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An Interview with Bernard Melekian, Director, US Department of Justice-Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We have a real treat for us to today, ladies and gentlemen. Bernard Melekian, he is the director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as the COPS office, to talk about what’s happening with the COPS office and where the COPS office is going.  Before we get into the interview with Director Melekian, I want to thank everybody once again for your calls, for your letters, for your emails.  If you want to comment in any way, shape, or form in terms of what it is that we do here in D.C. Public Safety, please feel free as you already are doing.  You can follow us via Twitter that is, L-e-n S-i-p-e-s.  If you want to get in touch with me directly via email, it’s Leonard,  Or you can simply go in and comment in the comment area, which most of you do, which is  And simply comment in the comment boxes.  CSOSA stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a parole — a federal parole and probation agency here in downtown Washington, D.C.  And again, it’s my pleasure to re-introduce Bernard Melekian.  He is the executive Director, Director of U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as COPS, a gentleman with 37 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years within the Coast Guard Reserve.  Again, Bernard, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Bernard Melekian:  Thank you, Leonard, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Len Sipes:  You know, 37 years in law enforcement, that’s enough to tell 10 billion stories.

Bernard Melekian:  At least, at least.  It’s been a fascinating career.  I feel–I do feel very blessed to have gotten to spend my adult life doing something I love doing.  And I’ve gotten to continue that here in Washington. 

Len Sipes:  You know, it is a profession.  It is a calling.  For those of us who have been in law enforcement, those of who have been in the criminal justice system, we’re passionate about what it is we do, because we see the direct benefits to so many citizens.   

Bernard Melekian:  You know, that’s absolutely true.  I think and I think it was doubly interesting is that very often the people that you help when you’re a law enforcement officer don’t see it or aren’t aware of it.  The–I’ve always teased my fire department colleagues about the fact that everyone loves them even–because they’re contribution is so tangible. 

Len Sipes:  Uh-huh. 

Bernard Melekian:  But what happens with law enforcement is very often the positive benefit is long-term or it’s unseen.  And I’ve often thought that police officers labor in an unfortunate obscurity. 

Len Sipes:  The first time I was involved with a terrible automobile accident.  And I was there by myself.  And I literally saved the individual’s life.  About a week later, his parents came in, it was a young man involved in an automobile accident.  And they were hugging me.  And they were crying.  And you know, I–from that, I’m saying, my heavens, what other profession do you have where you can make such a direct contribution to the welfare of others?  I mean, I understand that law enforcement has its own stereotypes.  Law enforcement carries its own baggage.  But for those of us who are privileged to have served in law enforcement capacities, you know, how many people come up to you in your lifetime hugging you and crying because you’ve saved the life of their child? 

Bernard Melekian:  Well, not too often. And I think your experience was probably unique or–although I suspect if I was on the questioning end of this interview, I would imagine that more people had complained to you than that family that hugged you and thanked you for your service. I think all–very often that part of what happens is that police officers intervene in people’s lives usually under negative circumstances.  Usually they’re either, you know, stopping you for apparently no reason, or a reason that may not be clear, or you’re being issued a citation that you clearly don’t deserve, or you’re–you’ve been the victim of a crime.  And the officer’s there to take a report.  But there’s not a sense that the officer can do anything tangible.  I think that–I think that one of the things that police work has done, and needs to do a better job of, is marketing itself and marketing what it is that men and women do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across this country in events large and small to make their community safer. 

Len Sipes:  And that’s the heart and soul of COPS, is it not?  The concept of connecting with the community, the idea of making sure that partners are involved, making sure that the community is involved and making sure that everybody is connected, everybody is interdependent, and the community is not out there on their own.  The law enforcement agency’s not out there on their own.  They’re interconnected.  They’re talking.  They’re solving problems together.  That’s the heart and soul of the COPS concept, is it not? 

Bernard Melekian:  Absolutely.  And I’ve been in this business long enough, 37 years as you mentioned, to have come up under what was called the professional model of policing, which was that–which was an arm’s length sort of just the facts Jack Webb “Dragnet” model, which actually was very deliberately focused on not connecting with the community, because the focus really was to deal with how to make sure that professionalism implied absolute objectivity.  It became apparent as the years went forward, and I came in this business in 1973, became apparent as the years went forward that that system wasn’t working.  And there’s a whole long laundry list, really, of reasons why it didn’t work.  But it became clear that it–we needed to connect with the community in a way that we did not, to use or word, partnerships, I’ve always believed that community policing at the end of the day was really nothing more than building relationships and solving problems.  And it’s something the police officers do quite well.  I would argue and have argued that for most of the agencies in this country, particularly rural agencies, and small towns, that they do community policing by default and always have, and probably just didn’t call it that. 

Len Sipes:  Well that’s been my point for years, Bernard.  It is, you know, the interesting part about it is that we have been doing community policing for years.  So there’s an awful lot of police officers out there, who have spent time with community organizations, spent time with gangs in the street, spent time walking, talking.  And from that, developing good leads as to who was doing the bad stuff.  But there has to be a trust relationship between–it all comes down–it doesn’t come down to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Bernard Melekian:  No. 

Len Sipes:  It doesn’t come down to the chief of police.  It comes down to that individual police officer, whoever he or she may be, willing to interact with the community on a very personal level, not out of an officer friendly public relations approach.  We’re doing this because it works, correct?  We’re doing this because it solves crimes.  We’re doing this because it solves problems.  So that’s the heart and soul of the COPS office, correct? 

Bernard Melekian:  Absolutely.  And I think there’s this picture, this stereotype of what community policing is, that it’s–we all go to the–the officers go to the neighborhood barbeque, and everyone holds hands and sings kum ba ya. 

Len Sipes:  Right. 

Bernard Melekian:  But the reality is, and that may be a piece of it, but the reality is, for example that I guarantee you that if I look at a department that has a high crime solvability rate, particularly crimes of violence, I guarantee you that they have a solid community policing program going on because those detectives and those line officers have relationships in the community, have relationships with people who have information.  And not only have the information, but trust the officers and trust the department enough to give that information up. 

Len Sipes:  We live in a CSI world.  Too many people watch all these programs at night.  My wife–I drive her crazy because I cannot watch them in any way, shape or form because their reality, the television realty is so distant from the reality on the street.  And I think what you just said, it’s correct.  The vast majority of what is accomplished is accomplished not through neutron activation analysis, not through fingerprints, not through DNA, not through CSI investigators.  The vast majority of crimes are solved because that police officer has good, solid connections with that community.  That detective has good solid connections with the community.  Would you agree with that or disagree? 

Bernard Melekian:  I would agree with a caveat.  I absolutely agree that the relationships are critical.  And I have believed that and attempted to practice that throughout my career.  I don’t know whether it’s unfortunate or not, but the–certainly the state of the evidence required today to bring a case to trial, and to obtain a conviction has been–that bar has been raised significantly.  And in some ways, programs like CSI have contributed to that because the people who serve on juries have watched those programs as well.  

Len Sipes:  Right. 

Bernard Melekian:  And they have an expectation of what it is that they’re going to see-

Len Sipes:  Right. 

Bernard Melekian:  –when they get to the courtroom.  And if they don’t see it, or they don’t see some version of it, most prosecutors will tell you that the risk of an acquittal starts to climb. 

Len Sipes:  Are the juries stuck with us.  We’re just regular John Doe and Jane Doe shmucks.  We’re not the very pretty, very good looking, very well educated, very well funded–

Bernard Melekian:  Very articulate and–

Len Sipes:  Very articulate, very glib–did I say young and extremely well dressed detective, who solves–

Bernard Melekian:  Right. 

Len Sipes: –crimes within a half an hour.  That’s television. 

Bernard Melekian:  Right. 

Len Sipes:  The juries are stuck with you and I.  And we’re just regular–

Bernard Melekian:  And their computers, I’ve noticed, are never down. 

Len Sipes:  Yes, and they always have everything.  I mean they roll up with more equipment than I’ve seen in a lifetime.  Now the COPS office does what?  I mean, let’s set that up.  I mean you guys basically set the standard for the country in terms of what community policing is.  And we go from there please? 

Bernard Melekian:  Well, I think it’s important to–as we have this discussion, to look quickly at the history of the COPS office.  And the COPS office came into existence in 1994.  It was–its purpose was to advance community policing, a concept that had been born out of the broken windows theory and about a recognition, particularly in the nation’s urban centers that relationships with the police and the community, particularly the minority community was not what it should be, and to try to make some strides in that.
The–under President Clinton and under then Senator Biden, the office was brought into existence.  And its purpose was to advance community policing.
At the same time, because if you recall in the ’90’s, the crime rate was so significant, there was also a pledge that that office would put 100,000 additional officers on the streets of America– 

Len Sipes:  Right. 

Bernard Melekian:  –for the purpose of making America’s community safer. 

Len Sipes:  Which you essentially did, the office did. 

Bernard Melekian:  And the office did do that.  Unfortunately, or the fortunate part was that it worked.  Crime did go down.  And I happen to–and while there’s a great deal of sort of back and forth about why crime went down in the 90’s, I am a very big adherent of the concept that cops count.  Cops do make a difference.  And that those 100,000 cops were in large measure responsible for that crime reduction, not the only reason, but certainly one of. 

Len Sipes:  Okay. 

Bernard Melekian:  However, the–I think then the view of the COPS office shifted from a focus on community policing, to a focus on hiring.  And–

Len Sipes:  Right. 

Bernard Melekian: –I think most of America’s law enforcement, sheriffs and detectives and political leaders have come to see it as sort of what I only half jokingly call the federal ATM machine.  And if you can figure out what the–

Len Sipes:  I’m sorry.  That’s a great line. 

Bernard Melekian:  If you can figure out the PIN number, you can get some police officers out of it.  And that was only part of the case.  And I think sort of fast forwarding to 2009, where–and I have to tell you in 37 years, I have never seen, I’ve seen the economy rise and fall.  I’ve seen problems as we all have.  I have never seen the devastation to local law enforcement that this economic collapse brought about. 

Len Sipes:  Totally agreed.  It is happening throughout the country. 

Bernard Melekian:  Absolutely. 

Len Sipes:  I just read in the Chicago papers about 450 state troopers in Illinois being laid off.  Every day, because I–

Bernard Melekian:  Right. 

Len Sipes: –subscribe to three newspaper services, every–and Google alerts.  And every day, all that–all those articles from throughout the country are pushed towards me.  And I would say at least 20 percent to 30 percent of them deal with budget cuts.  And what’s happening in the criminal justice system throughout the country is literally devastating. 

Bernard Melekian:  Yeah.  The irony is that we as a profession, we as a society, I think, had started to make some great strides, and were really positioning ourselves over the next 10 to 20 years to do something very strategic.  And instead, most chiefs and sheriffs and I’m sure court administrators and district attorneys and public defenders, no one came in this business to do less.  Everybody came into the criminal justice system to do more, to make it better, to make society better, whatever your–whatever approach–wherever you come from on that.
And instead, they’re faced with this need to cut back.  Well, in 2009, in addition to the normal COPS hiring money, the Recovery Act funds were added to that.  And so, the COPS office gave out just over a billion dollars in hiring grants. 

