The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

The Truth About Reentry from a Former Offender

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show available at

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, he is President of LaCarey Enterprises, The show today is the truth about reentry from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont has been around. He’s been in front of Congressional Committees, the Associated Press, he’s had plays at the Kennedy Center, he’s been on HBO, BET, author of four books, and he has been a public motivational speaker. And to hear Lamont speak is really, really, really a treat. And he talks about reentry, talks about life on the street passionately, talks about reentry passionately. He did serve 11 years and 4 months in prison and since coming out he has really turned heads. And what I wanted to do was to invite Lamont to talk about reentry policy from a former offender’s perspective. Lamont, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Lamont Carey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Okay. You’ve been on our radio shows, you’ve been on our television shows, I’ve seen you perform; a lot of people listen to what you have to say. When you do your bit, when you do your public performance it’s The Streets Call Out My Name. It’s like –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s really amazing from a criminological point of view, because I’ve had guys tell me that kicking crime and kicking drugs is one thing, but kicking the street –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Kicking the corner is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. Talk to me about that.

Lamont Carey: Well, I mean because I was raised, well, I like to say I was raised in the street, because I had been involved in criminal activity since like the late age of 11, so that was all that I knew. So when I went to prison as a juvenile and I come home, prison and the streets is all that I knew. And so with my efforts of trying to live a positive and legit lifestyle, those thoughts of my memories from that time in my life is always was present. Like if I try to get a job and I don’t get hired, I immediately think about how can I get some money, and the only other options that I know existed at the time was returning back to the streets. So that’s what I mean by the streets keep calling my name.

Len Sipes: And if you heard Lamont, it’s absolutely powerful if you go to his website, it’s there. It is just an extraordinary performance as to how the streets keep sucking you in, how the streets keep calling you back. So what do you mean by the streets? Are you talking about the people, are you talking about the friends, are you talking about the lifestyle?

Lamont Carey: The lifestyle. The criminal lifestyle is bigger than the friends. I mean because it is where we felt most powerful, it was where we had resources, and so to change my life and try to start this new life without no resources – and so any time I’m rejected from any resources I remember how easy it is to obtain money through the streets. I remember how I used to be praised like I was celebrity because of that lifestyle –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: The drug dealer lifestyle. And so when you come in, when you’re running into mistake after mistake, not being able to overcome obstacles, you, we resort back to what we know –

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lamont Carey: Where we’re comfortable. I mean some of my best years when I came home was from when I was doing really good as a drug dealer. And so naturally if I can’t find a job I’m remembering those times where I was able to go to the store and spend 1,000 dollars or take a trip whenever I wanted to take a trip. Now I can’t do none of these things and I can’t even get a job because of my felony convictions. So naturally, it’s like the streets keep saying, “We won’t judge you. We won’t stop you. We support you in whatever it is that you want to do.” And so criminal lifestyle is one of the, where it’s perceived as one of the easiest things to go back to, especially if you’ve already been there. And so –

Len Sipes: Guys have told me it’s the heroin of all heroin, it’s the drug of all drugs.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: The street, it’s the reinforcement, it’s what you’re familiar with, it’s what you’re comfortable with –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It’s where you get your platitudes, where you get your pats on the back. It’s where you are embraced.

Lamont Carey: Identity.

Len Sipes: How can you give that up?

Lamont Carey: Identity. Well, the thing, you can give it up, because I was able to give it up. I had to recognize that it was false. All of those praises didn’t continue when I went to prison.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: So it was a false existence. And so as long as an individual remains mindful of that, that will equip them, empower them to continue on trying to go down this righteous path. But, even with that being said, it takes some effort from society to be completely in support of me changing my life, or any individual changing their life, for them to successfully do that, because if you’re not allowing me to feed myself, then you are giving me no options but to go back to the ways I know how to feed myself.

Len Sipes: And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss on this program. I’ve had Assistant Attorney Generals, members of the White House; I’ve had some of the best known researchers in the United States at these microphones talking about exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re the first – now, you’ve been on this show before, but I’m going back to my roots. I’m going to bring you and two other people on who are former offenders, who have done well for themselves. But I need to hear and everybody needs I think to hear and they’re impressed by, probably more impressed by you and people who have served time in the prison system, their perspectives on what’s going on with reentry –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What’s happening after a person gets out of prison. They’re more impressed by what you had to say than what they have to say –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Or what I have to say. So that’s the whole idea behind this show. Because I talked to, and somebody who’s going to come to these microphones in just a couple weeks, a parole and probation expert who says, “You know, Len, I’m really concerned that we’re just not getting the money, we’re not getting the support for reentry, it’s just not there. We’re talking about it, talking about it, talking about it. There are very positive things. People on both sides of the political aisle, they’re now supportive. We have a President who is supportive. We have the Second Chance Act. We’ve got a lot of things that are rolling in our direction.” But his concern is the money’s just not there. So I want to ask you, Lamont Carey, why isn’t the money there?

Lamont Carey: It’s a whole, I think it’s a whole lot of reasons why the money isn’t there. They’re expecting – if you look at the people that have the most interactions with ex-offenders it will be the grassroots organizations, because those are the people that’s in our community, those are the ones that’s trying to welcome us into their doors. But with them we run into waiting lists, long waiting lists, because they’re not allowed to grow their staff or they’re not allowed to like effectively carry out their task on trying to help us transition from prison to society, because they don’t have funding. And then I think another issue that I have with governments is the relationship that they have with private prisons. And that relationship to me it seems like it works against the reentrance, because if the prison systems and the community are supposed to be responsible for us transitioning, then how can you legally agree to keep anybody’s prison filled to any kind of capacity without, in my opinion, some form of corruption has to spring from that?

That means if I’m a mayor of a city and I agree with a private prison to keep 50% of their facilities full, then that means that I have to tell my captains at the precinct and whoever’s in charge, the chiefs and all that, that they have to increase their arrest records, then I have to tell the prosecutors that they have to expand the charges, then I have to tell the judges that they have to increase their conviction numbers in order to stay within this agreement. So for me knowing this, it’s like how can they really be working to help me transition successfully in my community when they’re working with, when they have agreements with people that are saying they’re going to keep people in prison? So that may be one of the reasons that the funding, some funding is not going to where it’s needed, because what I need and what – I’ve been in probably 11 prisons throughout my incarceration, and majority of the individuals in there, I probably know two individuals that said they was coming home to break the law. Most of us were in there working on reentry, even though they didn’t have really reentry programs. We had a plan on what we wanted to do when we come home. But it seems like when we get out that gate, when we go out for parole, my biggest road block was when I went up for parole that I couldn’t use my home address, because I can no longer live there. My mother was on Section 8, and it’s supposed to be that I am, because of my convictions, that I am not allowed to live –

Len Sipes: Live with your mother.

Lamont Carey: On those premises.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So let’s say I’m starting off my reentry as a homeless person, and then I’m hearing that they’re paroling some people straight to homeless shelters. Now, the problem that I have with that is that every time I went to a new prison my aggressive mentality resurfaced, because I’m thinking I may have to prove myself again.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: So I’m on guard. For anything that happened, I’m going to deal with it as harshly as I possibly can. So when you transition a person from prison to a shelter, that’s the kind of environment that you are putting us into.

Len Sipes: All right, you’re going to talk to right now a governor.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: A mayor, a county commissioner.

Lamont Carey: Okay.

Len Sipes: You’re going to talk to them. They’re listening right now. And we get a lot of aides to – we get congressional aides, aides to mayors, aides to governors, where you’re talking to the governor himself or herself. What do you say to that person about supporting programs for individuals coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: Well, what I would say to them is this. This, in my opinion, this is one of your biggest public safety issues, because a reentrant that can’t find a job, that can’t find housing is more likely to return to criminal activity, which endangers the citizens of your state, your county, and your country. So as a governor, what I would like to see is our rights restored. Ban the box if you haven’t already banned the box. Give us a –

Len Sipes: In terms of employment.

Lamont Carey: In terms of employment. Give me the opportunity to make it past the application phase so that I can plead my own case on why I’m qualified for a job that will help me take care of myself, take care of my family, and add to the taxes that the state collects. And in terms of the programming – I mean all of us have different kinds of needs. I mean when I first came home, my first probably two years most of my stuff was congested in my bedroom, then I got an apartment with a living room, a dining room, and all that, but all of that was in my bedroom, because that’s what I was used to, living in that small space. And so the kind of programs that I think would be beneficial is job training. Some job training in fields that the city, the county, or the state is really looking to fulfill, not no job training that’s just going to last for three months or four months, because then I’m starting right back over. And then for programs that you have where it’s supposed to provide me job training, extend that, give them more funding, because right now in DC people are running into waiting lists, a six month waiting list. And so if I just come home and I need services, I don’t have six months to wait.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s just not DC; it’s all throughout the country.

Lamont Carey: Right. But I’m using DC as an example –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: Because that’s my direct experiences.

Len Sipes: Okay. And that governor is going to look at you and say, “Mr. Carey, I’ve got schools to build, I’ve got roads to build, I’ve got all these people constantly coming to me looking for money for this program and that program, I’ve got older people that need to be taken care of, I don’t have a lot of money.”

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Why should I take what limited amount of money that I have and throw it towards programs for people coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont Carey: The reason that you should do that is because you’re giving the individual a real chance of succeeding, a real chance of changing, because it’s twofold. The things that they are asking you money for, if I turn, if individuals start to commit crimes it’s a hassle to the school. It’s a danger to the school children in terms of recruitment for, to enter the criminal enterprise. It’s a danger to the teachers, the principals, and what have you. Then they become targets because they are known to have I mean have a paycheck. So every citizen in your state, your county that has a paycheck becomes a potential victim for robbery if I can’t find a job. If you need, if they’re asking you to, you’re trying to repair your roads then this may be one of my dream jobs of doing labor. Me personally I’m not one of those guys, but we have hundreds and thousands of individuals that are good with their hands that’s looking for their outlet to be able to build. How it affects seniors, because the seniors becomes a target of crime.

