Alliance of Concerned Men-DC Public Safety-200,000 Requests a Month

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2010/02/alliance-of-concerned-men-dc-public-safety-200000-requests-a-month/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re beginning to do a series, and we’ve been requested in fact by listeners, to do a series when the impact of community organizations and what community organizations bring to the game in terms of crime control, so we’re about to do that – a couple in DC, a couple throughout the United States. Today I’m really pleased to have Tyrone Curtis Parker. Tyrone is extraordinarily well known within the DC community. He’s extraordinarily well known in terms of the former offender community throughout the United States. He is the Executive Director of the Alliance of Concerned Men, which is a 501(c)3, if anybody out there has any money, non-profit organization. Tyrone Curtis Parker comes from the neighborhoods of Washington, DC. He grew up here. When he came out of the prison system, Tyrone wanted to restore the communities that he saw around him to a better shape, a better place. To do that, the Alliance of Concerned Men does a wide variety of things. I’m just going to go over them briefly – gang intervention, substance abuse, life skills, leadership, after school programs, even programs in terms of younger individuals who abscond from the care of juvenile justice facilities. Tyrone says the bottom line for all of this is public safety, and I couldn’t agree with him more on that and the input of the larger community. Before we get on to our conversation with Tyrone, our usual commercial – I want to thank everybody for all of their letters, cards, phone calls, e-mails, you name it, we get it. If you want to get in touch with us directly, you can do so via e-mail. It’s Leonard.sipes@CSOSA.gov or you can follow me via Twitter, that’s twitter.com/lensipes no break. Back to Tyrone Curtis Parker. Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tyrone Parker: Thanks a million for having me, Leonard.

Len Sipes: You know, this is interesting, Tyrone, because we were having the usual discussion that I have with people who have been previously incarcerated, that words are extraordinarily powerful and that this whole issue of previously incarcerated people, which I don’t disagree at all that that’s the way we should frame the conversation, but the vast majority of the people out there are going to say, oh, you’re talking about ex-offenders. You’re talking about ex-cons. You’re talking about whatever it is, and those are words that you all feel have a negative concept and hold the ex-offender community down, correct?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I think when we begin to look at the terminology of ex-offender, jailbird, convict, terms such as that have a strong tendency of basically retaining the person’s spirit, and this is the common denominator. To be able to uplift this population, so they can feel that they are a part of the greater world, the bigger world, and make contributions to it.

Len Sipes: But you do understand that even the most politically correct people out there, especially newspaper reporters, do refer to former offenders as former offenders or as ex-offenders?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I understand that it’s a living and learning situation, and that we’ve got to educate individuals how to address this population.

Len Sipes: The Alliance of Concerned Men – how many people are we talking about who are part of this?

Tyrone Parker: All right. Now, we’re talking about a staff of about 45 individuals.

Len Sipes: Yeah, it’s not a small group.

Tyrone Parker: Not at this point. We’ve been able to basically bring individuals in that have a commitment to their community to make a transformation there, Leonard.

Len Sipes: But are most of these people previously incarcerated people?

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I would say, Leonard, that particular staff, about 75 percent of our working staff is previously incarcerated persons.

Len Sipes: Now what happens with this individual? He or she comes out of the prison system and the whole idea is to work within the community to take that individual’s knowledge, take that individual’s power, to take that individual’s savvy if you will, and apply it to people who are struggling themselves in terms of substance abuse or in terms of substance abuse or in terms of crime or in terms of violence, and to directly intervene in their lives and help them find another way. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Tyrone Parker: I think you’re correct. We look at it from the perspective that the solution is in the problem, that we’ve got to begin to understand exactly what the solutions are and therefore begin to deal with that from that perspective. Leonard, we have been extraordinarily successful because we work with a number of prisons around the country where we have our programs. With our Concerned Fathers program, rebuilding,

Len Sipes: Wait a minute. Let me back up. Concerned Fathers program?

Tyrone Parker: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Okay. How many persons are you working with?

Tyrone Parker: Basically at this point about five different prisons across the country.