Len Sipes:  That’s a lot of money. 

Bernard Melekian:  In fiscal year 2009.  It is a lot of money, but the downside was, or the other side of that coin was that there were over $8 billion in requests.  We funded 1043 law enforcement agencies.  We–out of–over 7,000 agencies that filed requests.  So clearly, the gap between the need and the resources to meet that need is huge. 

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program.  Bernard Melekian, he is the director of the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing services COPS program.  Now both of you are smiling.  Did I blow the last name?  Am a constantly blowing the last name? 

Bernard Melekian:  Melekian.

Len Sipes:  Melekian.  I’m sorry.  And then I’ll get–

Bernard Melekian:  All right, I will say that your pronunciation is the most common. 

Len Sipes:  Well, now I’m going to get my dozen emails from, particularly from the New York City area, going Leonard, once again, you proved that you cannot get a name correctly.  Okay, so  And the idea here is that not only do you, the COPS office, continue to fund positions in law enforcement, but you continue to provide some sense of moral guidance as to where the law enforcement community should be going.  And consequently, the rest of us in the criminal justice system, where the community should be going in terms of its relationships to the community. 

Bernard Melekian:  Well, my hope is that, and my belief is that American law enforcement does not need Washington to provide a moral compass for how they serve the community.  What I think we do is to help articulate what community policing is, and how those federal resources should best be used.
As I said, I think there’s this view of the COPS office as a hiring arm of the federal government.  I–what I want people to–sheriffs and police chiefs and elected officials across this country to realize is that we are not going to solve the economic challenges that the cities and counties of this country face.  And we ought not to be viewed that way.  What we can do, and what we will do is to provide three or four year problem solving grants.  In other words, what is it in your community, what challenges are you facing?  Is it gangs?  Is it– I just came from a meeting in El Paso of the southwest border sheriffs who face, you know, a unique–

Len Sipes:  A lot of problems. 

Bernard Melekian:  –set of challenges–

Len Sipes:  Yeah. 

Bernard Melekian:  –that really are unique to American law enforcement.  Those are specific community problems that the hiring of additional personnel to address those problems is exactly what the COPS office was designed to do.
Adding to that, I think as we go forward, is to encourage agencies, and I think the economy is going to do this, to encourage agencies to enter into regional projects and to enter into regional collaborations and partnerships. 

Len Sipes:  Bernard, we’ve been talking a lot about the money that the COPS office provides.  And–but isn’t this more an issue about telling the rest of us, instructing the rest of us, helping the rest of us in the field understand what is important, what works, what doesn’t work in terms of community oriented policing? 

Bernard Melekian:  Yes, I think it is.  I mean, I think one of the things, community policing by definition is unique, is unique to the community that it serves.  What works in Brooklyn, Iowa is probably completely different than Brooklyn, New York.  And I think it has to be shaped that way.  I think so one of the things that we’ve tried to be clear on, the COPS office historically has never attempted to tell agencies what they should do, what community policing was for them.  But I think we do have an obligation to search out evidence based practices, look for best practices, share that information, and structure our funding mechanism, so that they become goals to strive for. 

Len Sipes:  Right.  But the best practices, I mean, there are–there’s got to be some sense of a collective whole of knowledge in terms of look, we both know, and we talked about it at the beginning of the program, stoic cops who don’t communicate with the community are people who don’t solve a lot of crimes.  There’s got to be some level of communication with the community.  And unless that level of communication is there, community oriented policing doesn’t work, correct? 

Bernard Melekian:  Yes.  And I think–I think the–it needs to go beyond that.  I think it needs to be a–that communications piece has to be combined with a level of technical competence.  And by technical competence, I refer to culturally technical, as well as sort of instrumentally technical.
Policing in America’s communities large and small today is far more complex than when I came in to this business.  We can talk about and should talk about issues of race and ethnicity, for example.  But when I–in the 1970’s, that was really America–when America talked about race, they talked about black and white.  In the department that I came from in California, there were 23 languages spoken in the school district.  How do you communicate when you can’t speak the language?  And you clearly are not going to be able to simply do that by hiring a certain number of people who can speak a particular dialect.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bernard Melekian:  There is technology out there that has to be grasped.  There are cultural sensitivity issues that have to be grasped.  And so the definition of community policing almost by default has become far broader than it was 20 years ago.  The COPS office wants to help and can help agencies identify resources, what are other departments doing, what have other departments done.  We do provide training and technical materials, but we’ve also said if you’re going to hire police officers to interact with your community to advance community policing, then we’re–we want to know exactly how you’re going to do that.  We want to measure it.  Hiring officers is an output.  Achieving community policing is an outcome.  We’re striving for outcomes.

Len Sipes:  But in essence, once again, it is the community policing, the heart and soul of it.  I mean, you have a debate in this country right now in terms of, you know, a problem oriented policing, problem solving policing.  You’re talking about targeting high risk offenders, which is something that we do with the Metropolitan Police Department here in Washington D.C., where we target high risk offenders, who are on our case loads.  There’s all sorts of forms of policing, but my guess is community oriented policing is getting away from stove pipes and recognizing once again that without the community support, it doesn’t matter what we do.  I mean, is that a reality or not?  I mean, we have to have the community support to be effective.  And through community policing, we use whatever mechanisms are available to get that community support.

Bernard Melekian:  I think you’ve touched on a very important point.  First of all, the community support is critical.  If we don’t have community support, then you simply have an army of occupation.  And that, you know, we don’t have enough police officers or the–nor is that a particularly effective way to, you know, to do business.
Having said that, all the things that you mentioned are simply styles, in my opinion, styles of providing community policing.  Problem oriented policing is very effective.  There’s a concept that’s come out of Los Angeles called predictive policing.  That’s got some interesting possibilities to go with it.
There’s a model out of Providence, Rhode Island, which I think is really where the future of policing is likely to go, called the Teaching Police Department, which pairs a department with an academic institution for the purposes of studying what that organization is doing, identifying what works, and what doesn’t work.  And if it does work, why is it working?  And then, share that with the field as a whole.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bernard Melekian:  The COPS office can facilitate that.  As departments want to undertake experimental efforts, for example, to try to address specific community problems, not again, Washington’s not going to make any effort to say this is what you should do.  But if you’re going to try this, we want to be able to measure it.  And if it works, we want to share it with the rest of the country.

Len Sipes:  Right, but do we not have that collective source of knowledge, though?  I mean, when I worked for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse as the senior specialist for crime prevention, it was my job to figure out what was happening in Albuquerque, and what was happening in Albany, and what was happening in San Francisco and whatever was working, and to build either documents or a collection of resources or referral sources.  So when another police department came in and said I’m interested in, oh, I don’t know, anti-burglary programs.  I can say, hey, he–these four cities have really interesting programs.  Go and talk to them.  I mean, there’s–somebody’s got to be at the center of all of this, dispensing the collective wisdom of what’s happening in the country.

Bernard Melekian:  You’re absolutely right about that.  And that really is what NIJ, National Institute of Justice has done a pretty good job of doing that.  But the fact of the matter is that most local practitioners very often because they’re–what they’re dealing with is so immediate, and so seemingly unique to their community, that they may not even be aware of the resources that are out there.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bernard Melekian:  And one of the things that Attorney General Holder has been very clear about is wanting to break down those stovepipes, and wanting to build mechanisms, so that information is available across the board.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bernard Melekian:  And part of the COPS office mandate in my opinion is to share with the field where those, not only what’s out there, but where they can go do their own research.

Len Sipes:  And it’s interesting because I totally agree with you, by the way, is that I’m not quite sure sitting in Washington, D.C. for probably a good part of my career is not, you know, is nothing comes out of me or anybody else, that’s particularly wonderful in terms of knowledge.  All we do is suck up the knowledge of the experiences of what’s happening at the local level, and share it with others.  I mean, it’s really what’s happening in the cities and the counties and the states throughout this country.  And they push it to us.  And we somehow, some way get the word out about what they’re doing.
The ideas, the true innovation in law enforcement is not coming from D.C.  It’s coming from the individual police departments.

Bernard Melekian:  That’s correct.  And one of the goals that I have for the COPS office is that all too often, those agencies that do unique groundbreaking effective kind of things all too often you find that when the chief leaves, so does that particular program.

Len Sipes:  And why is that?  Why is it that leaders, when they transition, a new person comes in and he wants to put his or her own stamp on the program.  There is no state of the art in terms of community based policing, where the person comes in and says oh, obviously, I need to continue doing what my predecessor did.  Why is that?

Bernard Melekian:  Well, I think one of the things that we–and one of the goals the COPS office is to really institutionalize community policing and community policing practices.  You know, one of the–in what I thought was the–a groundbreaking book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins talked about what makes a truly great organization.  And one of the things that he talked about was the fact that you have to–in order for an organization to consider itself great.  It has to be able to sustain its growth or sustain its success, whatever you’re measuring through at least one change of CEO, one change of leadership.
Because if you don’t do that, then the leader may have been very effective, but the program was a function of his or her leadership, and not a function of the idea.  One of the reasons that I’m so intrigued by the Teaching Policing Department model is if we can measure a program, if we can find ways to evaluate groundbreaking programs that work, and share them with the field in kind of a personality neutral way, I think we may be able to get buy-in, not just from the executive level, which is traditionally where sort of creative, progressive thinking at least on the surface seems to start, but really get it down to the middle management and first line supervision level, which will accomplish two things.  One, it means it actually get done because people are invested in it.  And two, it will mean that the police chiefs of 10 years from now are invested in this kind of vetting.

Len Sipes:  So in the final minutes of the program, this is what I’m hearing.  COPS is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice that seems to do two things.  That seems to A, provide money to hire police officers or to fund specific programs that are truly innovative, and B, provide the leadership in terms and then to share the experience of what’s happening with law enforcement agencies throughout the country.  So whatever good things Rochester, New York is doing can be replicated in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Is that the heart and soul of COPS?

Bernard Melekian:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So it is the–that sharing part of it, and that funding part of it that most people who are listening to this radio program can go to your website,  And on the website, what I read and in terms of your magazine, the COPS magazine, through your website and through your magazine, which is free, by the way, for anybody who wants to obtain it through the website, they can get a sense of what the state of the art is in terms of community based policing?

Bernard Melekian:  Yes, that’s correct.  If you go to that website, and we’re really working very hard on updating that website and bringing the best–links to the best practices, both in terms of police departments and academic institutions in our regional community policing institutes across the country, and having the resource available for the field.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so the website, the magazine is a point of dissemination.  And the philosophically community based policing is not–doesn’t have a national definition.  Every police department for themselves have gone to figure out what community based policing means for them.  If there is an issue in terms of the Spanish speaking community, and that happens to be the priority and lots of crimes are being committed there, and you’re not getting the cooperation, that police department’s not getting the cooperation, then for that particular police department, outreach efforts to the Spanish speaking community, and sitting down and talking with them and figuring out common strategies to approach a crime problem, that would be their strategy.
In another city, it could be burglaries and figuring out the best way of communicating with citizens in that area about burglary, so they can get the information they can need to catch perpetrators.  I think–

Bernard Melekian:  I think if I could just interrupt for a second.