Len Sipes: So what you’re saying is the 700,000 people that come out of the state and federal prison system all throughout the United States every year, 700,000 come back to the communities, what you’re basically saying is that the crime issue affects everything, the crime issue affects –

Lamont Carey: Everything.

Len Sipes: Everybody. If you can help these folks and it reduces recidivism, they’re coming back into the criminal justice system by 20%, 30%, 40%, it’s going to have a huge payoff –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: On every aspect of society.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Schools, employment, churches, communities, factories, it affects everything.

Lamont Carey: Right. Now, and I’m not saying, I’m not telling the governors and these representatives that as a fear factor. What I’m saying is that we are untapped resources. Like me coming home – right now I can do marketing, right?

Len Sipes: Uh huh.

Lamont Carey: I do event planning, I publish, I do videos, I have all of these skills that if I went and applied for a job for a lot of them that I wouldn’t be hired for because of my past conviction. And so by you removing that barrier for me on the application it gets me in front of the employer and I can stress these skills that I have that can be an asset to those companies.

Len Sipes: We’re going to go for a break very shortly, but I do want to ask you when you come back from that break as to whether or not there is a general prejudice. Regardless of race, there’s a very general prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system. But, ladies and gentlemen, were talking to Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises,, Lamont has been a passionate speaker, a passionate advocate for people coming out of the prison system in terms of fair treatment. Is there fair treatment, Lamont, of people coming out of the prison system? Is the prejudice towards these individuals so strong as to the point where they’re not getting the programs that they need to successfully reintegrate? When I talk to people who’ve been in the prison system, when I take a look at research, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting mental health treatment, I see 10% of people inside of prison systems getting drug treatment, I see obstacles after obstacles when people are coming back into the community. So people are frustrated over the crime problem, and, quite frankly, people are frustrated with people coming out of the prison system for not doing the right thing.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: But those barriers seem to be there nevertheless.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Why are those barriers there? Is there an overarching prejudice towards people coming out of the prison system?

Lamont Carey: There certainly is.

Len Sipes: And why?

Lamont Carey: People claim that they are, that they forgive, they forgive mistakes, but when it connects to prisoners and ex-offenders that’s not the case. Fear comes in or some need to further punish us. If the judge sentenced me to 13 years in prison, that is my punishment. My punishment shouldn’t remain after I complete that 13 years. And so but society seems to don’t see it that way. There is a fear. Now, Leonard, I’m going to be honest with you.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: As an employer, right, when I have a project and I’m looking to hire somebody, even I want to know if, one, can you do the job, two, if you have a background. And that is because I want to make sure that, one, that you’re capable of doing the job and, one, that people are, the people that I bring you around are going to be safe, right?

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?” That’s what –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: What you’re saying to them.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: “Can I trust you?”

Lamont Carey: Right. And so by having those policies set in line or just on the application, “Have you been convicted of a crime?” and you write yes you don’t even get to make it to the interview process. So I’m denied on something that is supposed to be I have done my time for. And so in prison, when I was in prison the programs generally sucked, for the most part.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Lamont Carey: One, I got my GED, and so I was, I began, I became excited about education, because I dropped out of school when I was on the street, and so now I’m being reintroduced to education, so when I get excited and then I’m about to enter the college program they remove the funding from the college program. And so how – I understand. They said it was people that was in society saying that they have to bust their tail to send their kids to school, so why should I get a free education?

Len Sipes: That’s what they ask.

Lamont Carey: And the reason why I should be able to get an education is because the individuals in prison that I knew that got a college degree they act different, they talk different, they think different, they had bigger plans. And so when you remove, when you deny me from continuing my education, that told me that I can no longer grow, that denied me the ability to learn more on how to be productive, how to think past go, how to actually implement my good plans when I come home. And so rehabilitation really supposed to start inside of prison. Teach me entrepreneurship, right, teach me how to – Leonard, this is how I was able to stay home. I was in a prison and ASPIRE taught me nonprofit. ASPIRE was giving a nonprofit class, right, in a federal prison. And so that taught me how to operate as a business, right? And the marketing classes that I took it taught me that I was running a business, I knew supply and demand, I just knew in an illegal way, so these things changed my way of thinking.

Len Sipes: I want to know how many people in the prison system, in terms of your own opinion –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Are you and how many are just lost. You seem to be different. I mean, look, the average person who comes out of the prison system is not speaking to congressional committees, they’re not talking to the Associated Press, they’re not, they don’t have plays at the Kennedy Center, they’re not involved with HBO or BET, yada, yada, yada. I mean that’s – are you really substantively different from the average person coming out of prison or are they all like you?

Lamont Carey: I think there are levels. I’m not unique. I know hundreds if not thousands of ex-offenders who are doing superb as productive members of society. But a lot of them don’t even admit that they even been to prison, because they’re afraid that there are going to be repercussions.

Len Sipes: That people are going to judge them based on [OVERLAY].

Lamont Carey: Right, judge them based on that, and they’re going to lose what they have already been able to establish. We’ve seen that in some of the companies that have been hiring ex-offenders for years and then they change their policy –

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: And those individuals lose their jobs. So I’m not unique in any way, but I’m just determined. My focus shifted to be on me. Before, the thing I realized, before I can take care of anybody else I have to take care of me.

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Lamont Carey: An so that means I have to, if I get a job once I’m able to take care of me then I can contribute to my family, I can contribute to my community. But the thing I think trip up so many individuals who come home from prison is that they put family, taking care of family before they’re taking of self, or they make promises that they can’t really keep once they come home. Leonard, I’d be the first one to tell you, the hardest thing for me was to somebody accept my phone call when I call home from prison. So you know what happened when they did accept my call?

Len Sipes: Yeah, go.

Lamont Carey: I agreed to anything they said. If they said, “Lamont, man, you’re going to get any kind of job, you’ll work at McDonald’s and all that?” Leonard, I said yeah, Leonard. But I knew that that wasn’t what I was going to do, but, Leonard, I needed that connection to the outside support, I needed to feel needed, I needed to feel like somebody loved me in order for me not to give up. And so when individuals come home from prison now their family members are looking at them like, “Look, I thought you said you was going to get a job at McDonald’s, I thought you said you was going to do this, I thought you was going to, said you was going to do that. Momma is sick. We need more – you need to be contributing. You need to be paying child support.” All of these needs of the community [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:20] in the family start hitting us in our face and we’re like, “What in the world. How in the world do I supposed to do this? I’m trying to find a job.” So a lot of them panic, Leonard, a lot of them start selling drugs again or getting their criminal lifestyle again just to get away from the pressures that they’re enduring wherever they’re laying their head at.

Len Sipes: So it’s got to be family. Family’s got to be supportive.

Lamont Carey: Yes

Len Sipes: Family’s got to be understanding in terms of what it is that you need to go through. You need to take care of yourself. Society needs to step up in terms of programs to help people transition out of the prison system. And if everybody did this –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: If everybody gave everybody coming out of the prison system a decent second chance –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: We could reduce a lot of crime in this country.

Lamont Carey: Right. Yeah. I think we can. And it’s not, and don’t, and, please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t take give the wrong way. I’m not looking for a handout. And if you check a lot of these organizations waiting lists, these individuals are not looking for a handout, because if they were looking for a handout they wouldn’t be on the waiting list trying to get in to something that’s going to help them better their lives. That’s not what – we’re looking for opportunity. So get giving us something us something confused with opportunity. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what I needed, was an opportunity. But I was determined. Regardless of what it is that I am going through, what I’m facing, if I had to live, be homeless under a bridge, I was not going to commit another crime, because I knew as long as I’m free something’s going to happen, some good opportunity, some good fortune, somebody out of their good graces is going to give me an opportunity to prove myself, and that’s what happened. And look at me. I’m excelling. I’m excelling in so many different areas, from publishing to motivational speaking to writing plays, directing plays, to going into schools, speaking at, giving a commencement speech, or speaking to honor roll students. I’m literally affecting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people’s lives directly and indirectly, and if you look at the social media it’s millions. And so I have been a contribution to society than I have ever been as a criminal.

Len Sipes: And you know what? I’ve interviewed hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television, hundreds. Yet you can’t overcome the newspaper talking about the ex-felon committing the crime, you can’t get beyond what they’re watching on the evening news. You get a steady barrage of people caught up in the criminal justice system going out there and doing terrible things.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: That’s what it is I think that we’re trying to overcome when we’re talking about support for reentry programs. The overwhelming majority of the news is negative.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Not everybody hears Lamont Carey speaking passionately about reentry every day.

Lamont Carey: Right, right. And, again, it goes – I mean there are individuals that’s committing crimes, and it seems that the media pounces on that he was an ex-offender, he was a former offender, or whatever the titles may be, but where’s the good stories of the individuals in that state who have added more good to that community than have taken away? Because all of the returning citizens, ex-offenders that I know that are doing good things are affecting thousands of lives –

Len Sipes: Right.

Lamont Carey: And nobody’s writing about that. No news is flashing that in comparison to those that come out and commit other crimes. I know it’s happening, ladies and gentlemen. I know people are coming home and they’re committing other crimes. But just compare that to, figure out from the day that they came home what have they tried to do up until that point. A lot of people, again, I’m not unique, but a lot of people aren’t as determined or as committed to success as I am. Some people run into enough walls that they just completely give up and they revert back to what they know.