Len Sipes: Wow, that’s quite a bit. So what’s the message there, in terms of Concerned Fathers?

Tyrone Parker: The term is that a man’s responsibility is not relinquished upon confinement. That’s the concept – to be able to rebuild that man doing the time that he’s incarcerated so he understands what his total responsibilities are, and it’s not just a matter of doing time and not making a contribution. We begin the rebuilding process upon that man coming into the facilities and becoming a part of the movement that’s in those particular facilities to make a difference.

Len Sipes: And nobody’s going to disagree with that, certainly. www.AllianceofConcernedMen.com is the website. www.AllianceofConcernedMen.com. Tyrone, look – this is what I get the sense of decades of working with people coming out of the prison system. I worked with them directly and was a spokesperson in Maryland for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, so indirectly and directly when I used to work with folks in the street – is that they come out and they are totally overwhelmed by the process. Whether or not they want to go straight or whether or not they don’t want to go straight, maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is, is that they come out and things are so overwhelming to them, that it’s really difficult to put themselves on a proper footing. And maybe what your group does, and maybe what the faith-based groups do, and the other groups out there working with former offenders, maybe what they do is give them a sense of structure that helps them come to grips with the fact that they’re back in open society, and they still have that substance abuse problem, and they still have kids to take care of, and they still need a job, and they still have anger issues to deal with in terms of their own upbringing – at least what this does is to give them a foothold and people and a structure and an organization where they can basically begin that process of trying to find who they are and what they want to contribute. Am I right or wrong?

Tyrone Parker: You know what Leonard, I think to a very large degree you are absolutely correct. I think one of the components that the Alliance tends to look at is basically due to our own experiences. I’m previously incarcerated myself – still is on parole – have been on parole for the last 38 years of my life, so I understand the contents of what’s occurring in regards to the man himself, having lost a son also during the time I was incarcerated.

Len Sipes: You lost a son?

Tyrone Parker: I lost a son to gang violence. He was killed basically by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I also think that due to my absentee, to be able to be a part of his life, also made a contribution,

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a lot of guilt to carry.

Tyrone Parker: Oh, well, I don’t think it’s guilt. I think it’s looking at situations and beginning to rebuild from what have occurred, what some folks would consider as bad, only transforming good from it. We all look at situations that we can actually prepare ourselves. It’s almost like throwing a tab in the ball, I think Leonard, and throwing that ball down on the ground. The harder you throw that ball on the ground the higher it would bounce.

Len Sipes: Well, yeah, but that sounds like pulpit preaching. The reality is that they’re coming here and they’re scared half to death. You know people say all the time, Leonard, stop it with this crap about former offenders and how they feel. We don’t care how they felt. They went to prison, they did something bad, they deserve their time. I don’t mind you doing programs about domestic violence, Leonard, and I don’t mind you doing programs about what you do with the police department and the other things that CSOSA does, but this ex-offender stuff starts getting on my nerves after a certain amount of time. And my response is, look, either we want them as being taxpayers or tax burdens, but to get them there involves a heck of a lot of hard work.

Tyrone Parker: You know, Leonard, I think you’re absolutely correct again. One of the things that actually occurred, they’re there to be punished and not for punishment, you know, the continuation of it, and I think that’s a key component because if you treat a person as though they are an animal, you do not treat them humane, then you produce someone that’s coming back out to make hazard on their own community.

Len Sipes: How many people in your experience, Tyrone, when they come out of prison system really are committed to the fundamental process of dealing with their addiction, reuniting with their kids, finding work, doing what the rest of us do on a day to basis? What percentage would you put on that total population who really want to make the change?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, this may be a biased reply, but I would easily say 99.9 and my reasons for saying that is at that point, when you find a man that actually comes out, he does not want to go back again to be treated like a dog or an animal in that perspective. So at the concept of the question, the large majority don’t ever want to go back, but as you said, the conditions of the world produce certain situations that individuals do not have the capabilities to be able to transform or to deal with, but this is when it becomes our obligation to be able to have programs put in place to begin to work with these individuals for public safety purposes if nothing else.