Len Sipes:  Please.

Bernard Melekian:  I think there is a–I think in a way, there–hopefully going forward from this point, is that there is a national definition of community policing and that’s building relationships and solving problems.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Bernard Melekian:  What–and the examples that you cited are exactly on point.  In each of those cases, in spite of probably different geographical locations and certainly different sort of tactical concerns, at the end of the day, that police department needs to build relationships, whether it’s with the Spanish speaking community in one city with it’s–whether it’s a group of effective neighbors–affected neighbors in another city, there has to be a relationship there.  There has to be a line of communication there.
Now then we get into the issue of how do we do that?  That’s really tactics.  But the strategy is to build relationships and solve that community’s problem.

Len Sipes:  And it is also, in the final analysis, as we close out the program, there’s a larger sense that we within the criminal justice system, we can have an impact.  And we do have an impact.  There’s no doubt that law enforcement has an impact on the–

Bernard Melekian:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  –quality of life and criminal activity within an area. But in the final analysis, we’re going to be–law enforcement is going to be much more effective if we have the full cooperation and blessing of the community.  And the only way we have the full blessing and cooperation of the community is to work with them as cooperatively as we can.

Bernard Melekian:  And really to help neighbors and residents realize that they are the solution, that ultimately, it is their commitment to their quality of life and their willingness to work with the department to achieve that, that becomes the essence of community policing.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Our guest today has been Bernard Melekian.  He is the Executive Director–the Director, rather, of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly known as COPS.  The website  Once again, we really appreciate all of the letters, all of the phone calls, all of the emails, all of the comments in the comment box, all the interaction that you provide us in terms of what you would like to see in the show.  You can feel free, once again, to reach me directly via email.  Leonard,  We’re up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio show, television show. The blog and transcripts, and we are really in your debt for all of the interaction that you have with us.  And we want you to have a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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The Role of Faith and Released Prisoners-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Back at our microphone is Reverend Yvonne Cooper.  She’s here to talk about faith based mentoring and this whole concept of what it’s like to have volunteers sit down with individuals out of the prison system.  What they’re doing to help these individuals readjust to life on the outside of a prison setting.  With her today is Louis Sawyer.  Louis is on parole being supervised by my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re a federal parole and probation agency here in the District of Columbia.  Before we begin the show, the usual commercial, a thank you to everybody.  We are up to 225,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. Public Safety, radio, television, and blog, and transcripts.  We really appreciate your comments.  We live by your comments, whether they’re negative or positive, and we really, really, really super appreciate them.  If you want to get in touch with me directly, you can do so by emailing me, Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or you can follow us via twitter at  Back to our guest, Reverend Yvonne Cooper and Louis Sawyer.  Welcome to D.C. Public Safety, Yvonne and Louis.

Yvonne Cooper:  Thank you so very much!

Len Sipes:  It’s always fun when you’re on the program, Yvonne.  There’s never a dull moment.  You are enthused, you are charged up about what it is that you do, and you’re an inspiration to the rest of us who plod through, sometimes those of us who are paid to do this, we plod through this at a certain point.  Sometimes our enthusiasm wanes, sometimes our enthusiasm is not as it should be, your level of enthusiasm is always at peak level.  Why is that?

Yvonne Cooper:  Well –

Len Sipes:  And you don’t get paid to do this.

Yvonne Cooper:  No, I do not!  No, I do not.  You know, God has placed on my heart to help those who can’t help themselves.  I’d like to call it the least, the limited, and the lost, and so I’m so excited that the Lord thought it not a robbery to choose me, even me, a former wretch like me, to help some other folk that have come through the trenches, because I too have gone through the trenches, having been there, done that, former felon myself, or felon, I guess I should say, and I’m just so glad that I had that experience, because had I not had that, I would not be doing the work that I do, so I’m excited.

Len Sipes:  You wouldn’t be doing this work if you hadn’t had that experience, if you hadn’t been part of the criminal justice system, if you hadn’t been incarcerated yourself, you wouldn’t be doing it?

Yvonne Cooper:  I’m pretty sure I would not have been involved.  I thought of criminals as “those people,” but when I had the opportunity to be imprisoned myself as a convicted felon, I learned that I was more like them than different, so it’s because of that experience that I do what I do today.

Len Sipes:  And I think one of the reasons we do the radio shows, and one of the reasons we do the television shows is sometimes to put a human face on the individual that we call an offender of what most people would simply refer to as criminal.

Yvonne Cooper:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  Because they read the newspapers, they watch the evening news, and every day, there’s endless litany of people under supervision, or formerly under supervision doing terrible things to other human beings, and that’s how they derive their image of “criminal.”  One of the things that’s always surprised me is that once you sit across from, again, I’ve been in the criminal justice system 40 years.  I’ve worked with offender, people under supervision, or the offender population for a lot of those years.  So I understand that they’re just, they’re no different from you and I.

Yvonne Cooper:  Amen.

Len Sipes:  There’s a certain point that once they get beyond their criminality, and once they get beyond their drug use, they’re pretty much not any different between you and I.

Yvonne Cooper:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  Yet the average person carries that stereotype, and that stereotype sticks.

Yvonne Cooper:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  And that’s one of the reasons why we don’t have the drug treatment.  That’s one of the reasons why, in my opinion, one of the reasons why we don’t have all the programs we need.

Yvonne Cooper:  Certainly, certainly.  Oh, I agree with you 100%, Lenny, but it is because of people like me and programs that are out there, that think it necessary to help our population to return back to society as a whole person.  They’ve had so many challenges, most times, even before they went in, and so certainly, they’re going to have an abundance of problems when they come home.  We look at today’s times, the issue of jobs is so hard for Joe Q. Citizen, and it’s doubly hard for those that have been incarcerated.  Not just jobs, but even housing, those kinds of things, and so it is very important, at this particular time, that we help those who have come home, and, you know, as you, I don’t need to say this to you, CSOSA being in place because of the fact that we don’t have a facility here in Washington D.C. –

Len Sipes:  We don’t have a federal prison –

Yvonne Cooper:  A federal prison, thank you so much, a federal prison.

Len Sipes:  Offenders from Washington D.C. go to federal prison for the people, let’s look at this –

Yvonne Cooper:  All over the country.  And so, yeah.  So I’m excited about doing this work.

Len Sipes:  Louis Sawyer, you’re on parole.  You’re under the supervision of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  You’ve returned to the District of Columbia on February 9, 2010.  That’s a very short amount of time ago.  How long did you spend in prison?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, first of all, I want to thank you, Lenny, for the opportunity that you’ve given to come and to speak to you and your listeners –

Len Sipes:  And I thank you for participating.

LOUIS SAWYER:  And I would like to say a shout out to your listeners.

Len Sipes:  Well, there you go.  There you go.

LOUIS SAWYER:  Yes, and I came home after doing 25 years –

Len Sipes:  It’s a long time.

LOUIS SAWYER:  – on February 9, 2010, and I’m grateful unto God that he’s allowed me to come back to the city to be part of the re-entry of the returning citizens.

Len Sipes:  But that’s, most people who’ve spent that amount of time in prison, who come back tell me that it is a really difficult process of spending 25 years in prison, and then come back.  That’s, a lot of people find that almost impossible to do.

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, in my daily reading this morning, it talked about the IM out of impossible and making it possible.  With God, all things are possible.  So I am a firm believer that 25 years was like a time in which it was needed for me, as an individual, because I could have been dead in my grave and on my way to hell and have died in my sins, but I thank God, because he allowed me to go through that, and this being the 25 years that I served was a, chapter one in my book, to come out and to be a better citizen, to be a catalyst to those who are coming behind me to be able to be that individual, to circumvent all the negativity, and to make sure that things are better.

Len Sipes:  Two things are crossing my mind.  Number one, your faith.  Obviously, you’re an individual of faith, and one of the things that I’ve found about a lot of people, if not most people, who cross that bridge, as I put it, from tax burden to taxpayer, a lot of it is faith.  A lot of it is faith in a higher power, and to us as a federal agency, it doesn’t matter to us whether it’s Christianity, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Muslim religion, it doesn’t matter if it’s Catholicism, it doesn’t matter.  Most people who seem to do well express a sense of an allegiance, an alliance with God, and that helps them move through society, it helps strengthen them, and helps them deal with drugs, adversity, jobs, family, that sort of thing.  Am I right or wrong?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, let me concur with you on that, Lenny.  There is a higher power, and it’s God Almighty in my life, and I also believe that family is essential, along with the church family, along with mentors, along with advisors, along with counselors that have given you, given me a support network, a foundation, and without these individuals, God being at the head, family and church family and mentors and counselors and advisors, then I could not have been in this successful realm in which God has allowed me to be so far.

Len Sipes:  Now I do want to talk to you about these statistics about people coming back from prison because they’re not very good.  A lot of people fail.  A lot of people return to the criminal justice system outside of prison.  So I do want to talk with you about that, but Yvonne, talk to me a little bit more about faith, and again, that’s a delicate issue for us.  We’re a federal agency –

Yvonne Cooper:  Certainly.

Len Sipes:  – we have no interest in promoting any particular religion, but without the faith based volunteers, and without the individual religious convictions of the individuals who seem to do well, my fear is that many more people, many additional people coming out of the prison system would not succeed.

Yvonne Cooper:  Certainly.  Well, you’re absolutely correct.  I have found, in my work, that as a result of a faith base, most people who succeed are those that have had that faith to hold on to, be it Christianity, be it Muslim, be it Catholic, it does not matter.  The faith is the key element in my mind’s eye.  Now as you know, I am a Christian, but I work with everybody, because the Bible tells that God would have not one to be lost, and so I’m excited when I’ve learned that somebody has held on to some kind of spirituality base, and they have the spirituality base.  That makes all the difference in the world.  I mean, you’re absolutely correct, and all those other components are important, but the faith piece is more important to me than anything else.

Len Sipes:  You’re a pastor at Allen Chapel, AME Church.

Yvonne Cooper:  Associate minister, yes.

Len Sipes:  Associate minister., is the website for the Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington D.C.

Yvonne Cooper:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  You know, most people who are either Christian or who are Muslim or who are Jewish don’t mentor to offenders.  And it gets back to that larger issue of how society views people out of the prison system, and you know, if you hadn’t been, you said it yourself, if you hadn’t had the experience of being incarcerated yourself, you may not be mentoring to Louis today.

Yvonne Cooper:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  So we have this view, regardless of whether we’re churchgoers or not, that those people have committed horrible things, and they’ve harmed society, they’ve harmed their families, they’ve harmed other people, and you know, they tell me, Mr. Sipes, look, quite frankly, I’d rather volunteer in the schools, or I’d rather volunteer to the elderly.  I’d rather do other things besides mentor to offenders.