Len Sipes: Final minutes of the program. So I hear family, I hear society, I hear government, I hear a need for programs, I hear a need for understanding. If you put all that on the table, if you put all that on a table, everything that people are looking for from the reentry perspective, you put it all on the table, what happens?

Lamont Carey: You put it all on the table and pushes it through I bet you that you will see a drastic change in recidivism. But this, not just outside the gate, it has to begin behind those prison walls, it has to, because you just can’t wait until we come out and then try to create a plan for us when we’ve already created a plan for ourselves. But the biggest that I think is missing, Leonard, is that they don’t, nobody asks us really what it is that we want to do. They always give suggestions or they say, “This is what we’re offering.” Leonard, I was never going on a construction site and breaking no bricks, that was never my goal. I was coming home to be an entrepreneur, Leonard. And so by me coming home and pursuing that and accomplishing that, Leonard, I’m thriving, Leonard. And I think if you create the kind of programs that individuals want, not what we think they should have like we’re kids, but what we need, what we think we need for us to succeed, and I guarantee you, you will see the recidivism rate drop.

Len Sipes: And every governor in this country is, they’re dismayed by all the money going into corrections –

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: Because they’re saying, “I don’t have the money for roads, I don’t have the money for schools, I don’t have the money for the elderly.” So that would cut back on the correctional budget tremendously.

Lamont Carey: Right.

Len Sipes: It would be a win-win across the board, less crime, less burden on taxpayers.

Lamont Carey: I agree.

Len Sipes: You have people living more productive lives.

Lamont Carey: Agreed.

Len Sipes: So in the final seconds of the program, why aren’t we there?

Lamont Carey: It’s we’re not there because we’re not willing to take a chance on previous offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think we’re going to have to close with that. Lamont Carey, President of LaCarey Enterprises,, I really appreciate you being on the program, Lamont. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

Beyond Prison, Probation and Parole-Interview With Former Offender Randy Kearse

DC Public Safety Radio

See radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentleman, we are doing a series of radio shows for people who’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system, and to get their perspective as to what it is that we do both within the District of Columbia and throughout the country. My guest today is Randy Kearse, host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse. It’s a public access show in New York City. He’s a bestselling author and independent film maker. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in 1992. Randy spent 15 years in a federal prison, sentenced under the mandatory minimum and now infamous Crack Law. His first documentary film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism; The Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. Randy, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank for inviting me back, Leonard. I really appreciate what you’re doing. I really appreciate being on your show. I just hope that, you know, this conversation will help further the conversations that are going on in the reentry field today.

LEONARD SIPES: Well you know, I always get a bit of criticism that “Leonard, everything that you do is DC based. Why don’t you reach out to somebody beyond the District of Columbia when talking about the issue of reentry?” So you and I are Facebook friends, and I always think of you in terms of reaching out beyond New York City. People also say, “Leonard, everybody that you interview who’s caught up in the criminal justice system are documentary film makers. Is that the norm?” And I’m going, “No.” I said, “It’s just that they seem to do a better job of offering their opinions. They’ve thought about these issues, thought them through, and then offer clarity in terms of how they feel the criminal justice system should be improved.” So we were talking about issues right before we hit the start button in terms of recording the program, and this is interesting. One of the things you wanted to talk about was creating a reentry initiative think tank which consists of successful of former offenders. Tell me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that today, we need to relook at how we approach reentry. If we look at the history of reentry over the last 20-30 years, nationally, the statistics of people returning back to prison is pretty much stayed the same in the high 60s, sometimes even up to 70s in the states. So I think it’s time to start really, honestly taking a different approach toward reentry and to tap into those people that have been to prison, came home, and are doing extremely well, and have done some extraordinary things to see what their formula was for not returning. And I think if you get enough of us people who have been there, done that, and are now doing that, I think that we’d have a better opportunity to have some real impactful reentry programs.

I mean if you look at the money that is being put into reentry, I mean we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. You know, upwards, I don’t even know how high it is, but the numbers never change. The numbers are not changing. For the money that we’re spending on reentry, and the numbers are not going down substantially, I mean, that would make anyone say, “Well, we need to rethink this thing. We need to, you know, find a different approach.” And I feel that if you took… if we created – you guys in DC, the politicians, and the criminal justice system was to be able to create a think tank that is basically filled with people from all over the country who have successfully transitioned back to society, and are doing well, and put these guys in a room and did some real serious stuff that think tanks do, I think we would have a better opportunity to really get to the meat of what the problem is and how to offer some real meaningful solutions.

LEONARD SIPES: When you’re talking about the numbers not going down, you’re talking about the recidivism numbers in terms of arrest convictions and return to prison?


LEONARD SIPES: Well, you’re absolutely right. The latest survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a very high rate of return to the criminal justice system for people who have spent time in prison and that’s caused people to pause.


LEONARD SIPES: I mean they’re saying to themselves, “What is it that we need to do better?” And quite frankly I think the reentry initiative think tank composed of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system has value.

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, it just makes sense to me that you bring in people who have been through that situation and made it through successfully, to be able to come up with some guide, some instructions, some type of blueprint on what the correctional facilities can be doing better, what reentry programs could be done better in order to help people transition back to society more completely. I think it just makes sense.

LEONARD SIPES: The title of today’s program is beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. So that’s part of your reentry story, is getting people once caught up in the criminal justice system, people who are doing well to sit down with what? A hundred other people from all around the country and sit down and teach the rest of us in the criminal justice system how we could be doing it better?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, I think that the criminal justice system and especially those who work in the reentry field should be, at this point, open to trying some different approaches. I mean listen, whatever is going on or whatever it’s been the norm for the last 20-30 years isn’t working, and you keep pouring money into a system that is not producing the results that we are looking for. I mean you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Imagine what we could be doing with that money if we had some real sense of what would be better, where that money could be better spent, and how that money that could be better allocated when it comes to prison reentry? Now who better to talk to that issue than those who didn’t have those hundreds of millions of dollars, but were able to transition successfully and are doing good? We’re talking about entrepreneurs. We’re talking about educators. We’re talking about business people. We’re talking about a whole gambit of people who have been through that experience and are doing successful to this day. I mean you have celebrities. You have people across the board. And if you do it on a national level, and then maybe set up some state-wide task force or reentry type of think tank, I think that we would get a lot better mileage out of what we’re trying to do here.

LEONARD SIPES: What would we get out of it that we’re not getting now? The bureaucrat sitting in Washington, the people at the state level throughout the country – what is it that we’re missing about this story?

RANDY KEARSE: What you’re missing is that all of the money that’s being spent and the results that you’re getting don’t match up.

LEONARD SIPES: But no, we know that. We can see from the national data that recidivism remains high, and we’re sitting back and going, “Well, um, okay.” But at the same time 80% of people with a history of substance abuse – we know that people caught up in the prison system, 80% have a history of substance abuse – yet a lot of surveys out there say that 10%, while in prison are getting drug treatment. There’s disconnect between 10% getting treatment and 80% having history of substance abuse. Other people are simply saying, “Hey, it’s simply a matter of money, and the public doesn’t seem to be willing to support those expenditures that raises that to 40, 50, 60% getting drug treatment.”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, that’s another thing. I mean, being able to educate the public about why that we should get behind this kind of initiative that would help more people than just the 10% who are getting help, it’s about educating the public. I think politicians or people that are looking at this don’t take into account what the public wants or what the public doesn’t want. So there has to be a better sense of getting the information out to the public, to society, to show them that the benefits of providing services, of providing treatment, of providing alternate to incarceration and providing reentry service and all of these thing that would help people transition from that lifestyle that puts them in the situation to go to prison or go back to prison. So the public needs to be more informed on just how much society would benefit from having these type of conversations, having these type of programs that would help people get off of that, get out of that revolving door, to be able to get their life back together. And until we inform the public more, until we get that information out there, then I think we’re going to be beholden to people who think that they know what’s best for society, and society doesn’t have a say in it.


RANDY KEARSE: So where I stand is just I think that one of things that’s missing here in this equation is people need to understand why reentry doesn’t start when a person gets out. Reentry should start when a person’s in. So we should switch from a reentry mindset to a pre-entry mindset. And if we took all of the resources, if we took more of the resources that are on the outside and actually put them inside the prisons and you set up a system where a person’s need are addressed in the prison, you would be able, we would be able to have more impact because we’re dealing with more of the population that’s going to return. Now if a program can only handle 50 people a year, or 75 people a year, and you have 2000 people getting out in DC alone every year, I mean how many people can actually be successfully acclimated back to society when the resources aren’t there for them?

If you put that money and you put those resources inside the prison, and used some of these programs as an after care tool to basically check up on what a person need when he gets out, I think we would definitely have a better advantage of helping people not go back to prison. When I was in federal prison, there was a reentry program, but the type of reentry program that it was, it was a joke. I’m going to be totally honest with you. It was something that was, if you showed up, you showed up. If you didn’t, you didn’t. You signed your name, but then you went to the [PH] wait tile. That was the only accountability that was needed or required of you. So if you didn’t take your own initiative to prepare yourself for getting out of prison, you were pretty much struck. You were pretty much stuck.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me ask you this. If we had the drug treatment for the 80%, if we had the mental health treatment for the 50%, if we had job training, vocational training, GED programs, reading programs; if we had all of that, if we had a full package so the individual inmate when he goes to prison, spends his or her entre day either dealing with substance abuse, dealing with mental health, learning a trade, learning how to read, getting a GED, what would be that impact? What would happen in terms of the recidivism rate, in terms of people getting out?