Len Sipes: The larger issue is, do we have all the programs necessary? Do we have all the programs put in place to deal with mental health, to deal with substance abuse, to deal with reuniting fathers with their kids, to find employment – are all those programs in place?

Tyrone Parker: You know, Leonard, no, no to a very large degree. However, is it on the agenda? When we look at emergency situations, we look at the chicken flu, the pig flu, emergencies that are occurring, and you begin to direct resources to deal with the public tragedy. This is a public tragedy. When you look at the District of Columbia, young men between the ages of 18 and 35, one out of every two is under some form of judiciary restrainment. Nationally, one out of every three is under some form of judiciary restrainment. This is a sin that’s occurring in regards to this population.

Len Sipes: And people would say that it’s terribly wrong for it to be that way. On the flip side, you have lots of people that would say, you know, Leonard, that’s why we have public schools. All the person had to do was to go to school, graduate from school, get himself a trade, stay away from drugs, stay away from crime, and he wouldn’t be in that set of circumstances to begin with. So in a competing world, the world competes every day. It’s Haiti or it’s taking care of our elderly citizens or taking care of our youngest citizens or putting money into schools, or putting money into former offenders. Different people are going to say, you know, Leonard, they had a wonderful opportunity, the government gives them that opportunity, and they just chose not to take it. Why am I going to be that concerned about them?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, you remind me of my grade school teacher who used to always say the right thing at the right time. However, Leonard, I think when we start looking at collaborative damage in regards to an individual, once you get a charge and once you actually indict them for anything, and given the sinners, for the rest of your life you pay for that one situation that had occurred. That’s the first component of this all. That’s why we begin to look at language, why language is so very important. How do we begin to reverse these situations? Sure, opportunities were given. Sure, somebody slipped and fell, but should that be a comma for the rest of their lives? In this society, this is the point that we’re at.

Len Sipes: And that’s really the component that we’re talking about. I think all of us – now, I’ve never robbed anybody nor have I ever raped anybody. I have a hard time with, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” but I have done and virtually everybody has done things where they could find themselves serving some time in prison or jail, even drinking and driving, when you’re younger and you’re stupid. The question becomes, okay, so the person did more than that. Is it within society’s larger, best interest to have that hanging that person’s head for the rest of their lives?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, there are very few things that individuals did that should be held over their heads for the rest of their lives. You’re basically taking away all of the rights of a human being in the contents of labeling him or of the collaborative concept. This person can no longer vote. He can no longer get employment. I mean, how’s it the whole nine?

Len Sipes: I have a friend of mine – I wouldn’t call him a friend – an associate that I’ve known for years, did a series of armed robberies, served time in the Maryland prison system, and he now sells insurance. He now makes more money than you and I put together. I’ve been to his house – beautiful home, beautiful kids, beautiful wife, beautiful cars – ex-offender, scared half to death that people will know that background. And the thing is, what he’s told me is that look, I can be one of the down and outers. I can be one of the people that constantly goes back to prison, and if the taxpayer wants to spend all that money on me then that’s fine, but I’m putting so much money back into the tax base by being employed and buying all these things and being as successful as I am. That’s an extreme example, but that is the heart and soul of it. What do we want from people?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, and I don’t know if we have the time,a very brief story. We did a rally for ex-offenders, previously incarcerated persons, across the street from the White House maybe about four years ago, and this guy had a beautiful picture. Actual fact. It was himself and his son, dressed up in old, traditional jail clothes, and they had a ball and chain that they had actually made with a cross. Maybe the cross had to be about an eight-foot cross, and on that cross they had a sign, and it had Christians have some redemption for me, have some mercy for me. Christians have some mercy for me. I think that’s so symbolic in the context of showing redemption and showing compassion and showing concern for individuals. When do we get to the point that we have that in place and begin to reach out?