Yvonne Cooper:  Well, that’s true.  That’s unfortunate.  I might have shared this with you before, Lenny, but for me, as a Christian, just, and I’ll just drop this on you for just a few moments, the prison system originated in the church, where God had put in place cities of refuge when people committed crimes, and so we move along the line, I believe it was the Mormons, Mormons or something like that –

Len Sipes:  It, it was –

Yvonne Cooper:  – started the first church –

Len Sipes:  Oh, For the Love of Heavens, it was in Pennsylvania –

Yvonne Cooper:  In Pennsylvania, right, and that’s still churchy, if you will, and so for me, it makes sense that the church would go back and make a difference.  I mean, that faith piece is very necessary.  You look at this.  When we, when I was out on the street –

Len Sipes:  The Puritans, I apologize.

Yvonne Cooper:  The Puritans, that’s what it was.

Len Sipes:  I knew I had it.

Yvonne Cooper:  Absolutely.  Absolutely correct.  When I was out on the street, and Louis, too, most of us, we were out on the street, there were no four walls.  I mean, the world was our, was there for us, and we can do anything we wanted to, but when we went to prison, it was nothing but four walls, and so we had to sit down and listen, because somebody was there talking about faith.  It was the Muslims coming in, it was Catholics coming in, it was Christian Protestants coming in, and so there was somebody to listen, and they had our attention, and so consequently, some of us had a sense enough to listen, and praise God, when we came out, we were looking at the world in a different color eyes, with different color shades, if you will, and so we’re seeing things a lot different than we were, because before, I wasn’t saved myself, and so it was not until I went to prison that I gave my life to God, and so I had sense enough to, you know, to listen up.  And so the faith piece is very important.

Len Sipes:  Well it’s very dicey and delicate for an agency like ours, being a federal agency, to take on the faith based role, and even talk about the faith based role, because there’s always inevitably people who are going to object to it, succinctly saying, Leonard, you’re a federal agency, but it strikes me that the federal government, or any government entity is limited, is extremely limited in terms of what it is that we can do to reach the hearts and minds of individuals.  What happens is, in terms of the faith community, is that this individual comes out of prison, and he or she is surrounded by individuals who help meet their basic needs, whether it be clothing, whether it be food, whether it be a place to live, whether it be fellowship, whether it be getting a suit for a job interview, whether it’s taking care of the kids, the faith community in Washington D.C. and the faith community throughout this country does that sort of thing, so not only do they provide services, but I can’t help but feel that, for so many people caught up in the criminal justice system, their lives have been very difficult.  There’s a lot of abuse.  There’s a lot of neglect.  For female offenders, there’s an ungodly amount of sexual violence –

Yvonne Cooper:  Certainly.

Len Sipes:  – committed towards them.  A lot of offenders are claiming mental health issues.  If you sit and talk to the individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, and I’m not making excuses for their criminal behavior.  If you do the crime, you do the time.  Fine.  So I’ll say that before the emails come in.  But the issue is, is that they’re really struggling with life’s issues.  Early age of onset for alcohol use, early age of onset for crime use, dropping out, drug use, dropping out of school early, criminal activity, these are individuals who desperately need what another faith based leader called “a gang for good.”

Yvonne Cooper:  You talk about people before they go to prison, but I use Louis as an example, and he can speak to that himself.  Louis, I’m not sure when Louis was saved, before he went to prison, or once he got there, but I have never seen a person that I’ve worked with to embrace the Lord in the way that he embraces him in this sense, that he puts his entire trust in God.  I don’t care what it is, when he was looking for a job, when he was looking for housing, when he was looking for clothing, he was putting his entire trust in God.  He is an example of a person who really has put all of his trust in God, and it’s because of his faith.  Again, I understand, and I appreciate the fact that there are other religions out there as well, but I can only talk about Louis and Christianity right now, so Louis maybe should address that fact.

Len Sipes:  And we are, we’re going to get together and spend probably the next half of the program with Louis, but wanted to reintroduce the program, because we are halfway through already.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We’re doing a program on faith based mentoring.  Back at our microphones, you have Reverend Yvonne Cooper of the Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington D.C.,  With Yvonne today is Louis Sawyer.  Louis is on parole with my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  He’s been out after 25 years in prison, came out on February 9, 2010.  Louis, the second half of the show is going to be almost exclusively yours.  So you come out, and you’ve got this sense of faith.  Where did you have this sense of faith?  Where did you have this sense of faith?  Where did that sense of faith come from?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, Lenny, before I went in, I was a –

Len Sipes:  In the microphone, please.

LOUIS SAWYER:  I was a member of a church, but the church wasn’t in me, and when you have a religion, but you don’t have spirituality, or you’re missing something, and because of the fact of the Allen Chapel AME church with pastor Michael E. Bell, Sr. and Reverend Yvonne Cooper as the director of the missing links ministry, which is very, very insightful for those who are coming in and looking for employment, looking for housing, looking for clothing, looking for transportation, these are the items, the basic needs that our returning citizens are looking for, and when you have a church, members of the church, such as Allen Chapel AME, who extend their love, who extend their gratitude, extend a warm arm of affection, and they welcome you in, not concerned with your charges, not concerned how long you’ve been in prison, none of that, when they show the love of Jesus in their hearts, and they do for those who don’t even know you, and I experienced that the first Sunday I went, which is the first Sunday in March, and I’ve received that, and I thank God for the opportunity to be a part, and when you have that base, when you have that foundation, then how can you go wrong?  And then you have people that’s going to surround you, that’s going to be a part of your transformation, and being reintegrated back into society.

Len Sipes:  But I started –

LOUIS SAWYER:  You think that.

Len Sipes:  I started off the program with talking about Yvonne’s faith, Yvonne’s enthusiasm, Yvonne being up for this task, so many of us within the criminal justice system, there’s a certain point we’re beaten down by it.  We’ve seen so many people who we’ve tried to help not allow themselves to be helped.  We’ve seen so many people who we’ve emotionally been involved in go back to prison.  It’s a difficult system.  I mean, most, according to national statistics, most people go back to the criminal justice system, half go back to the criminal justice system, a higher percentage were re-arrested, but half go back to prison, either for technical violations, or a new crime.  So the issue is, is that, you know, there’s just a sense of, you have your faith, what happened to everybody else?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, let’s look at the statistics, since we’re talking statistics.  We know that when you have an entity, such as family, and church families, which is the Allen Chapel AME Church, and they surround you, and they do what they can, we can only know that for myself, going back to prison is not an option for me.  Whatever the circumstances is, God is ahead of me, and I believe that when you grasp that opportunity, when you grasp that knowledge, you know that there is no failure in him.  So all of my help comes from him.  So that is the basis, the core.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and everybody else –

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, I can’t speak for everyone else, Lenny.

Len Sipes:  But somebody, somebody has to!  I mean, I’m struggling with this issue, because if it was as simple as you say it is, then the federal government would hire and pay, and there would go the enthusiasm, because it’s the enthusiasm of the volunteers that I’m really impressed by, but okay, then we solved the crime problem in this country.  All we have to do is to fund volunteers and have sufficient numbers of volunteers, and all we have to do is to place some sort of religiosity and people inside the prison system, and we dramatically cut back on recidivism.  I mean, somehow, some way, we’ve got to explain to the public, okay, for Louis, it works, and for a lot of other people, it does work, but for a lot of other people, it doesn’t, and how, what do we tell them?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, first and foremost, you have to look at it in not being religiosity, if that’s how you –

Len Sipes:  Yeah.

LOUIS SAWYER:  If you look at it in that aspect, then you’re going to fail.  But if you look at it from a spiritual perspective, because there is a difference between religion and spirituality.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so your bottom line is God saves across the board, whether it’s a Muslim God or Christian God, or Jewish God, it’s that sense of faith that is going to be the making or breaking point in terms of people coming out of the prison system.

LOUIS SAWYER:  It’s a belief factor.  You have to believe that God sent his son, and because of that, the salvation is free to anyone who receives him as Lord and Savior.  Now when you put your faith in him, Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then nothing else is going to deter you from that.  Sometimes we have to let go and let God.  Many of us tend to hold on to our own idiosyncrasies, but when you release that and believe that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine, then we as a community can rally around that and believe that.

Len Sipes:  But I’m going to go back to Yvonne and go back to you, Louis.  Yvonne, the answer can’t be that simple.  So, okay, everybody else doesn’t believe in God.  Somehow, some way, there’s got to be a larger, greater explanation for why so many people return to the criminal justice system.  I do, by the way, just my own personal belief is that if we were able to quadruple the number of volunteers, and if every individual who came out of prison was assigned, didn’t ask for, was assigned mentors, and there were multiple mentors, our recidivism rate would go down, but that’s not the case.  There’s only so many of you guys, people have to ask for the mentors, a mentor/mentee relationship.  It just strikes me that, is there a lesson for the rest of the criminal justice system in all of this?

Yvonne Cooper:  Well, you know, you mentioned earlier that people, people get a little turned around or distressed that, as mentors, when so many people return back to crime, and I will say this to that, Lenny, I understand that, but you have to have a commitment and understand that, even if you just save one, and I know Jesus left the 99 to go after the one, so if you just save one, and so even if you just save one, and that person don’t go back, to me, that is a win-win situation.  But with respect to what you said, I hear Louis, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.  However, I broadened my thoughts in this sense that it is my job, in my mind’s eye, that I would want to make sure nobody goes back to prison, so I embrace the religion that a person has, whoever they believe in, be it Muslim or whatever, I embrace them, because it’s important to me, first of all, we want to introduce Jesus to folk, but you, I’ll use this as an example.  I will tell a woman that I want to help her, so a woman who’s been in prison, I want to help her, and I can’t, she can’t see Jesus if she can’t feed her children.  And so they want to see something first, and so I want these people to see me helping them, whatever religion they have, and then prayerfully, I can lead them to Jesus Christ, but first, I want to keep them whole, and I want them to stay home, and I want to keep them whole, so they need to have something to hold on to, and if it is the Muslim faith, well then so be it, let it be the Muslim faith.  I don’t have a problem with that.

Len Sipes:  I apologize for being so terribly callous after 40 years being involved in the criminal justice system, the faith movement within the re-entry movement is probably one of the most inspiring things personally that I’ve seen in my 40 years within the system.  I embrace it fully.  I embrace it wholeheartedly, but that’s not the point.  The point is, is that we got Louis, and Louis is doing well.  I’m just curious about what we do with everybody else who’s out there struggling with drugs, struggling with employment, struggling with themselves, struggling with their own histories, you know, it’s easy for me to say, well, heavens, find faith, but that’s not a magic wand that you can wave over somebody.

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well Lenny, let me share something with you.  This is very important point that Reverend Cooper, my mentor at the Allen Chapel AME Church, along with Pastor Bell, you don’t have that.  If you had every church, every synagogue, every temple, every mosque that had a pastor, had an imam, had a faith based leader like that, then you would have, not the problems that you would have.  I would have to say that I’m jumping out there, but I’d have to say that if they had shown, if others would show their concern as Reverend Cooper and Pastor Bell showed, then we might not have the recidivism rate as high as it is in the nation’s capital, but we have to look at –

Len Sipes:  Or anywhere else in the country.