RANDY KEARSE: Oh man! That would help decrease the recidivism rate exponentially. I mean, it would be one step that would be part of helping to lower the recidivism rate, but now you’re talking of bringing the job preparedness, you’re talking about preparing job skills and computer training, getting people ready to get into the workforce while they’re there. I mean you have people who are coming home – I just talked to a guy, he’s been away for 25 years. He doesn’t know anything about a computer; he doesn’t know anything, the basics, anything sending an email, doing Word or anything like that. So how can this guy go into the new technology workforce when he’s not prepared? So once you address those immediate needs: education, substance abuse, and learning skills, and GED – okay, that’s one level. Now we have to take people to the next level where we get them job ready.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, I need a quick air [INDISCERNIBLE 00:13:10] because we have so much to go over. With governors throughout the country, really very, very clear, stating that they can no longer afford the level of incarceration; I mean it’s taking away money for schools, it’s taking away money for highways, it’s taking away money for colleges. So every governor in the country, theoretically, has had a conversation with their Director of Corrections saying, “You’ve got to decrease your budget. You’ve got to do a better job.” Then, okay, so if everybody’s on board, if everybody seems to pretty much agree with what it is that we should be doing, what’s your explanation for why it’s not happening?

RANDY KEARSE: Because the money is not being put in and the resources are not being put in place that we would allow for the things that we just talked about.

LEONARD SIPES: And why? Why is the bottom line question?

RANDY KEARSE: I don’t know. I’m not in control of the money. If I was in control of the money, then I could tell you. At least from my experience and research of some of these organizations in New York, I mean some of these organizations are getting million dollar budgets, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand dollars to service the reentry population and the numbers are still the same. So why don’t we grab some of that money that is being put into these programs that are not producing the results that we want, and shift that money into the prison and create that reentry department inside the prison, right there, in the prison where the guy goes to his case manager, he goes to see a reentry manager, reentry coordinator and we deal with it. They get the programs right there in the prison. You have the, an employment connection within the prison where a year before the guy comes out, you already have job opportunities that might be waiting for him based on his services or his productivity in the prison, and you can match to where he’s going to go when he gets out. To me, that’s the problem, that’s the problem.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re half way through the program. We’re talking today with Randy Kearse. And he spent 15 years in a federal prison, but Randy is now becoming an independent film maker, he is working on a variety of projects, and one of the things that I find it very interesting the movie that he’s about 80% though A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. He is funding the last part of that through Indigogo. It’s If you just go to Indigogo and search for A Deeper Truth: The Politics, Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. You can fund Randy’s newest project and with this announcement, Randy, I’m going to, this afternoon, go and make the donation to the project, so I’ve been…

RANDY KEARSE: I appreciate that, man. Thank you very much.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve been waiting for this radio show before making that announcement.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you man.

LEONARD SIPES: Let’s go back. Again we’re beyond… Today’s program is called Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: a Reentry Story. A little bit about the crack cocaine issue. So the film that you’re doing The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic, I remember those days. I’ve been around long enough. I do understand that the crime rate in this country was just astronomical and that crime rate and the crime problems associated with it, were destroying cities, hurting education, hurting business, hurting development, hurting investment in communities, and so we’ve had a pretty much a continuous 20 year decline in crime since that time, and there are some criminologists who would say that a portion of that decline has been massive incarceration. There are other reasons for it. I’m not saying it’s 50%, 75%. There are some criminologists – in fact the cover of Time Magazine just a couple years ago talked about that being a significant reason. Talk to me about that.

RANDY KEARSE: Any time you have a situation where there’s a new drug or some type of prohibition of a substance that the public wants, and there opens up an illegal market for it, you’re going to find that there’s going to be a propensity for violence. I mean, it happened in Prohibition where the gangs fought over the alcohol profits. It happened during heroin, where the gangs just fought over the heroin profits, and it happened in Las Vegas when they fought over profits of the casinos. It happened during the crack cocaine epidemic.

What we’ve found now is that the crack itself, the drug, was not the driving force that caused the violence, that the drug users weren’t the violent ones. It was the people who fighting over the profits or for the drugs that caused the violence. There is no excuse for violence. There is no reason that violence should be tolerated in this society, but what I’m trying to point out in this documentary, that it’s deeper than what society has been taught to believe, what the problems of – that everything was based on crack cocaine. Before crack cocaine in the African American community, there was unemployment, there was poverty, there was poor education. There was other factors that were in play before this drug hit the market to where we have to look at the root causes of why this phenomenon happened, and what were the reason.

One of the reasons was the media. The media had a very strong role in shaping the framework for how society seen this drug, who used the drug, who was more susceptible to the violence of the drug, and stuff like that. But those studies and studies and studies, a lot of the things that politicians use to instill fear in society and was actually led to war on drugs, was not facts. It was a lot of fear. And even if you take away the drug aspect, even when you look at some of the things that are going on today in politics, in how policy is shaped, a lot of times based on misinformation and fear. And that’s what we’re talking about, how fear drove a lot of the policies during that period of time. And we hope to bring out some of those factors in the documentary, where hopefully that we, as the public and society, that we will be more visible and more wanted more facts before we decide to make policies that actually do more damage the situation itself. The war on drugs did more damage to the African American community than crack cocaine could ever do. And if you fast forward. . . Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: What you’re suggesting is inherently a misinformation campaign that it was not as portrayed by the media, not as portrayed by the larger community, there were deeper issues; and those deeper issues were ignored, and that it resulted in incarceration policies.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: Specifically within the African American community.

RANDY KEARSE: Absolutely. I mean, now, if you fast forward almost 30years later, they lowered the penalties for crack cocaine astronomically, to the point where it’s almost equal to powder cocaine, now. Remember the infamous crack war was 100:1. One gram of crack cocaine was equal to 100 grams of powder cocaine. Now one gram of crack cocaine is equal to, I think, 18 grams of powder cocaine. So now that law was not based on scientific fact because… and in this documentary, we’ve talked to one of the nations, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists who have done studies upon studies upon studies of drugs and the pharmaceutical impact of drugs and cocaine and crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug. It’s just the manner of ingestion that is different, but they’re actually the same drug. So they’ve lowered the threshold for crack and powder, now, they’re about to make it retroactive in November, the Commission, they’re supposed to make it retroactive, but now…

LEONARD SIPES: Federal Sentencing Commission?

RANDY KEARSE: [OVERLAY] Yeah, the Federal Sentence Commission, in order to make it retroactive, now you have 30 years of people who were sentenced to these Draconian drug laws who… I just interviewed a guy Thursday, last Thursday. First time offender. Never been in trouble in his life. Never even had a traffic ticket. I’m not saying what he did was right, what I’m saying is first time offender. He got caught in a drug conspiracy and he got 20 years. He did 20 years. And now 30 years later, they’re saying, “You know what? It’s not that bad. We’re going to equal it out.” How do you give that person back their time?

LEONARD SIPES: But I get where there are common themes, and we do want to get on to the third part of the program which is specifically Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole: A Reentry Story, your next project that you’re currently working on. But in essence, what we’re talking about in terms of first topic, in terms of the funding for reentry; the second topic in terms of the perception of an overreaction to the cocaine epidemic, we’re talking about a fearful society, not giving a good hard, look at what the reality is, and that lack of that good, hard look at reality is creating forces that are not necessarily productive for the larger society. If we’re saying that we can no longer afford the level of incarceration that we’ve had, and every state in the country is basically wrestling with this, if we’re talking about it, we can no longer afford those expenditures, then we have created a scenario that we can’t sustain. And what you’re suggesting is that we’re not taking a hard look at what’s going on by the larger society and the media.

RANDY KEARSE: I think that, you know, people get so used to doing the same thing, and it just becomes the norm. I think it’s time to think outside the box. That’s the bottom line. It’s time to really look at what isn’t working, and try to come up with some better solutions. I mean, come on. . .

LEONARD SIPES: And that gets us back to the initial opening statement in terms of what I find fascinating, the reentry initiative think tank consisting of former, successful offenders from throughout the country that would be that body that would say, “Hey, you know, let’s look at this a bit differently in terms of how you’re looking at it because you could end up doing more harm than good.” Okay, your third project, and we only have a couple minutes to address this, and I want to get to it. The title is Beyond. . . the show is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole: a Reentry Story, but it’s also your new project?

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, I’m working on a series. It’s going to be a series that I’m profiling successful people who have been to prison and made a successful transition back to society. The name of the project is Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole, and what we’re trying to do is get as many profiles for people and then to hopefully have a correctional institution bring these profiles into the prison and be able to show the offenders and the inmates some of the people’s stories of how they successfully transitioned and how they were able to beat the odds of going back. I think that for people who are incarcerated right now, they need to see what is possible. You know, whether they’re being provided the resources right there in the immediacy, I think they need to see other people who have done it. You know it’s easy, and you guys in the reentry and the criminal justice system have a lot of good intentions. You want to try to beat back this problem of recidivism and stuff like that, but it’s those guys, like ourselves, that have been there that will probably have a better bearing on what a person decides to do with their life if they see that they see someone else doing it. If they see the formula that someone else used. That they be able to connect to these stories, and think that’s another way to provide some incentive for people to not want to go back to prison.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, beyond the lack of resources in terms of the funding for these programs, what is the bottom line analysis in terms of the individual caught up in criminal justice system? He or she comes out of prison. There are a lot of people who do make it, 50% go back to prison, but 50% don’t. So for the 50% who don’t go back to prison often times I’ve had hundreds of people over the years sitting in front of microphones or doing the TV show, and they simply say, “Hey look. The bottom line is I made my own personal decision not to go back.”

RANDY KEARSE: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: But, I mean, is it just that? Is it, “Hey, I have the will and the determination, and you don’t?”