Len Sipes: And what would be the impact, indeed, if we did have the capacity to deal with everybody? What would be the impact on public safety? What would be the crime rate? If you had the 800,000 or so people who come out of the prison system in this country every year, back into their communities, if they all had the wherewithal applied to them, in terms of mentors like your organization does in terms of the services that your organization provides, in terms of job training, job assistance, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, a place to live, and a faith-based person there to guide them and to ride them hard if necessary. If they had all of that, what would it mean for the safety of the average citizen? That’s what it comes down to, correct?

Tyrone Parker: That’s exactly what it comes down to.

Len Sipes: And that’s the larger question. I want to reintroduce our guest today. It is Tyrone Parker, the Alliance of Concerned Men, an extraordinarily well known group in Washington, DC, and certainly a group with a national reputation within the reentry community. www.AllianceofConcernedMen.com, a 501(c)3, which means your contributions are tax deductible. So let’s get back to Tyrone, and so that is, I guess Tyrone, that is the larger issue. If you’re saying that 90 percent of all offenders and more, when they come out of the prison system don’t want to come back, and that’s been my experience at the same time, but they’re back on the street, they’re not,it’s not that they don’t want to work. They’re not quite sure how to go about it and they start hanging with folks on the corner, and they start passing a reefer, and they start being loud, and the neighbors get ticked off, and they call the police, and boom – this person is back in the system almost overnight. Now what I’m describing is that unusual?

Tyrone Parker: No, not at all. I think it reminds me of this great holiday that just got through celebrating, Martin Luther King, and Martin makes mention of it’s one thing to give a beggar a quarter, but it is another thing to deal with the system that has created this beggar. So I think as we begin to look at how do we come out of this maze, we’ve got to also look at means to be able to create a safer community, a healthier family, and a better person. This becomes the common denominator. I find it difficult for individuals to be able to tell me anytime this country can go to the moon or be able to tell me where there is war in Africa or any other country underneath the ground, cannot tell me how to deal with this impact of incarceration at the numbers that are occurring.

Len Sipes: Every night they go home. Every night the average citizen who,they are making the decision as to whether or not to fund this or not fund it. Every night that person goes home and they watch the 6:00 news and they watch the 11:00 news and they watch the litany of man’s inhumanity against man, and you and I both know that the term ‘former offender’ or whatever, previously incarcerated person, was responsible for that crime and people say, ah, if I’ve got money to give, it’s going to go to the Red Cross for the Haitian Relief Fund. I’m sorry – I just don’t have all that compassion for a group that is so responsible for harming the larger society. Is that not what they say? Is that not the reality as to why we don’t have more resources for former offenders?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, I think it’s also in the concept of it’s easier for individuals to get resources to be able to retain or to jail this population in the contents of priorities. I think that, Leonard, when you start looking at priorities in this country, you start looking at is it more beneficial for us to channel our money into bombs and planes and defense than it is into human services?

Len Sipes: Okay, but they’re going to say daycare, they’re going to say programs for the elderly, they’re going to say all sorts of other things beyond money for former offenders.

Tyrone Parker: And you’re absolutely correct, but the question that I ask next is what type of society do they really want?

Len Sipes: Okay, but that’s a really interesting question. Do they want safety or don’t they want safety, because there seems to be enough research out there now that indicates, and it’s not all uniform and it doesn’t march in cookie cutter lockstep fashion, and it’s not like the reductions are in the 70 to 80 percent range. They’re closer to the 10 to 20 percent range, but if you can have a 20 percent impact on individuals coming out of the prison system in any city in this country, that 20 percent of them are no longer involved in crime, in fact they’re now working and taking care of their kids and taxes, that’s a huge impact on public safety. That’s a huge impact on money we don’t have to spend in terms of taking care of kids who have no father.

Tyrone Parker: And again, Leonard, you are absolutely correct. I think when you start looking at the impact of programs that have really made an impact in regards to public safety you’ve got to look at the District of Columbia. We’re celebrating here a 45-year low in regards to homicides in this particular city. I know when the Alliance first started homicides were almost at 100 a year.

Len Sipes: And you are all out there on the streets night after night after night working with these communities, working with people who are ready to go to war with each other, and sitting down and basically saying no. Look my man, there’s a better way of doing it and this is how, and somehow, someway, you’re having an impact.