LOUIS SAWYER:  This is true.  But being that I’m in Washington D.C., I’m going to stay here.  And the statistics will prove that when you give that person, that returning citizen, an opportunity to look to something, when you provide transportation, housing, employment, medical, clothing, when you show the love, when you extend the love, and when you let them know that, hey, it’s okay, I’m here for you, the mentoring aspect, and we really look at the terminology of mentoring, and when we look at it in its entirety, we must realize that it’s a whole encompass of things, it’s not just one phase, it’s the greet the person when they come in –

Len Sipes:  It’s a gang!

LOUIS SAWYER:  It’s a what?

Len Sipes:  It’s a gang!

LOUIS SAWYER:  It’s a gang?

Len Sipes:  I mean the whole, there’s so many individuals caught up in the criminal justice system were raised by gangs.  They raised themselves, and they’ve been surrounded by a gang structure.  Now we have a gang for good.  It is all embracing.  It is a group.  It is one for all and all for one.  I mean, we have a criminal gang that’s dysfunctional and does a lot of destruction.  We have a religious gang that does a lot of good.

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, let me say this also, Lenny, that there’s two words that I have used and have applied in my life from the time that I’ve received the sentence until the time I was released was the initiative and persistence, and if you take the initiative to do what is right, and you look towards being persistent in doing it, in being to the point where failure is not an option, and to touch base and to connect and to network with those organizations and those people who are about something, I’m sure that when you put 100% of your time and effort, 24 hours, 7 days a week into it, then you don’t have any time for negativity.

Len Sipes:  Well, that’s true, but again, I’m, and we’re in the closing minutes of the program, and I do want to just, I guess, my never-ending concern, and will be the never-ending concern until the day I die, is I take a look at people like you, Louis, and I’m saying, okay, thank god for people like Reverend Cooper, thank god for Louis, but daggonit, why can’t we reach everybody else?  And that’s the closing moments of the program.  I just, Louis, are you doing well?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Thanks be to God, I am doing outstanding.

Len Sipes:  And so life is decent, life is acceptable, and your chances of going back to drugs and prison?

LOUIS SAWYER:  Well, I’ve never done drugs.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

LOUIS SAWYER:  Never done drugs, but prison is not an option, but I’m very content with the way the life that God has allowed me to live, and even though I’m still looking for employment, but God is able, and when time comes for me to get employment, then that will be my time.

Len Sipes:  And for those people listening in to this program in the D.C. area who have job offers contact us through the points that I’ve just given you.  Reverend Yvonne Cooper, god, I love having you with these microphones –

Yvonne Cooper:  God bless you.  God bless you.

Len Sipes:  I really enjoy just sitting across from you and having these discussions.  Final thoughts?

Yvonne Cooper:  Well, I thank you so much, Lenny, for the opportunity.  When I contacted you about Louis, you were excited.  I got you as excited as I was, and so I thought he would be a good candidate.

Len Sipes:  I love success stories.  I absolutely adore success stories.

Yvonne Cooper:  He’s just awesome.  I mean, he’s an awesome man of God, and I’ve, his faith is just extraordinary, and so I wanted others to hear about his faith, and I think he did a stupendous job here today.

Len Sipes:  We’re out of time.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Our guest today, Reverend Yvonne Cooper of the Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington D.C.,  With her, Louis Sawyer, under our supervision at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  If you have a job to give to Louis, now’s the time to get in touch with us.  You can do so directly at Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or follow us on twitter,  We really appreciate all of your comments, most of you comment in the regular comment boxes, but we get the emails, and we get the twitter followings, and we are grateful, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

Yvonne Cooper:  Amen!

LOUIS SAWYER:  Thank you, Lenny!

[Audio Ends]


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Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We have, what I believe, is another very interesting show.  We’re going to be talking about crime victims, and I know we’ve been talking a lot about crime victims lately, but this time, we’re going to do it from the faith based perspective, the fact that my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency really has what I consider to be one of the best faith based programs in the United States in terms of reaching out to criminal offenders, volunteers and churches, mosques, synagogues to help them readjust from prison, or even on probation, but in this context, we’re going to be talking about it in terms of the faith based initiative.  Anne Seymour is one of our guests today.  She is with Justice Solutions.  She’s a national expert on the issue of victims and victimology.  Anne’s website is  I’ll be giving that out again all throughout the program.  Reverend Bernard Keels, the director of the University Memorial Chapel at Morgan State University in the great city of Baltimore, Maryland, where I am from,, he’s also joining with us today.  He’s a mentor and facilitator in terms of faith based groups.  Before we begin the show, our usual commercials, we’re up to 200,000 requests a month for D.C. Public Safety, television, radio, blog, and transcripts.  That’s media, M-E-D-I-A – dot-CSOSA – C-S-O-S-A – dot-gov.  Your input into these shows is what makes the show enjoyable, and what makes the show come alive, and we really appreciate every email, every comment on our comments box, your responses via twitter, and your responses, once again, via email.  If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-Sipes – S-I-P as in Peculiar-P-E-S –, or you can follow us via twitter at  Back to our guests, Anne Seymour and Reverend Bernard Keels.  Welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Anne Seymour:  Thank you.

Bernard Keels:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Anne Seymour, now I’ve read your resume and been on your website, Justice Solutions,  You’ve done a ton of work with the U.S. Department of Justice in terms of victims’ issues.  You are, what I was told by Christine Keels, the person who heads up our faith based program, truly one of the national experts when it comes to victims’ related issues.  We’re approaching National Victims’ Week in April.  Give me a sense as to what’s happening with the victims’ movement throughout the country.  Is there a way of summarizing that in a couple minutes?

Anne Seymour:  Yeah, I think, boy, summarizing the victims’ movement, we’re a very, very diverse movement.  So it’s hard to summarize, but I will say that, you know, we’ve got 32,000 laws across the states and the Indian country at the federal level that protect crime victims.  A big issue now for victims is making sure that these laws are more than just rhetoric, and so we’re looking a lot at compliance issues.  For me personally, one of my big issues is also making sure that we’re identifying victims who choose not to go through the justice process, which is the majority of victims who don’t report crimes, and they never know that services are available to assist them, and so I’m working a lot now with victims who choose not to report, as well as with agencies like CSOSA, which has been really a national model in terms of the work they do with crime victims.

Len Sipes:  And I think, and I thank you for that, and I think Christine Keels, the person who heads the faith-based program, really deserves a lot of credit for that and really has re-invigorated the whole faith based initiative. It’s interesting you talk about people not reporting crimes.  Most crimes are not reported to law enforcement.  40% of property crimes and about 50% of violent crimes are reported.  So I’ve oftentimes wondered what happens to those people who float through their victimization without going through the formal criminal justice system; that you’ve just brought up a very interesting issue.

Anne Seymour:  It’s interesting, and I think it’s also very sad.  I mean, one of the things we need to do is to make sure that everyone in a community knows about victims’ services, because I may not report to the police, but I may talk to my hairdresser, to my child’s student, or if I’m at school, I may talk to the school nurse and still not want to report.  That’s my choice, and I support victims who choose that, but we still want them to know that they can access services for mental health counseling, for medical services that they may need.  There’s a lot of services that do not require reporting and going through the system.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Reverend Bernard Keels, director, University Memorial Chapel, Morgan State University in the great city of Baltimore, again, where I’m from.  Morgan,, one of the well known institutions of higher learning in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area.  You’re a mentor and a facilitator in terms of faith based organizations where, here in D.C., in Baltimore?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah, with the Family Reunification Program in D.C.  One of the things that I think Anne has touched on that is so powerful is that the whole issue of the rhetoric that is present in our society, churches and faith based organizations oftentimes had to separate the historical imperative from what’s happened in contemporary times.  Going back to the Cain and Abel saga, where the first, probably the first victim was Abel, I think churches have to really begin to understand that there is a duality, if you will, with how people who are victims of crimes need to have restitution, need to have restorative justice that happens to them, and many, many times, churches tend to be so caught up into the dogma of worship that they forget the everyday issues that affect the people who are worshipping, i.e. crime victims, and yes, people do report crime victims to hairdressers and to strangers, and sometimes, the last place they come is a faith based institution because of the built in negative images of what it means to accuse, for instance, a cleric of abuse.  Some of the institutional abuse you hear about, pedophilia in some of the mainline denominational churches, so faith based churches and institutions need to really broaden their understanding that it’s okay to leap out with your faith, but to understand the very basic issues that affect people, because people, after all, bring the whole idea of parishioners, and I think that’s where we have to become more relevant.

Len Sipes:  The, especially when it applies to women victims, most, in most cases, women know who attacked them.  In most cases, there is prior knowledge or a prior relationship.  That is extraordinarily difficult when your best friend/brother/husband/friend of five years/somebody that you’ve known for the last 30 days victimizes you, and thereby the struggle, and we understand that, in terms of people not reporting crimes, they see this in many cases as a personal event, not necessarily an event that you would report to the criminal justice system, but she’s a victim nevertheless.  So I would imagine, I can see that person going to their Imam.  I can see that person going to their priest, going to their minister, going to their rabbi, and saying, although I don’t want to report this to the criminal justice system, I am reporting it to you, I need spiritual counseling in terms of best, next steps.  What should I do, correct?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah.  Not only are you correct, but it’s so incumbent upon that spiritual director to recognize the boundaries of their ability, his or her ability, to become a meaningful mentor, a meaningful person that could intervene in it.  So many times, people will go to their cleric, the imam, the rabbi as a way of sort of ameliorating the situation and saying that prayer will change that, or the fact that I’ll come to church will make it easier, and it takes a very strong and well-trained cleric to realize that it’s okay to be able to access those governmental, or organizations like a CSOSA, to be able to partner with those governmental organizations and partner with Anne’s group, and to be able to say, help me learn how to translate what I do so that a victim actually has a face and a person they can believe in in the process of healing.

Len Sipes:  Now before going on in the program, to cretae clarity, some clarity out of all the issues we’re dealing with over the course of the next 25 minutes, we have to deal with the faith based component, and the faith based component, ordinarily, is one of mentoring people under supervision. So we’ve got to be dealing with the fact that there are people under supervision, and we use the faith community to mentor to them, to help them regain their footing, not do drugs, get together and take care of their families and not continue a criminal lifestyle.  We’ve got to deal with that.  We’ve got to deal with that in the context of the victims’ movement, and we’ve got to deal with the victims’ movement across the board.  So that’s three gigantic topics that we now have, oh, 20 minutes to deal with.  Do we want to start off with the mentoring to people under supervision/criminal offenders?  Do we want to start off with that component and how that interacts with the victims’ movement?