RANDY KEARSE: Well, it’s going to be according the individual. In my case, it was just that the bottom line was I decided I wanted something better for myself. I decided I want to make a change. I decided that I was going to not go back to prison. And I was offered no programs or resources to tap into, so I had to create my own opportunities. Now for someone who might want to change and may not want to go back, they might not have that willpower or that determination, but if you provide them just a little push, just a little push in the right direction, that might be all that they need. Every individual is not as strong, every individual is not as solid to take that step on their own, but if you provide them a little nudge, a push, you’ll be surprised at what they’ll probably be able to accomplish. So, yes, it is up to the individual, no matter how many resources or their availability, but at the same time, if you provide the right resources, at the right time, for the right people, then you’ll definitely have a stronger impact on the recidivism and beating down the recidivism rate, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: We got 10 seconds left, but the right time and the right person at the right place is as awfully… is a very scientific and very precise formula. Are we in the criminal justice system really capable of figuring out right person, right place, right time?

RANDY KEARSE: Yes, you are. I mean, like I said, we get together. You know, you guys with us that have been through it. We can sit down at the table, and we can come up with a formula that will work. That will work, and it would be cost effective to the public.

LEONARD SIPES: Randy, you’ve got the final word. Randy Kearse is host of Straight Talk with Randy Kearse up in New York City. I really appreciate you being by our microphone today.

RANDY KEARSE: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

LEONARD SIPES: An independent film maker. He is… his latest film is A Deeper Truth: The Politics of Racism, and Media Hysteria Behind the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. If you’re interested in funding this project, it’s through indigogo/a-deeper-truth2 or just go to Indigogo and search for “a deeper truth”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this DC public safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and I want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.


Woman Offenders-Upcoming Events-From Violence to Reentry-Interview With Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen the program today is Women Offenders. We have an interview with Lashonia Etheridge-Bey; she is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizens here in the District of Columbia, www.oc, I’m sorry, Let me give you a bit of background about this extraordinary woman and I think you’ll understand what we’re interviewing her today. Lashonia is a 40-year old Washingtonian who was born and raised in southeast DC. As a youth she made a series of bad decisions that landed her in prison for a violent crime where she spent almost half her life. Lashonia was a teen mom, a high school drop out where she was unemployed and addicted to marijuana. During her 18 years in prison she set out to rehabilitate and reform herself. She received her GED and began pursuing a college degree. She has been employed on a full-time basis, like I said; she’s enrolled in college. Last April she was hired as the Staff Assistant for the Mayor’s office on returning citizens, and like I said before, she’s in the process of completing her second year at Trinity University where she’s pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Relations. We have Lashonia here for a specific reason. Every year we’d have a series of reentry events and three this year. We’re focusing on women caught up in the criminal justice system and I’ll have the information about all three in the show notes. Lashonia is responsible for two, she will be speaking at the other on Tuesday, February 4th, the gender specific reentry conference at One Judiciary Square. That will be in the show notes, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then we have women’s reentry forum done by my agency, Court Services, a super efficient agency. I can’t—Lashonia, I screwed up the name of my own agency, Court Services, an offender supervision agency on Saturday, February 8th from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And then on Thursday, February 27th, the reentry forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. Lashonia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: All right. That’s a huge introduction. You’ve spent half your life in prison. You came out. There was a film about Lashonia that I thought was extraordinary. And that will also be in the show notes, done by a person who’s been at this microphone before. A film, about a 15-minute film on your life and it struck me that your life has been a profoundly painful, profoundly difficult; you have heaped a tremendous amount of blame on yourself in the past. You have had to deal with animosity from your own children when you came out, you have two. The process of coming back out, reestablishing yourself, it was very, very honest, honest portrayal of who you are and what you are. Tell me about who you are and what you are.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well, first and foremost, I’m a resilient woman who has had to overcome a lot of difficulties in my past, mainly my own challenges have been being destructive, being angry, being violent, being addicted to drugs. So I’m a woman who has had to face all of those obstacles and overcome them and I’m also a woman who’s continuously working to progress in terms of rebuilding my life. I’ve only been home for two years now. So pursuing my degree, I’m building my career, seeking to reestablish myself within my family unit and just taking it one day at a time.

Len Sipes: When I watched the video two things came at me pretty clearly. One was the level of self-blame that you have heaped on yourself and number two, you’re involvement in physical fitness activities. You are very fit and so exercise is part of your rehabilitative process.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, definitely. I always say that when I became incarcerated I attacked myself physically, mentally, spiritually and psychologically because I engaged in a lot of therapeutic programs. I was in a residential trauma program. I exercised. I pursued academic endeavors. I did everything that I could to rebuild myself in every aspect. So exercise has definitely been a huge coping skill for me and a way for me to deal with the challenges that I face whether it be challenges in school, challenges in my personal life. I love to run; I love to do strength training and all those things to help me get through those challenges.

Len Sipes: The crime that you were involved in, in Southeast DC was a very violent crime.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: So you went to prison for that. You spent half of your life in prison for that very violent crime but, again, I go back to how your own self-perception, the video is stark, the reality is certainly abundant in terms of how you felt about yourself. So where did all those feelings come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I mean, you called it self-blame but the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that I was responding to my circumstances and I pretty much built an image and a reputation and started to display behavior that I thought I had to display in order to survive in my environment. The fact of the matter is that I’m still responsible for the choices that I made. So even the violent acts that I brought on other people and in addition to the violent acts that was brought on myself, I put myself in those positions by the choices that I made, the people that I chose to be around, how I chose to respond to potential danger in my neighborhood. So I was never—I’ve always been one to just be responsible for my actions because I know at the end of the day everybody has a choice regardless of what situation they find themselves in. There are a lot of people that grew up where I grew up at who didn’t choose to become violent and commit crimes as a result of their environment and I did.

Len Sipes: But let me ask you a series of basic questions, substance abuse?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, I was addicted to marijuana and I had just began to smoke PCP around the time when I was convicted of this crime.
Len Sipes: When did you start doing drugs?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I started doing drugs I guess when I was about maybe 15, 16.

Len Sipes: Okay. How was your family life?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: My family life, I was pretty much raised by a single parent mom. My dad was always in my life, but my parents weren’t together. And I had a host of older siblings who were in and out of prison on drugs. I didn’t really have a lot of positive role models. My mom, obviously working and trying to take care of us, didn’t get an opportunity to really raise us and teach us the way I’m sure she would have liked to been able to. But I pretty much was drawn to the street as a result of that. And I grew up in a really tough neighborhood. I went to Hart Junior High, so all of the projects were surrounded by that school, that school was surrounded by all of the projects in that area, so—

Len Sipes: But the self-directed anger that I saw on the video, which again, we’re going to put the address of the video in the show notes, that came from where? I mean, there’s a certain point where it shows you coming out of prison. And it shows you reuniting with your kids, the difficulties of reuniting, the difficulties of getting out, the difficulties of going through all the things that you’ve gone through, but one of the things, the stark things, not to beat a point to death, was the self-directed anger. That you really had a lot of anger inside of you that you expressed to others when you were on the street and that you’re, you know, were expressing towards yourself when you got out. Where did all that anger come from?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I don’t know if it was necessarily anger that I was expressing. I just pretty much built an image because I had to respond to the violence in my neighborhood. So it was either you’re going to fight back or you’re going to get beat up.

Len Sipes: Right.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You’re either going to fight back or you’re going to run and I wasn’t raised in a family that allowed me to run home and run in the house and lock the door when somebody’s chasing me.

Len Sipes: All right. So what you’re saying is violence and the street culture was of a very logical process, a very logical decision based upon what was happening around you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Definitely. It was what I was taught. It was what I was prone to do because for me it was a survival mechanism.
Len Sipes: For so many women that I’ve talked to before these microphones, they have been sexually violated, they came up in single-family households. I’m not asking whether you were or whether you weren’t. Substance abuse was very common. Most of the women that I’ve talked to who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it is a real struggle in terms of who they were at the time of that crime and can you talk to me about that. Am I right or wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, fortunately for me I haven’t had that experience of sexual abuse and physical abuse in my family and growing up, but I did notice when I was incarcerated that the vast majority of the women that I was incarcerated with had that issue and had that trauma that they was dealing that lead them down that path of drugs and crime. With me, my trauma was violence. You know, violence inside my home, violence outside of my home and mainly the violence in my community. It was kind of like survival of the fittest. And like I said, I built that image to protect myself and at some point I had to live up to that image. And I was put in a position where I did something that cost someone dearly and I had to pay for it.

Len Sipes: But the process of—I’ve been to more than a couple women’s groups and I hear two things. I hear, again, just a lot of, you know, anger at the world, anger at themselves, anger at their families, anger at their friends. But, you know; now they have to deal with all of this coming out of the prison system. And there’s a certain point where I find that, and the research backs this up, that women do better than men coming out of the prison system. They do better in terms of rehabilitative programs. They do better in terms of recidivism than men because a lot of women come out and say to themselves, all right, this is my one shot. I have no other choice. I’ve got to make this work. I’ve got kids. I’ve got to reunite with my kids. I’ve got to establish a life for myself. Women have a tendency of making it work at higher numbers, better numbers, greater numbers than males caught up in the criminal justice system. But there’s still an unrelenting anger towards themselves and towards the world around them that they have to deal with before they get into prison, what brought them into the prison system and afterwards, right or wrong? Be honest.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Again, for me anger has not necessarily –

Len Sipes: Not necessarily for you, but for everybody.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Well I can’t speak for those other women. All I can say is that for me the thing that motivated me to get caught up in the life of crime that I was caught up in was more so pain and fear.

