, and whether you want to or not, you are going to have to give them the chance to show that they can do good. You know, and I think that it’s important that people, you know, talk to their local council people about what effort can they make in their neighborhoods to make things better for these people, and a lot of citizens don’t understand that they can go to these local council people and request programs or ask them what can they do to better their neighborhood and allow these ex-offenders to be a part of these programs and allow yourself to see that some of us will do right, and just don’t turn your back on us because we need you all as well as you all need us, whether you want to believe that or not.

Len Sipes: Yeah, that’s an interesting observation, once again, we are all in this together, whether we believe it or not, whether we want to believe it or not, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are stuck with each other. And some people are out there, way out in the ‘burbs saying, “I’m not stuck with it.” Yes, you are. Ten minutes away are a lot of people who have been in the prison system.

So, Ladies and Gentleman, this is DC Public Safety and our guest today has been Eddie Ellis. You can reach Eddie via email in terms of his new book, a resource guide for offenders coming out of the prison system, so that eddieellis_ede@yahoo.com and again we are up to 122,000 requests for these radio and television shows every month. We greatly appreciate your input, and we greatly appreciate your suggestions for a better program. I’m Leonard Sipes your host. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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