Bernard Keels:  Yeah, one of the ways that we started was to be able to help offenders understand that there’s not that much difference between a mentor and a mentee.  So many times, we draw an invisible yet concrete barrier between those who have transgressed society and those who are nice, normal people.  I’ve found that it’s important to tell your story and be a very good listener so that a person realizes that no matter how far you’ve gone, you can come home.  The Hebrew biblical story of the prodigal son comes to mind.  It’s important to realize that if we live against society, rehabilitation and restorative justice is possible, then that offender has to have the very realistic goal that if he or she can begin to first seek some forgiveness within themselves, their higher being, whatever it might be, then and only then can they begin to go to that person that they’ve transgressed and try to be able to create a more helpful and hopeful dialogue.  So mentors have to be very careful not to prejudge a situation based on their own concept of morality, their own concept of religion.  Religion becomes so narrowly defined sometimes that it can become dangerous when we begin to judge people from a unidimensional yardstick that says, if you’ve done this, then this is the result.  I don’t know a person’s story, but I can hear who they are and interact with who they’ve been, and then share a bit of my own story.  So I think that that mentoring thing, in the faith based community, has to be able to step outside of its own power, if you will, its own sense of history, and look in the universal sense of, what does it mean if I have offended Anne, to know that Anne has the right to come to her own terms of forgiving my offense.

Len Sipes:  All right, so basically what I’m hearing is, first, the individual has to heal themselves.  The faith based mentor, whatever religion that persons happens to represent, can’t be too judgmental.  He’s there to help that person cross a bridge, but there is a certain point where he or she needs to acknowledge that they’ve done a tremendous amount of harm to another human being, they need to acknowledge they’ve done harm, a tremendous amount of harm to the community, so it’s just not that particular act in isolation.  There’s no such thing as a burglary.  There’s no such thing as a rape.  It is multiple, multiple victims.  It may be one person that the state uses to prosecute, but there’s an entire family, there’s an entire community that’s been harmed, and that offender needs to come to grips with that community –

Anne Seymour:  And their own family as well.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Bernard Keels:  Good.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead –

Anne Seymour:  Oh, I was just going to say, that’s the whole concept of restorative justice, is that you really need to look at the harm you’ve done to yourself.  I really agree.  You’ve got to go to yourself first.  It’s not about me first as a victim advocate, or as someone who’s a probation officer, it is really looking at you and the harm that you did, but how I hurt you and your family first, and then your victim, and then your neighborhood, and then your community, so it’s very, very important that we understand, it’s almost like a tidal wave that occurs.  It may start out as a little wave, but when you think about the impact of crime, it goes so far in our society, and I think traditionally, a lot of folks that are under community supervision, we’ve never made them think about it, and a big part of what we’re talking about today is that we want them to think about it, and we’re going to give them help to acknowledge that they have caused harm to people, and that we’re giving them an opportunity to make up for the harm that they’ve caused.

Bernard Keels:  From a spiritual point of view, acknowledgment is only part of it, Leonard.  Understanding becomes an even deeper part, because when you understand something, there’s a possibility for transformation to take place.  So many times, people carry on the label of being an alcoholic or a drug addict or a recovering drug addict.  I try to get a person to the point where they both acknowledge and understand they can become a delivered person so they don’t go that pathway again.  They discover new pathways to conflict resolution, new pathways to understand that their personal issues don’t have dominance over someone else’s issue because of their role or their gender or their relationship or their wealth, and so many times, society begins to casually assign value on crimes based on who’s committing the crime.

Len Sipes:  Well, the society puts labels on each and every one of us for a thousand different reasons, whether you’re African American, whether you’re white, whether you’re short, whether you’re tall, whether you’re Hispanic, whether you’re a male, whether you’re female, whether you’re from the United States, or whether you’re from Germany, we all tend to provide stereotypes.  So the stereotype of the criminal offender, or the stereotype of the person under supervision, however you want to describe that person, doesn’t that come with the territory?  Anne?

Anne Seymour:  You know, I think it does.  I think we are judgmental, even though we’re all mamby pamby and say we’re not supposed to be, but we do judge.  We very often do judge a book by its cover.  But it’s the same thing when, you know, when we talk about victims, people see victims as weak, as someone who might have been partially responsible for what happened to them.  We make judgments about victims, and when we talk about why crime victims don’t report crimes, it’s because they are afraid that no one’s going to believe them, and they’re afraid of being blamed, and the thing that you mentioned, Leonard, I think is so important.  Very often, they know the person, and so they don’t want to get that person in trouble, or they’re fearful of that person.  So we need to recognize that we do judge people who have committed offenses, and very often, I think our judgments are way off, just as they are with crime victims, that we should not make assumptions that anyone is a certain way because they committed an offense, or because someone committed one against them.  With victims, for me, it’s always so important to, despite all the research that tells us about domestic violence victims, and kids who are child abuse victims, everyone is unique.  Every single person has their own story.  Every person came to the path of victimization with a lot of stuff that came before that we need to recognize, which is going to affect how they cope with the victimization.

Len Sipes:  I want to reintroduce my guests halfway through the program, and it’s going by like wildfire.  Anne Seymour, Justice Solutions,, national expert in terms of victim assistance.  Reverend Bernard Keel is director of University Memorial Chapel at Morgan State University in grand and glorious Baltimore, Maryland,  We go with the research, and you go with a certain sense of pragmatism, and I just want to touch upon this whole sense of labeling very quickly and then move on.  If I don’t introduce that, if I don’t introduce the anger on the part of the crime victims, if I don’t introduce the anger on the part of the average citizen who happens to listen to this program, they don’t see the program is relevant.  They say, Leonard, for the love of good god, at least acknowledge the fact that we are suffering and the community is suffering.  Yeah, I do understand that programs need to be there for offenders/people under supervision.  I need, I understand all of that, but somewhere along the line, you’ve got to acknowledge the harm.  Okay, so if we acknowledge the harm, then we can move on and say that the research is pretty clear that these programs, and programs run the gamut from drug treatment to mental health treatment to finding jobs to dealing with a wide array of other social issues, do have a way of lessening recidivism, which means fewer offenders go back to the criminal justice system, which saves a) victims from being victims, and b) taxpayers from having to pay additional taxes.  The research indicates that there’s approximately a 10-20% reduction in recidivism, so Reverend Keels, by mentoring to individuals, helping them cross that bridge, that’s accelerating that process, is it not?

Bernard Keels:  Not only is it accelerating the process, but it really assures that recidivism does not become the revolving door that so many times is in the criminal justice system.  Apart from the understanding of the offender, I want to really talk a bit about the victim.  So many times, the victim, in his or her silence, has been shunned by all of the institutional support.  Most of the institutional support in America is for offenders, and so the support, there’s parole, probation, there’s –

Len Sipes:  98% of it is focused on the person, the participant within the criminal system.

Bernard Keels:  This is where the community becomes important.  The community becomes the holistic vehicle by which we can rally around the whole adage about, it takes a village to heal something, can rally around and begin to say that it’s not your fault, that there is a way of you being able to come to grips with your own hurt, and maybe someday, at your pace, forgive, but not to put the victim in a sense of being revictimized.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Bernard Keels:  So many times, faith communities make that mistake, Leonard, to revictimize the person.

Len Sipes:  And that’s part of the problem here, in terms of the calls and letters that I get, or the emails, is that, don’t revictimize people who are victimized by crime.  We do understand that you’re advocating for more programs for criminal offenders, and we understand that, but somewhere along the line, you have to advocate for us, which is the reasons why we’re doing these radio shows in.

Anne Seymour:  I just remember, as a young victim advocate, and this was 25 years ago, I was training probation officers, and a woman lingered afterwards, and told me about being a battered woman.  She was a probation officer who was in a chronic battering, and she told me about going to her minister, and he said to her, if you would just be a better wife and think about your children, it’s important that you stay with him for the sake of the family.  And I remember her crying, and I remember crying myself thinking, oh my gosh, we have to do something if that’s the advice that faith communities are giving to victims, and that’s why I’m so happy to be addressing this subject today, because people do not, they’re not mean to victims intentionally, but they say the wrong things, and the faith community, in trying to keep the family together and trying to stick with, especially the Christian requirement forgiveness can be extremely hurtful to victims.  So we have partnered, over the years, and developed wonderful training programs, and a lot of work like the mentoring that the reverend is doing, that helps them understand that they have two options: they can help victims, or they can hurt victims, and we’re kind of hoping that everyone sides on the help part, because there’s a lot of help needed by victims.

Len Sipes:  There is middle ground.  From what I’m hearing from both of you, there is a way of mentoring to victims, and to be sure that their rights and responsibilities are constitutional rights in most of the states, so there is a constitutional right in terms of the federal crimes, they are, they have constitutional protections.  There is a way of taking care of the victim, and at the same time, being sure that the people under supervision, by my agency or any other agency out there, we’re talking about five million human beings, seven million people caught up in the criminal justice system and the correctional system, but the vast majority of them belong to us, the people who provide community supervision.  There is a way to take care of the victims’ issues, and there is a way to take care of the people under supervision to provide them with that bridge, and in many ways, and I’ve seen it first hand in the 20 years that I’ve been dealing directly with the offender community, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed that bridge, who do come to an understanding that they’ve done a tremendous amount of harm, who have gotten the programs and the services necessary to help them go from tax burden to taxpayer.  So we can do it all, is the point.

Bernard Keels:  Traditionally, institutions like faith based institutions have done, by every means necessary, to protect the pristine image of being perfect.  Nothing bad happens here.  Everything that walks through this door gets returned to a perfect relationship with the creator and all those kinds of things.  One of the things that I try to do personally and professionally is to realize the need to be able to acknowledge brokenness with the victim, and to talk about those issues both biblically, historically, interpersonally, where broken does, when it becomes uncared for, brokenness becomes a characteristic, if you will, or a habitual cyclical thing where people feel to be broken.  Case in point, and Anne reminded me so much, you’re talking about that crime victim went to her pastor, I had a young lady come to me some years ago, battered and bruised, and told me that she needed to be a better wife because she knew her husband loved her, and I said why, because he beat me.  And you know, for her, that was her Judeo-Christian training in terms of wives, submit to your husbands.  Property issues.  And I said to her that, let’s rethink that again.  If you remain in a state of brokenness, normally, you do not become well, you might pass that brokenness on to your offspring.  So your children may begin to understand that that’s the role of a woman, to be battered, not to be made, self-actualized through her own abilities, her own talents, and when pastors and imams and rabbis are not properly trained, they will almost always go to maintain the integrity of the institution, and not the integrity of the individual who’s hurting within an institution, so it’s critical to do that.

Len Sipes:  These are all extraordinarily sensitive issues, and I think we’re tackling them rather well.  We’re not avoiding them.  We’re not being a bunch of bureaucrats.  Let me throw in one more.  The great majority of, according to research, especially women caught up in the criminal justice system, they’ve been crime victims themselves.  Males, I mean, there’s a strong piece of research, series of research articles out there talking about the fact that everybody caught up in the criminal, not everybody, the majority caught up in the criminal justice system are subject, have been the recipients of child abuse and neglect.  The instance of women offenders being sexually assaulted, especially as children, especially by people they know is astounding.  I understand why, after 40 years in the criminal justice system, why so many people do take to drugs, why so many people, in fact, it’s 50%+ claim mental health issues, not diagnosable mental health, but they claim their own mental health issues.  I understand a lot of that, not trying to rationalize the criminal behavior or excuse the criminal behavior, but when you come from that sort of a background, I understand why they get into drugs, and I understand why drugs, in many cases, leads to criminal behavior.  Who wants to tackle that?