Len Sipes: Okay. All right. Most women coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah.

Len Sipes: And it’s very difficult, I mean, the average person coming out of the prison system has a very nasty background. They don’t have a lot of skills in terms of going out and getting a job. They have to deal with all of the issues that they have to struggle with personally. Mental health amongst women coming out of the criminal justice system is very high, mental health problems, higher than any other group. Substance abuse problems very high. They come out and they’re being reunited with their kids. They come out and they’re trying to find employment and they’re trying to find a way of sustaining themselves. It’s almost impossible to put all that together, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s definitely a huge challenge. It makes me think about Zora Neale Hurston when she said that women are the mules of the world because in addition to trying to find your place as the matriarch of your family and rebuild your family unit, you’re also trying to rebuild your personal life and gain employment and maybe pursue your academic goals. And women, I think one of the biggest differences with men and women is the need to be safe. I’d like to think that men coming out of prison regardless of how much time they served are not struggling with whether or not they feel safe in an environment that has left them vulnerable and allowed them to be so severely hurt and afraid in the past. Then going in to a system that has further damaged them and further degraded them and coming home, I think that the need to be safe, the need to be a mother, the need to be, like I said, the matriarch of their family, the need to become independent but yet still establish healthy relationships. I don’t think that men, who are returning from incarceration experience that personal trauma that women experience.

Len Sipes: Most women coming out of the prison system have looked at me and said it’s almost impossible to do all this. It is almost impossible to do all this and people need to understand that regardless of how motivated I am not to go back, it is almost impossible to pull all of this off.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree.

Len Sipes: And, statistically speaking, it’s correct.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I would agree and I’m one of those people who believe that I can do anything. I’m really convinced that if I put my mind to it I can do it. However, I would have to agree that in terms of me rebuilding my life and, you know, pursuing my academic goals and pursuing my career goals, those things have come easy for me, but the challenge has been rebuilding my personal life and my relationships. I mean, you’re only one person and there’s no way you can spread yourself that thin and put the necessary energy into all those different areas and be successful in every one of them.

Len Sipes: But isn’t it amazing where, two things, and they’re contradictions, almost impossible versus women do better than men coming out of the prison system. So almost impossible turns into possible turns into success for literally hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. How do you come—how do I or you or anybody else come to grips with that, almost impossible yet most women seem to find it in themselves to create a successful life after prison.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Resiliency. And I think the women that do become successful at reentry are the women that find a healthy balance between being a mother and being a nurturer and having healthy relationships and building a healthy personal life and doing those other things in terms of career and education. My director always says, and I’m always glad when he says it so that I don’t have to say it, as a man he always says that when women come home the first thing they think about is their children, but when men come home the last thing they think about is their children. And obviously that’s a blanket statement, maybe it’s a stereotype, who knows, but the fact of the matter is that men don’t necessarily have to allow that—don’t necessarily have that challenge of how am I going to rebuild my family, how am I going to regain my position in my family. Men don’t necessarily face that challenge, they can do all that other stuff, whereas, women they try to do it all.

Len Sipes: When I talk to my wife about it she simply says, well it’s simple, Leonard, women are better—smart than men. We have, ladies and gentlemen, Lashonia Etheridge-Bey. She is with the Mayor’s office on Returning Citizen Affairs here in the District of Columbia, She and we are doing three events dealing with women caught up in the criminal justice system. Tuesday, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00. And then my organization, Court Services, an Offender Supervision Agency, and this time I said it without screwing it up Lashonia. Women’s Reentry Forum at the Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue from 9:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, always what I consider to be an extraordinary event. And Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, the Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers, Union Temple Baptist Church, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. I’ll have all of these issues in our show notes. And, you know, Lashonia, this is just an amazing transformation for you, but it’s not just an amazing transformation for you, it’s an amazing transformation for literally tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women coming out of the prison system every year. Seven hundred thousand people leave the prison system every year. Heaven knows three to four times that number come out of jails. So, and the research is clear, that the women do better if though they carry greater burdens. And both of us, I think, suggest that it’s because they come out having to take care of kids, 80% of people coming out of the prison system have kids, correct?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. When you came home and after watching your extraordinarily honest video, your kids were not kind. Even though you had a real good relationship with them and even though they visited you in prison, there’s a certain point—you said that you thought you were going to escape the dilemma of the kids dumping on you for being in prison. And even though they weren’t—they didn’t do it when they visited you, when you came back out it was a different set of circumstances, right?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. And I think that maybe to some extent they were empathetic towards my situation. So they were just nice to me when I was incarcerated. They never expressed anger or were ornery towards me. And in my son’s defense, he is just the most optimistic person I know and he has not expressed any harsh feelings towards me or been, you know, mean to me since I’ve been home. And I think that that has a lot to do with the gender dynamics as well because boys just love their moms for the most part. The biggest challenges have been with my daughter. She’s the older of the two and she has her own children, her own family, and her own challenges.

Len Sipes: She felt abandoned by you.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yeah, she felt abandoned.

Len Sipes: And she told you as much.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Mmm-mmm. She felt abandoned and we had one incident where she expressed some really harsh things to me and it was difficult. I got through it, I guess. I wasn’t really expecting it, but when it happened I just—I took it and I kept it moving.

Len Sipes: A woman coming out of the prison system has got to say to herself, you know, I’ve got to deal with mental health issues, not unusual, substance abuse issues, not unusual. We talked about it before in terms of sexual violence or violence in general in your case. So we have to deal with all that and then we’ve got to figure out how am I going to find work and I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to reunite with my kids and I’ve got to figure out a place to stay and I’ve got to deal with a lot of legal issues. And there’s a certain point where this is just too frickin overwhelming to comprehend.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And so I run.

Len Sipes: So what?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I run.

Len Sipes: You run. You do run. How many miles a day?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I just run three miles a day only in summer and spring though.

Len Sipes: Just.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Cause I don’t run in the winter time, it’s too cold.

Len Sipes: The video shows you doing pull-ups and everything else. I mean, that’s your—that’s how you deal with it, how do women when they sit down after the first week or two or three and it really—all of this really sets in—how does a woman get up and go.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: And I have to admit to having a strong support system. I think I’ve really been blessed to be living in the District of Columbia, born and raised. And I thought when I came home I was going to relocate cause at the time my daughter was living in Richmond. But they say if you want to get a good laugh tell God your plans because my relocation was denied and my daughter ended up back home in DC and I’m back home in DC and I’ve had a phenomenal support system from Reverend Cooper, the people I met at the Reentry Sanction Center, even Nancy Ware, Cedric, you know, everybody has just always—

Len Sipes: The Director of CSOSA and the Associate Director of CSOSA.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes, supported me in all of my endeavors and Director Thornton, giving me the opportunity to be the Staff Assistant at ORCA.

Len Sipes: The Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, yeah.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. Everything that I have been, you know, my support system and I have to admit, you know, even I have some family members who are there for me, but my support system has been community leaders and that’s been my rock.

Len Sipes: What does that mean to you to have the support of everybody?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It’s meant everything to me. It’s the reason why I’ve made it, you know. You asked me how do you get up every day, you get up every day cause you know you’ve got people that believe in you, people that call on you and people that expect you to show up. And, you know, being spiritually grounded, being a member of the  [indiscernible] of America and being able to, you know, when I first came home I was so busy trying to get my life in order I might have went to the Temple a handful of times. And since 2014 has come in, you know, I’ve been attending my meetings more regularly and just getting the nourishment that I need to face this daily drama that I’m living.

Len Sipes: So it’s faith in the fact that significant others have come to your rescue and have been your mentors and who have encouraged you to stay on the path.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Is that available to every woman coming out of the prison system?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: I’d like to say yes if they’re open to it.

Len Sipes: We do have a faith based reentry program here under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and lots of churches, even and Mosques and Synagogues beyond that, participate in program for people coming out of the prison system. So it’s there but I’m not quite sure the average woman coming out of the prison system feels that. I’m not quite sure they share that experience with you, am I wrong?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are some—there’s a chance that some women may not be aware of the resources that are available to them and there’s also a chance that some women may not be open to that support. They have to be open to it. You know, I met Our Place DC staff members when they first opened up back in who knows what year it was, 2000 maybe, 2001, 1999, I don’t know. But some of those staff members who are no longer with Our Place.

Len Sipes: It’s a tragedy that Our Place is closed.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Are still in my support system.

Len Sipes: That’s one of the things that bothers me very deeply. Cause not only did I give money to Our Place DC and for people living outside of Washington, DC, Our Place DC was a comprehensive soup to nuts agency that dealt with every conceivable need a woman could have coming out of the prison system legal, being reunited with the kids, healthcare, substance abuse, mental health, sexual violence, it didn’t matter, they took care of it and they’re no longer here. And I don’t want to say that everybody else has picked up their pace, but, you know, there’s a lot of agencies here in the District of Columbia that really do support the reentry processes, are they not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: There are a lot of agencies. Our agency, obviously, is a District Government agency that’s responsible for men and women returning from incarceration. And I think that we have developed a really—we’re spearheading a really great effort to do more for women returning from incarceration as a result of the void that has been left by Our Place. My director has allowed me and supported me as I have developed The Wire, which is Women Involved in Reentry Effort and that’s a network of women who have successfully reintegrated into the community who have pledged their support to women who are currently incarcerated and women who are returning from incarceration. And we want to be mentors, we want to establish family reunification activities, we want to help raise awareness within the community about the needs of the women returning from incarceration. And we want to work with children who have mothers in prison who are facing the difficult task of just existing, striving, building life skills and things of that nature. So a lot is happening despite the fact that Our Place has closed and I just love the way you put it because, I mean, Michelle Bonner, the Our Place attorney was there with me at my initial hearing. Our Place was the reason why I was able to see my children once a year when I did see them, when they would come up to Danbury, Connecticut or they would come to Hazleton, West Virginia. And like I said the Our Place staff, even those who no longer work for Our Place are still a huge part of my support system. So that organization was just awesome in the support that they provided for women.