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, that’s because we put everything on the table. Every means of resource was actually put into that equation. We utilize even the guys that are locked up to be able to help us in regards to facilitating truce, because we understand their impact in regards to their reputations and their relationships and their love for their community, so why not take that energy level and direct it into the best interest of public safety for that man’s family and the community on the greater good?

Len Sipes: And this is something that the ex-offender community, the previously incarcerated person community, this is the community that’s leading this.

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely, because it’s there. One of the things that has occurred, Leonard, is that we’ve come to realize who is really feeling the brunt of this particular impact in regards to violence in our communities, and by process of elimination, it’s us. I’ve seen times at federal prisons, Otisville, New York, federal prison was willing to do a conference with the Metropolitan Police to deal with gang violence. I’ve seen times where this population has negotiated to help us with truce. I’ve seen the demonstration of public safety in healthy building of communities in the prison itself. They’re in these facilities waiting to be utilized. Our greatest challenge is how do we include them in the conversation to utilize the resources that are already there.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line is that it’s don’t give me a dime, let me make your life safer?

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying is that we’re not here for a handout. We’re here for to take leadership.

Tyrone Parker: And for redemption as well.

Len Sipes: Oh, I understand that, but there’s such a huge difference between give me money for programs versus let me take leadership of my own life – by the way, help me out in the process of doing that, but we’re actively involved and we’re effective.

Tyrone Parker: Absolutely. It’s a win-win situation.

Len Sipes: Yes it is.

Tyrone Parker: Nobody loses. I’ve basically working with up in Otisville, and these guys have produced a document basically stating, select the best prison program that there is in regards to public safety, and they had a list of criterias that would actually produce who would be the best. Leonard, when you start looking at our population of men that are locked up, willing to come forth to create programs that would be in the best interest of the community as well as themselves? Man, how can anybody lose with that type of a concept on the table?

Len Sipes: But it’s interesting. It’s why we do these shows, Tyrone, is because the average person is simply not exposed to this. What the average person is exposed to is channel four. I’m not picking on channel four – it could be channel five, could be,doesn’t matter. Every night after night after night and people are saying, I’m getting sick to God of crime and what it’s doing to my community, and by the way, the people responsible for it I’m not favorably predisposed towards them. Isn’t that the bottom line? The former offender community, the previously incarcerated person gets far more negative publicity than positive publicity.

Tyrone Parker: And that’s simply because we had not did well in regards to PR. We have not did well to be to allowed for the successes that we have had in our community. We have not did well in regards to communication and public relationships to individuals. We have not did well at all in that particular area, but one thing that I know – the case is there that can be presented to be able to show another side of this particular population.

Len Sipes: There are organizations throughout the country that are former offender, previously incarcerated person operated. Delancey Street comes to mind, and I studied Delancey Street when I left the police and was in college and studying criminology, and that concept goes back 25 years of former offenders basically saying, we are taking charge of ourselves and we’re going to accept other former offenders, previously incarcerated people into our community and they’re going to have to follow our roles, but if you basically can toe the line and you basically can prove your worth, we will help you transform from tax burden to taxpayer. So this concept is not a new concept and people need to understand that, that it’s happening throughout the country in one way, shape, or form; it’s just not publicized.

Tyrone Parker: That’s what it is. You’re absolutely correct. No question about that. I think that when we begin to do a better job in regards to PR pertaining to this population here, then we’ll be able to basically see a transformation. The same thing has occurred in other great movements, when you start looking at the handicapped disabilities or different movements where they basically came together and began a whole campaign that transformed things.

Len Sipes: Well, we just have a couple of minutes left. I just want to reemphasize one thing – again, you’re free to criticize. I represent a parole and probation organization – federally funded thank God, parole and probation organization. We freely admit that we don’t have everything that we would like to have in terms of drug treatment and in terms of mental health treatment. The programs that we have are substantial and we are grateful to the taxpayers for doing them, but it is an issue of, not just with us but every organization in the country, whether it’s faith-based, whether it’s parole and probation, whether it’s community-based, it is a matter of resources. It is, is it not?