Anne Seymour:  Well, I’m happy to tackle that, and thank you for bringing up female offenders.  I think a real theme of what we’re talking about is that, in the old days, we would have the people who worked with offenders, or people in prison on one side, and the victim people way on the other side, and we have come to a rightful conclusion that it is not black and white.  We are all gray in this, and you raise a great example of women offenders, at least 90% of them have victimization and trauma in their background, which causes them very often to use and abuse, to cope with the trauma, which puts them in dangerous situations, which sometimes lead to criminal situations.  Now tell me that’s not a victim assistance issue!  And I actually am starting  to work on women offender issues, but similarly, I think of CSOSA as a great example.  Why does CSOSA have a victim assistance program? People go, they’re supposed to be working with people on probation.  It is great!  Every probationer, and people talk about victimless crimes.  I’ll make the case that there is no such thing as a victimless crime!  For every probationer, someone is hurt by that.  So they need to be having victim services to be able to recognize that fact, and I will give you another example.  Prison rape is an issue.  That’s a huge concern now in this country.  Who is stepping up to the plate to work with people who are incarcerated, men and women and youthful offenders?  It is victim advocates.  We have a moral obligation to not say, this person’s a criminal or a murderer, or they raped themselves.  That doesn’t matter to us.  They’re a victim in need of help, and so I just say that, because we not only judge people, as we said earlier, but we tend to pigeonhole people, and the beauty of what CSOSA is doing, and I hope a lot of other programs out in this country and internationally is recognizing that we’ve, we can’t box ourselves in anymore.  We just can’t.  Everyone is or knows a victim of crime.  Everyone knows someone who has been through some sort of criminal or juvenile justice supervision, so let’s look at it from that perspective.  This affects every single one of us.

Len Sipes:  It’s a massive amount of suffering, whether you’re the victim, whether you’re the person caught up in the criminal justice system, whether the person caught up in the criminal justice system who was victimized when they were young, there’s just a massive amount of pain going on out there, and I guess it’s our job, in terms of the victims’ community and the faith based community and government, I sort of have to laugh when you say government.

Anne Seymour:  No, it’s a big role.

Len Sipes:  Well, we would like to, but I think the leadership is going to come from the victims’ community, and I think the leadership is going to come from the faith based community, quite frankly, because you all can say and do things that we can’t in government.

Anne Seymour:  The giant sucking sound we want.

Len Sipes:  The giant –

Anne Seymour:  – to get wrapped into what we’re doing.

Len Sipes:  The giant, the giant sucking sound.  Well, but we also want, at the same time, we want to convince people that it’s all shades of gray, that there’s very little black and white here, that it’s very little E=MC2, that there is a massive amount of suffering.  If the faith community steps up to the plate and provides the leadership which they’re so capable of doing, and can mentor to individuals in a way that government, quite frankly, cannot.  I’m paid to do what I do.  So that person, regardless of where I spent my career, part of my career in terms of helping people caught up in the criminal justice system, I’m still paid to do it.  The mentors are there because they see it as God’s work.

Anne Seymour:  And the keyword in all that is servant leadership.  Leadership by itself does not hold, I think, the true sense of what can be accomplished by serving others, a servant leader takes, at the very center of his or her setting to meet a person at the point of their need, and the need of victims, the need of offenders, the needs of the secondary and tertiary victims who sometimes feel helpless because someone they love has been victimized are really, really important, and one of the things that I try to consistently understand is this marvelous study in the Hebrew scripture about Nathan, the friend of David.  David had victimized people without realizing, because his authority said you can do it.  You’re the king, take Uriah and kill him.  You know, you’re the king, do whatever you want to do, and Nathan appeals to the core of who he is, and here through the friend, the king, who has an influence over his subjects, comes and writes one of the most powerful restorative psalms that you can read in Hebrew scripture.  So I think that it’s important that that victim realizes, never be forgotten, that Anne and I are crucial to what you do, but you are crucial too, because a part of the government, the rules and the issues become subtle and arrived at, and we’ve got to be able to go into institutions and say, for instance, the homosexual rape, indeed, is victimizing people.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Anne, I’m going to give you the final 30 seconds of the program.

Anne Seymour:  I just want to reiterate that I think we’re all in this together where we are victims or people who choose to victimize others, everyone’s going to have needs, and we as a community, I think, have an obligation to identify the needs of victims and try to meet them, but also recognize, I really appreciate what we’ve said, this whole thing is that, I think a lot of offenders, not all of them, a lot of them deserve a second chance, and the only way they can get that chance is if a community is willing to accept them and accept the fact that they have done something terribly wrong and give them opportunities to be held accountable to their victim and to their own community.

Len Sipes:  Our guests today have been Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions,, a national expert on the issue of victimology.  Reverend Bernard Keel is director of the University Memorial Chapel of Morgan State University, www.morgan – M-O-R-G-A-N – dot-edu, a mentor and faith based group facilitator.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Once again, we are extraordinarily appreciative of all the contact that you provide us, either through the show notes, the comments, and our four websites at media – M-E-D-I-A –, or reach me directly via email, Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or follow us by twitter –  I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Hiring People Under Community Supervision-An Employer’s Perspective-Andre Marr

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From our nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue our conversations about employing people under supervision.  We have, before our microphones today, Andre Marr.  Andre is the CEO and President of A&E Heating and Air Conditioning here in the nation’s capital.  He is also involved in something pretty serious.  Andre at one time was caught up in the criminal justice system.  He wants to give back.  He started Product of the Product, which is, to train individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. Before getting on to the interview, our usual commercial: thanks everybody, thanks to everybody for listening and all the comments, the letters, the emails, and sometimes phone calls.  If you need to get in touch with me directly, you can do so via email: or follow us by twitter, that’s, and again, before our microphones, Andre Marr, the president and CEO of A&E Heating and Air Conditioning in Washington D.C. to talk about hiring people under supervision.  Andre, how are you doing?

Andre Marr:  I’m doing great, thank you.

Len Sipes:  Now you’ve had this company for about 14 years.  At one time, you were caught up in the criminal justice system.

Andre Marr:  Absolutely.  At one time, I was part of the criminal justice system, and was, last time I was incarcerated was 1984, I’m glad to say.

Len Sipes:  And you crossed the bridge, as I like to put it.  You went from being a tax burden to a taxpayer, and now you’re hiring people, and you’re hiring not just people under supervision, you’re hiring all sorts of people, but you’re here today to talk about what it takes to hire people, what employers are looking for in terms of hiring somebody who is under supervision, what goes through their mind, but what caused you to make the break, to go from a tax burden to taxpayer, but to business owner?

Andre Marr:  Well, just the old adage, sick and tired of being sick and tired, was tired of doing the same thing, getting the same results.

Len Sipes:  Yep, and I’ve heard that, in 40 years in the criminal justice system, I’ve heard that about 10,000 times.  I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Somehow, some way, this is my refrain, or my response to that, somehow, some way, we’ve got to be able to reach the 25 years old, the 20 year old, and whoever figures that out is going to win the Nobel Prize.  You know what I mean?  Instead of reaching that guy when he’s 40 when he’s sick and tired of being sick and tired, reach them when they’re young when they’re still full of pee and vinegar.

Andre Marr:  Well, actually, it’s not all that difficult.  What we decided to do was become a product of what we were trying to create.  An example is the best, the best teacher.  Don’t ask me to do something you’re not doing yourself.

Len Sipes:  Amen.  Amen.  Example is the best teacher.  All right, now you hire people being supervised by Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, and you also are involved in the training program, product of the, but that’s been three years.  You’ve been doing heating and air conditioning for 14 years.  What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody?  So one of, a person comes out of the prison system, and he’s in Washington D.C., and he comes to you, and so he did five years for assault or armed robbery, and he comes to you, and he’s looking for a job.  What’s going through your mind?

Andre Marr:  Well, what’s going through my mind is, are you able to maintain clean urines?  Do you have a drug problem?  Punctuality and attendance.  Those three major factors, and the biggest barriers that I find in employment in any sector, not just the ex-offender, people coming out of the criminal justice system, but people in general all suffer from these three major infractions.

Len Sipes:  Andre, do people have to be trained to come to you and find employment?  I mean, do they have to know heating and air conditioning, or with the right attitude and the right motivation, you will train them?

Andre Marr:  Well, attitude is very important.  Preferably, we would like for them to be trained.  A&E is no different from any other heating and air conditioning company.  If you come to us green, in other words, with little or no experience, then our investment in you wouldn’t be reaped for 2-3 years.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  So there has to, so in your mind, you’re looking for a little bit of training.

Andre Marr:  I’m looking for a little bit of training, but I’m looking for a lot of good attitude.  Yes.

Len Sipes:  You know, I was told a long time ago by a construction company here in town is, and they put it real bluntly, and some people are turned off by that level of bluntness, but they’re, when they were talking to a group of people they were thinking about hiring, they said shut up, show up, no baby mama drama.  I expect 8 hours for 8 hours pay, and if I need you to work overtime, if I need you to put in 12 hours that day, that’s what you do.  That’s what I’m looking for, and if you do that, I can give you a good career.  What’s your response to that?

Andre Marr:  Well, my response to that is generally the same.  However, different people come with different circumstances, different problems.  We’re living in a different world today.  Supervision in itself is a challenge.  The urinalysis, the reporting to the parole officer, probation officer, a lot of employers aren’t very lenient when it comes to allowing employees to fulfill some of these responsibilities.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  They want a clean urine, they’ve got to show up sober every day, of course.

Andre Marr:  Well, not so much wanting the clean urine, but having to take off to go and –

Len Sipes:  I hear you.

Andre Marr:  – participate in urinalysis –

Len Sipes:  I hear you.

Andre Marr:  – go off and participate in this.

Len Sipes:  What can we do as a bureaucracy?  We’re a federal agency with a local mission here in Washington D.C.?  What can this agency do to make it easier for you to hire our people?

Andre Marr:  Well, I think what the agencies need to do is to continue to provide the close supervision that they’re providing, the structure, the urinalysis, I can’t emphasize that enough.  If we could just stop burning up these cups, a lot of us could become gainfully employed, but the supervision and the structure overall, I think, is great.  The prospective employee just has to learn a little patience, and to remember that everything’s happening the way it was designed.

Len Sipes:  Is my agency a help or an impediment?  I mean, are we there working with you to hire the right person and to come to you and say, look, there’s not an issue in terms of dirty urines, the guy’s going to show up on time, if you have problems with him throughout the course of the day, the week, the month, the next year, come back to us.  Are we a help or are we a hindrance?

Andre Marr:  Well, in all fairness and honesty, I would have to say there are pros and cons to both sides of that question, but through my experience, I’ve found that your agency has been very helpful, very cooperative when they could.  They try to understand when they don’t, and they put forth a great effort.  I really do believe.