Len Sipes: We only have three minutes left. If these programs did not exist, if the faith based mentors, if the offices like yours in terms of all the other volunteer organizations did not exist, if there was no support mechanism at all for women coming out of the prison system, what would happen?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: It would be tragic because recidivism would rise. Children would be further traumatized by the fact that their moms would come home and very likely go back. I mean, not only would it just drain the system itself, but so many women would be hurting and suffering so much without the support services that we have right now.

Len Sipes: When you’re talking through this program, and I always like to use the term Mayor of Milwaukee, I don’t know, it just rolls off the tongue nicely, or the aide to the Governor of Hawaii, when you’re talking to them about women reentry, what must they think about, what must they keep in mind?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: The children. I think that if everybody in America could keep in mind that when women are incarcerated they’re not just incarcerated women, they’re incarcerated mothers. Most of them are the primary caregivers for their children when they become incarcerated. So the children are then abandoned and pretty much left on their own to raise themselves. Even when they have a caregiver it’s not like having your mother, it’s not, you know, I have one young man, his mom is serving 30 years in prison, he hasn’t seen his mom in seven years and he was raised by an uncle who loves him dearly. And he said to me, I asked him how does he feel and he told me he couldn’t name—I gave him a piece of paper with a bunch of feelings on it, I said pick one. He said I feel all of them. I said well just pick—just tell me, pick one or two of them. He said I feel miserable. Fifteen years old. You know, it’s like he feels like his life is over. His life is just beginning. You know, and he’s suffering and paying for what his mom did. So I think that if people remember the children, support the children and support the women when they come home then we can help break that cycle of crime and incarceration.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line if we want to end the crime problem that we have, if we want to deal with the pain, I mean, I’m not making excuses for women being caught up in the criminal justice system –

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Right. Right.

Len Sipes: But there’s real pain, there are real backgrounds in terms of substance abuse, in terms of mental health, in terms of sexual violence and there are real kids associated with these women. If we want to put a stop to all of that and help everybody gain a good footing in life then they have to support reentry programs for women.

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: Yes. You said it.

Len Sipes: That’s the bottom line, is it not?

Lashonia Ethridge-Bey: You said it.

Len Sipes: All right. I’m going to give a long close to the program, ladies and gentlemen. I have just been just really pleased with Lashonia’s performance today and her willingness to be so honest. I really appreciate it Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens, Again, the three events, Thursday—Tuesday rather, February 4th, Gender Specific Reentry Conference, One Judiciary Square, 10:00 to 3:00. Saturday, February 8th, Women’s Reentry Forum Lifetime Makeover, Temple of Praise, 700 7th Avenue, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Thursday, February 27th, Reentry Forum, The Breakdown of the Black Family as a Result of Incarcerated Mothers. All of these will be in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Faith Based Mentoring-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today the issue is Faith-Based Mentoring. The fact that we have individuals in Washington DC and throughout the country, they’re coming out of the prison system and the question becomes, who is there to help them? Is anybody there to help them? Sometimes it’s the family, sometimes it’s friends and sometimes it’s nobody at all. But what is happening in Washington DC and throughout the country is that the faith-based community, the churches, the Mosques, the Synagogues, they’re stepping up, what they are doing is they are providing volunteers to help individuals come out of the prison, come out of the prison system and to make a successful transformation into the community. We have two guests with us today to discuss this issue. We have Natasha Freeman, she is a cluster coordinator. She is with Israel Manor Incorporated and she is also with Israel Baptist Church in North East Washington DC and we have La Juana Clark. She used to be an individual under our supervision and thank God she is out and she is doing perfectly fine. She has been through a couple of programs. She was in Project Empowerment and the 13-Step program but she was a mentee for two years. So to talk about this whole issue of faith-based individuals, faith-based programs, people coming out of the prison system. Natasha and La Juana, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Natasha Freeman:  Thank you Len, thank you for having us.

La Juana Clark:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  I appreciate you both being here. Now I do want to emphasize that this is in support of our yearly event that we have in Washington DC. It’s probably our biggest event. So on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 from 7 to 9 pm at St. Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street in South East Washington DC, Thursday, February 21st – it will be on our website where we bring hundreds of people involved in the mentoring process and hundreds of people coming out of the prison system who have been mentored to involve them in the celebration of this whole concept of faith-based mentoring. Natasha Freeman, first of all, you’re the Cluster Coordinator, one of the three Cluster Coordinators for my organization, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency – what does the faith-based community do for people coming out of the prison system in Washington DC.

Natasha Freeman:  Well Len, the faith-based community does a lot of things for people on parole and probation in Washington DC. One of the major things that we do is we go out to different churches, synagogues and mosques as you mentioned earlier and we recruit volunteer mentors to kind of help them navigate successfully through supervision. We also offer a number of special emphasis programs that help with issues like employment, relapse prevention and parenting.

Len Sipes:  Mm hmm. You have a lot of different programs throughout the city. That’s the thing that really does impress me; the fact that it is just not a church, or a mosque or a synagogue involved. It’s just not the mentoring process involved. You all provide a lot of services, it’s AA, NA, clothing, baby sitting, connections to jobs, food – it just goes on and on and on. I mean it’s a very impressive program.

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct. We actually are also responsible for partnering with different organizations in the community to provide the services that the faith-based community cannot.

Len Sipes:  And one of the things that the faith-based program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency really is trying to do is to expand on those partnerships, expand upon those services so people coming out of the prison system do have access to the different services they need.

Natasha Freeman:  Yes, that is correct because it is critical to have services in order to make that successful transition from prison to home and successfully entering into the community.

Len Sipes:  La Juana, the thing that strikes me more than anything else is that you come out of the prison system and you come into community. Sometimes you have support. Sometimes family is there, sometimes friends are there, but in a lot of cases, there is no support and on a lot of cases, it’s the church, the mosques, the synagogue that surrounds you and embraces you and says, “Welcome back home – you can do this, we’re here to help”. How does that make you feel?

La Juana Clark:  It makes me feel great. When I first came home and I just got with my church. My church is over in South West and I decided to join the faith-based organization and I got with the 13-Step program which shows you life skills, how to do interviews and how to basically, you know, give you job leads and how to get out there and you know, start working.

Len Sipes:  What religious body were you associated with out there?

La Juana Clark:  Covenant Baptist Church.

Len Sipes:  Covenant Baptist and Covenant’s got a huge reputation in Washington DC.

La Juana Clark:  Yes they do.

Len Sipes:  So Covenant Baptist, did they approach you? Did you approach them?  How did you come together?

La Juana Clark:  Well in the edifice they had some information about the 13-Step program and I just went, I signed up.

Len Sipes:  And it’s just a matter of signing up and walking in?

La Juana Clark:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And how were you treated?

La Juana Clark:  Very well. I was treated very well. The facilitator he was very knowledgeable and he had a lot of information and I just utilized it. You know, I was like well I guess a natural leader in the program so I was helping him to get the information out to the other people in the program and so it’s a wonderful program.

Len Sipes:  As a woman caught up in the criminal justice system, do people stereotype you as being a person caught up in the criminal justice system?

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  And did you get that stereotype in terms of Covenant Baptist Church?

La Juana Clark:  No, not at all.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

La Juana Clark:  Not at all.

Len Sipes:  And why do you think that is? I mean this is what people tell me. They get the stereotype all the time and it really is an impediment in terms of crossing that bridge from being a tax burden to tax payer. Crossing that bridge from being caught up in the system and not caught up in the system and that embracing aspect of the faith-based community, so many men and women have told me it’s made a huge difference in their lives simply to be accepted for who you are.

La Juana Clark:  Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about that.

La Juana Clark:  Well, first of all I joined Covenant in 2010 and once they found out what happened to me, my situation happened in 2009 and I was open, I told them about it – what happened and I was open to whatever you know they had to offer and they embraced me and so they had the 13-Steps and I joined it and anything else that was available, the resources that they had, I utilized it and it has been a tremendous help.

Len Sipes:  People have told me… people say, a lot of people come back out of the prison system and they go back out into the community and the join a gang because they need people around them, they need people to support them. It may be dysfunctional. It may lead them back to the prison system but they need people in their lives to support them and as one person of the faith-based community once told me, “We’re a gang for good. We’re an embracing gang. We’re exactly the kind of gang structure you need only we’re going to help you, we’re going to lead you down the right path”. Am I… that person’s comments, are they accurate?

La Juana Clark:  The gang, if it’s a good gang – yes. More likely, I believe in the faith-base and for me and I could probably speak for several other people that that’s all that we need, is some help and if there’s help there, you know, something to get us out there, to do positive things. It’s not necessary, even if it’s just finding a job, yes it’s cool to find a job – that’s good to find a job but we need programs, more programs like faith-based programs or you know, just more programs out there to help us get back on our feet to get us where we need to be, to point us in the right direction so that way we won’t go back into the prison system.

Len Sipes:  If the support is there it lessens the likelihood considerably of you going back.

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  And it lessens the burden on tax payers, it lessens the burden on the criminal justice system and you become an example for everybody also.

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  So going back to you Natasha, is this a common experience of men and women coming out of the prison system and reaching out to the churches or the mosques or the synagogues? And being embraced and having that successful transformation?