Tyrone Parker: Leonard, I heard you appropriately say, thank God.

Len Sipes: No, we’re federally funded. We have far more than most parole and probation agencies in this country. We have an entire wing of a hospital devoted to drug treatment that we have financed ourselves through the taxpayers.

Tyrone Parker: And it’s making a significant difference.

Len Sipes: Yes, it is. But the average parole and probation agency in this country doesn’t possess a dime for drug treatment, so we are lucky in the District of Columbia that we do have these resources that we can bring to the table, but the question is, is treating 25 percent of the high-risk population enough?

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard? As we begin to turn this ocean liner around, we’re getting a grip on it, even though all the ships may not come in or dock at the same time they’re still coming in. The key is that there is a model in place, which other jurisdictions can begin to look at and begin to build from in the contents of success, and I think the District of Columbia is that particular model at this particular point, because as you said, thank God the resources are there.

Len Sipes: At least in terms of federal resources, but again, we within the criminal justice system, we sit back and we recognize two things – (a) regardless to what we say and regardless of bluster and regardless of whatever confidence that we put on the table, it is the larger community that is going to make us or break us in terms of crime control, not the criminal justice system. And number two, it is groups like yours that are going to have an impact on people coming out of the prison system, not folks like us. It’s going to be the larger organizations that take responsibility, that step up to the plate, and who advocate and who convince people that this is something worth supporting.

Tyrone Parker: No question about it. I often say, Leonard, a healthy father makes a good family, a good family makes a strong community, and a strong community makes a great country, and this is the return fact on what’s occurring. Here in the District you have so many great organizations – Cease Fire, you have Clergy Police Community, you have [INDISCERNIBLE]. You just have a collaboration of excellent programs that have basically,maybe not been on the same page at the same time, but had the same goal, and the goal was public safety.

Len Sipes: And the bottom line and this is worth repeating one more time before we close out the program, in your opinion, is that the great majority of individuals coming out of the prison system don’t want to go back. Who would?

Tyrone Parker: No, there’s no question about it. The large majority of individuals that have come out these particular facilities don’t ever want to go back because they understand their family, they understand themselves, they understand their community, and they understand that they do not want to be treated like an animal.

Len Sipes: But the larger analysis is that somebody – it can’t just be the family. That person may need mental health issues, that person may have substance abuse issues, that person may have dropped out after the 8th grade and needs hard skills in terms of finding work or being trained for work – that’s the problem. Do we have that structure of not just programs, but of fellowship either from the faith community,when I say faith community, I don’t necessarily mean the Christian community. It can be the Islamic community, it could be the Jewish community, it could be anybody. The faith community. Sometimes they need big brothers and big sisters to guide them.

Tyrone Parker: You know what, Leonard, it’s no question about that, but I’m a thorough believer that this whole process begins with the community, but inside these correctional facilities where they can build capacity around themselves by support systems that’s already in place. The Alliance of Concerned Men is doing an extraordinary job with that. We have produced a manual that we feel can make a major difference, and that’s our common denominator. Let’s take a look at doing something out of the box.

Len Sipes: Our guest today has been Tyrone Parker, the Executive Director of the Alliance of Concerned Men. I’m going to repeat the Web address one more time, www.AllianceofConcernedMen.com. That’s all one word by the way. It’s a 501(c)3, which means whatever money that you have Mr. Rich Person sitting back and you’ve got $25,000 to spare, it is a tax deduction. I really want to express my appreciation to Tyrone, and hopefully he’ll come back in about four months or so to talk about other aspects of working with communities in Washington, DC, and in the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Once again, thank you very much for your contacts and your suggestions and your criticisms. We don’t care – we’ll take them all. Reach me either through the comments box at media.csosa.gov, that’s how a lot of people do it, or they e-mail me directly at leonard.sipes@CSOSA.gov or follow me via Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes. I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: previously incarcerated people, ex-offenders, offenders, public safety

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