Len Sipes:  One of the things I do want to remind everybody that you can go to our website,,, again, stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency serving Washington D.C., and you can go to the section on “Hiring people in community supervision,” and you can provide your own comments, and we really are looking forward to people, and getting their opinions, crowd sourcing this issue from the employment community, the business community, in terms of what it would take for us to do a better job of hiring the people under our supervision.  Andre, just a couple minutes left.  What’s the bottom line for us as an agency, in terms of convincing people to take another look at our offenders?  We have a stereotype, and people look at the evening news, and they read the newspaper, and it’s, a lot of it is people doing terrible things to other people, and so people are skeptical about hiring somebody who’s served time.

Andre Marr:  Well, this is true, and that stereotype is going to take a while to suspend.  Surely it doesn’t always turn out great, but I believe in most cases that most people deserve a second chance.  I guess a lot of us could look at our own lives and say, but for the grace, there go I.  It could have been me.  A lot of us have committed crimes, just haven’t been caught for them, so it could definitely go the other way, but it’s been my experience that most of these young men and women who have been caught up in the criminal justice system just want the opportunity to provide for themselves and their own family, and you know, to live a productive –

Len Sipes:  And that’s rather startling, and that’s a point that a lot of people don’t quite understand that virtually everybody that I’ve ever talked to coming out of the prison system, they desperately don’t want to go back.

Andre Marr:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  They desperately want a clean and sober life for themselves.  In some cases, they’re not quite sure how to get from point A to point B, and they continue within the criminal justice system, but people like you, it’s, I don’t want to say everybody’s got to serve time, everybody’s got to come from that life to be part of this.  But if you give them an opportunity, in many cases, with our help, with the, the bonding program, and the tax benefits of hiring somebody under those circumstances, and again, with our assistance, I think they’re going to end up doing well.

Andre Marr:  Absolutely.  I would concur.  Absolutely.  Someone gave me a chance, and so now it’s just my turn to do the same for someone else.

Len Sipes:  I appreciate what you’ve done.  Our guest today is Andre Marr.  Andre is the CEO and president of A&E Heating and Air Conditioning of Washington D.C.  He also, now he’s been doing this for 14 years.  He also has a training opportunity that he uses to try to give back, and to train individuals for jobs who have been caught up in the criminal justice system.  That’s   The telephone number for A&E Heating and Air Conditioning in Washington D.C. is (202)608-1349, (202)608-1349.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Again, we appreciate all of the comments that you’ve made to us throughout the last 3½ years.  We’re up to 225,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio, television show, blog, and transcript, and we want you to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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Hiring People Under Community Supervision-An Employer’s Perspective-Darryl Hallman

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue our conversations with a series of employers about what it takes to get employers to hire individuals under community supervision.  We are the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency here in Washington D.C.  Today, we are talking to Darryl Hallman.  He is the director of the AYT Institute.  They, interestingly enough, have 110 employees, they train auto technicians in six locations throughout the District of Columbia, and virtually all of them have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and that, I find, is really interesting.  He also trains individuals.  He has about 30 people involved in training right now, again, to be a auto technician.  Before we get into the interview with Darryl, our usual commercial, thank you very much all of you for contacting us and listening to us and watching us and interacting with us.  We’re up to 225,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts.  If you need to get in touch with me directly, it’s Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, or follow us by twitter, that’s  Back to Darryl Hallman, director of the AYT Institute.  Darryl, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Darryl Hallman:  Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Now this is interesting.  Virtually everybody you got employed at six places throughout the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, they’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system.

Darryl Hallman:  Not completely 100% of them, but the majority of them.

Len Sipes:  But the majority of them.  Okay.  Why is it that you have decided to reach out to people caught up in the criminal justice system?  I mean, quite frankly, the stereotype is, let’s avoid these folks.  And what you’re doing is embracing them.

Darryl Hallman:  Well, we find that AYT has been in the community for a while, actually 20 years, and we felt like we wanted to give something back to the community, and one way that we could do that is to bring in the local citizens and train them where they could have a career, and decided to start a school, and that’s how we got where we are.  We went after the people that had supported us for so many years.

Len Sipes:  But again, when I’ve talked to employers in the past, some of them have expressed dismay over hiring people under our supervision.  About 53% at the moment are hired, which means that many are not.  Now some of them are caught up in prison, and some of them are caught up in jail, and some of them are not available for supervision, but we have literally thousands of people who are months, if not years away from their last dirty urine who are literally years away from their criminal activity, they’re pretty much solid citizens, but that criminal history is holding them back from getting a job, so that’s one of the reasons why we’re talking to you today is to get the employer’s perspective as to what it takes to hire folks, but it doesn’t sound like you need much convincing.  You did this because you wanted to give back.

Darryl Hallman:  Well, we feel that everyone needs a second chance, and if no one else is willing to give them a second chance, then we are.  So when everybody else is finished with them and throw them away, then we open our doors and say, okay, we understand.  And we have an opportunity that we’d like to introduce you to.

Len Sipes:  What happens when you give that guy a second chance?  So he shows up for work with this dumbfounded look on his face because he doesn’t know what he’s getting into, and you all do what with him?

Darryl Hallman:  Well, we actually train them first.  They have to come in for an interview, and we talk to them and let them know what’s expected from them and what they can expect from us, and upon that completion of the interview, if it’s something that they want to do, then we set them up for training, and we put them in the class, and upon completion of the class, we give them an apprenticeship, and the rest is history.  They’re all working right now.  Right now, we do have 100% retention rate and 100% job placement, so –

Len Sipes:  Which means they’re all getting jobs elsewhere if you work with individuals to place them elsewhere, or they’re all working for the AYT Institute.

Darryl Hallman:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Darryl Hallman:  Yes, yes.

Len Sipes:  Now why is it that you do so well when the rest of us fail?  Well, I don’t want to say the rest of us fail all the time, but the rate of failure –

Darryl Hallman:  There are some successful businesses out there as well.  However, we understand our community.  We have compassion.  We make them feel like they’re important, and we give them a future and a career, so when they see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and they do have a second chance, and someone do believe in them, then it motivates them to do the best that they can, because we’re going to give them our best.

Len Sipes:  A lot of individuals, or the people that we talked to, they have a hard time hearing this and understanding this.  I’ve met very few people coming out of the prison system.  There are some that are going to go straight back.  And they know it.  They’re going to go straight back and hit those streets, and they’re going to be high within half an hour getting there, and they’re going to be thugging and mugging within a fairly short amount of time.  But the great majority of them don’t want to go back.  The great majority of them want a straight life.

Darryl Hallman:  That’s true.

Len Sipes:  But a lot of them literally, literally do not know how to accomplish a straight life.

Darryl Hallman:  Well, I think that with our company, with our company and your company, if we are able to give them the information that they need and to make their transition smoother by providing them and assisting them, things would be a lot better, and you know, just giving them the information that they require, a lot of them don’t know what they want, and you have to lay it out on the table for them, and once you do that, they make a decision as to what they want to do, and if you can accompany them, then the rest is pretty easy.

Len Sipes:  The website for the AYT Institute is www.ayti – that even rhymes!  Darryl, what can we do?  The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, what we’re telling employers is that, look, I mean, if you’re looking for that individual who’s drug free, we’ll give you that individual who’s drug free.  We can prove they’re drug free.  If you’re looking for that individual who has a good attitude, who simply wants to go to work, or a person, we have a ton of people with skills, with hard skills.  I mean, what can we do to make it easier for the private sector to hire our folks?

Darryl Hallman:  Well, I think CSOSA’s actually doing quite a job right now, and if they continue to do what they’re doing and let the public sector know what’s available and let the employers know what’s available, I think your rate will go up.  I wasn’t aware of a lot of things that CSOSA did until recently, and I’m pretty happy with the responses I’m getting from CSOSA, and it’s been an experience for me to work with CSOSA.  I think that if they went out after more employers, and there’s a lot of small companies like mine as well as other companies that just don’t know what you guys have to offer.  If the individuals coming through your program know that we’re out there, and we’re willing to take a chance, and CSOSA knows that we’re out there, and we’re working together as partners, I think things will go a lot smoother.

Len Sipes:  What does it take for an employer to hire somebody under supervision?  I would imagine, honesty about the fact that he’s committed a crime, he’s not going to hide that, he knows that he’s got to show up every single day, he knows that he’s got to show up sober, and if he’s under CSOSA’s supervision, we drug test the dickens out of our folks, so we’re going to know if the person’s doing drugs or starts doing drugs.  That’s what people want, right?  A good attitude, show up every day, show up on time, whatever drama’s going on in your life, leave it at the doorstep, give me a good solid 8 hours, and we can help them find those sort of people.

Darryl Hallman:  Yeah, I think that’s, that goes a long ways.  You know, you want to be able to sell yourself.  You don’t want to oversell yourself, and my experience is that some of the people who are looking for jobs oversell themselves.  Where you do that, you take back, take a step back and you look at these people, and they’re like, well why are they trying to convince me, it’s not necessary.  So if they know to go out there and tell the truth and be honest and say, hey, it is what it is, and this is what it is, it would be a lot easier for employers like myself, or as a school to enroll these students, because we see that you’re genuine.  Not trying to corrupt anything.

Len Sipes:  Isn’t that the issue of how genuine the person is?  I mean, some folk, when they come out of the prison system, they’re not going back, and they’re just filled with faith and they’re just filled with whatever, and god bless them, but you know, I mean, sometimes you wonder if they’re truly in control of their own destiny, because they’re being so stoic, they’re being so self-righteous.  I mean, sometimes I think what an employer’s looking for is honesty and genuineness.

Darryl Hallman:  Absolutely.  That’s what I look at, and that’s what I listen to when I interview any potential student that’s coming to my program, I just tell them, be real with me, I’m going to be real with you, let’s lay everything on the table, let’s make a decision, let’s be honest with ourselves and if you know that this is what you want to do, and you have faith, you will succeed, and that’s how we got to the point where we are, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to really want it.  Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for your probation officer, don’t do it for your wife, do it for yourself.

Len Sipes:  Do it for yourself –

Darryl Hallman:  And if you do that for yourself, then you can believe in yourself.  We’re going to make sure that you have everything you need.  We’re going to give you what it takes to be successful.  It’s just up to you –

Len Sipes:  Amen.

Darryl Hallman:  – to take control of it and to run with it.  We’re even going to try to place you.  So it’s up to the individual that really wants it.  There’s a lot of people out there that want it that’s been neglected, but there’s also a lot of people that want it that’s not aware that it’s out there for them.

Len Sipes:  And the point is, and we have to close the program, is that if we can increase the level of employment, especially those people that have been off drugs for a long time, been away from criminality for a long time, they’re not thugging and mugging, they’re just regular Jane and John Doe citizens that are looking for a job, the crime rate would go down, and our tax paid dollars would go down.

Darryl Hallman:  Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.  And that’s why AYT is in the business of training to give people not just a job, but a career.

Len Sipes:  Got it.  Darryl Hallman, director of the AYT Institute.  I love the address, the website address,,  Thank you for being with us.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety.  Up to 225,000 requests on a monthly basis for radio, television, therefore, the blog and transcripts, if you want to get in touch with me directly, Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S –, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]