Natasha Freeman:  Yes, I would say so and I would like to commend CSOSA because what they have done here in Washington DC is they have actually allowed the faith-based community to kind of band together so that the resources are a wrap-around services that we can offer people in the community so it’s not just one church doing one thing and someone else doing something else. Because we are networked together, we can actually offer that push that’s really needed to help someone transition back into the community and I would like to commend people like La Juana who have come back into the community and have really through the help of the faith-base, stepped up and are now able to help other people make that transition and we see a lot of that where people have successfully completed their supervision and then they come back to be a part of the faith-base in the capacity of a mentor or a facilitator or a helper just to add to that network of people pushing for people to come home and stay home.

Len Sipes:  But so many people in any community, I won’t say necessarily the faith community, they say to themselves, you know, there are so many issues that need our attention. There’s the elderly, there’s the unemployed, there are kids in schools and I have heard this directly and it may sound offensive to either one of you, and I don’t mean it to be offensive but it’s like Leonard, I don’t have time for criminals, I want to help fill in the blank. School kids, I want to help the elderly, I want to help unemployed – I don’t have time for people who have done harm to other human beings. So that’s a stereotype and an issue that all of us need to deal with – correct?  Not everybody is cut out to be a mentor to somebody coming out of the prison system is the point.

Natasha Freeman:  Right, and I agree with that and what I would say to… you know, not every church in Washington DC is involved in the faith-based program. It would be nice if we could get that much support but the reality of it is, like you said, it’s not for everyone but what I would say is that if we don’t do what we can now, the problem will only grow and those children or the elderly people that you think need your help more than a person who is coming home on parole and probation could easily turn into that person because we’re not offering the right support services and the right foundation. We are not only helping the person who is on parole or probation, we are also helping their family members who need their support. So by helping this person, we are actually really strengthening the family, hopefully helping young people not follow in the same footsteps as their parents and then hopefully helping that person on parole and probation become a support system for their elderly parent or family member who needs them.

Len Sipes:  Well most individuals who come out of the prison system have kids.

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct.

Len Sipes:  So when you are dealing with an individual coming out of the prison system it is just not about them. It’s about their kids. I mean I think National Research that in terms of women caught up in the criminal justice system La Juana that 7 in 10 have kids, so it’s just not about that individual, it’s about her family, it’s about her kids. So if you can save one, you’re saving three or four others.

La Juana Clark:  That’s correct, we are.

Len Sipes:  So I mean, what about that? Does everybody clearly seem to understand that?

La Juana Clark:  Well not everybody seems to understand it. The women that we have, you know people have kids and like as you said, people stereotype or what have you but I believe that you know, if you… just like I said before, we need those programs. Even in the system, they are taking the programs away from the system because now you have this thing where they are building more prisons and it’s not like it used to be where you could go in and get your education in the system and come out and be a productive citizen any more. It is more so, build a prison, we’re going to lock you up and you will stay there basically.

Len Sipes:  Right.

La Juana Clark:  And it doesn’t matter whether you have kids or not, or what have you – your kids will grow up and if nobody is there to nurture them and to show them the way, they will be a product of a horrible society. They will follow in their parents’ footsteps to do the wrong thing and they will be in that same prison.

Len Sipes:  Well I just did a show on women offenders a little while ago and the thing is, I don’t understand how women coming out of the prison system do make it. Most have higher rates of mental health problems than men. Most have higher rates of HIV. Most have higher rates of substance abuse problems. 7 out of 10 have kids. Now that’s stacking the deck pretty considerably against that person successfully coming out and not going back to a life of crime and not going back to a life of drugs. I mean those are impossible odds it strikes me to overcome. So it strikes me that the faith community – if the faith community is there for that person, that dramatically increases whether or not they are going to be successful.

La Juana Clark:  Well you know, thank God for faith-based community. Where I stay at, which brings me to my point, where I stay, I was looking around, I was actually still on probation and my probation officer asked me to come down to CSOSA and check out some jobs and places to stay and stuff like that and one of the places where I stay at – it’s called End Street Village and that place is awesome. It is a shelter as well as recovery housing and there are women there that are in recovery and have kids and also across the street is the night shelter which is Luther Place night shelter. So I stayed there for a year and now I have my own place. I’m in a…

Len Sipes:  Oh? Congratulations.

La Juana Clark:  Yeah, I’m in an SRO. And it’s wonderful.

Len Sipes:  What’s an SRO?

La Juana Clark:  SRO is a Single Residency Occupancy.

Len Sipes:  Okay, cool.

La Juana Clark:  So I have a roommate but this is what we need. This is something that helped me to get through. I don’t have any kids but I know there are ladies there that do have kids and we help one another and if we have programs like End Street Village, Luther Place Night Shelter. Some, any places like that, the faith-based communities. I wish there were more faith-based communities because we can get through. Not just women, men too.

Len Sipes:  And it’s not, it’s just not the matter of programs, it’s a matter of being embraced.

La Juana Clark:  It’s a matter… exactly.

Len Sipes:  It’s a matter of having the respect that you feel that you need to make that transformation.

La Juana Clark:  I tell you one thing, if I was not embraced by my church and by a faith-based community, I don’t think I would have made it out here.

Len Sipes:  That is one of the questions I do want…

La Juana Clark:  I don’t think I would have made it.

Len Sipes:  That’s one of the questions I did want to ask you but we’re more than half way through the program, I want to reintroduce our guest today. Natasha Freeman is a Cluster Coordinator; she is with Israel Manor Incorporated. She is with Israel Baptist Church in North East and also we have an individual who used to be under supervision and she used to be part of our mentoring program and that’s La Juana Clark and she has been through a variety of program and she has now been out for two years and has been a Mentee for two years. She has been part of this faith-based program for two years. So again, I say congratulations and La Juana let me just go right back to you with that th… oh, I do want to remind everybody that this is in support of our annual city-wide faith-based mentors and mentees of the year on February 21st. It will be at St. Luke Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, South East Washington DC from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock in the evening. If you need additional information we are at La Juana, the question again goes back to you. You mentioned if you didn’t have these programs, what would happen to you. Where would you be?

La Juana Clark:  I would be out street doing the same thing that I used to do and there would be no support because my family is all gone. My family, my mom, parents are dead – grandmother, everybody is gone. I have two brothers. One is, you know, I have brothers. One is a product… he was in and out of the system and he did well. He would do well for a moment and then he would go back in and it’s like you do need that support. You need the support.

Len Sipes:  Virtually every woman I have ever talked to who has come out of the prison system who is back into the community has told me that again, without these programs they would be back inside the system. Without these programs they would either be dead or back in the game or back doing what they were doing or back harming society and they are not and they are reunited with their kids and they are doing well. Not all of them by any stretch of the imagination but a pretty significant number.

La Juana Clark:  Yes, that’s correct.

Len Sipes:  That’s what impresses me. Natasha, now we have well over 100 faith-based organizations here at Washington DC. We have well over 200 people who are mentors. I think that is just phenomenal. I think well over 700 people have been through the program and we only started tracking these numbers back in 2007. The program started in 2002, but since 2007 when we started actually keeping track, over 700 people caught up in the criminal justice system have been through, have successfully completed the program. The early indications are that the longer they stay with the program, the better off they do and the less they recidivate. I mean that shows the power of the faith community.

Natasha Freeman:  That’s correct and just touching on your point the longer they stay with the program… it’s about developing relationships when it comes to the mentoring program. Even beyond people completing supervision they still keep in contact with their mentors because it is really a long term journey and so once we give them the programming, we give them the resources, the whole idea behind the faith based mentoring program is to help them successfully navigate through supervision but then once they complete supervision we still have to make sure that they have the relationships and the support from the community in order to stay home and that is really our biggest goal is to keep them here and becoming productive tax paying members of society and we can’t do that without the support and the relationships developed through the faith-based community and I think that’s why the people who complete supervision through the program are a lot more successful because those brick and mortar 100 year old organizations and foundations on every other corner here in Washington DC, they can always go there and say you know what, I’m having trouble with this or I need that and you always have that objective person to talk to, that can talk you through the situation so that you don’t have to turn back to drugs or violence or whatever your vice was that got you into trouble in the first place.

Len Sipes:  Right, but coming out of the system, coming out of the system, coming out of prison you’ve got a chip on your shoulder the size of Montana and there’s a lot of individuals and people always say that I make excuses for bad behavior when I say this but again, you take a look – a little while ago when you were talking about women offenders, the degree of sexual violence directed towards women caught up in the criminal justice system when they were minors is astounding. It is literally astounding. It is much higher than the males, but if you talk to the males I mean the problems that they had in terms of their household, so many of them getting up at 6 and 7 and 8 years old, pouring their own cereal, taking themselves to school, raising themselves essentially or you know, 9 year olds raising 7 year olds, it’s a very difficult problem. They end up in the prison system in many cases. They come out and again they have the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana. How do you break through that wall, that barrier that so many people coming out of the prison system present to you when they show up at your institution and say okay, I’m not sure as to who you really are. I’m not sure as to what your game is. I’m not sure as to what you truly are trying to offer me but I’m standing here – go, convince me! What do you say to them?

Natasha Freeman:  You know, one of the first things that I tell them is that you know, we are no different. One of the biggest differences between us you got caught for doing something wrong and a lot of people in the faith community just never got caught and I think that’s why there is a level of compassion for people, for some people, for those who are coming in to the faith institution with those types of situations and then the other thing is that you just have to love on the person and when it is genuine, they know. Not right away is everyone going to tell you everything. You know, they are not going to pour it all out on the table right away but once they come around and you show them the services, you show them that it is real, if they need clothing; you take them to the clothing closet. If they need help with food, you take them to the food pantry. Once you start to offer them some of those services that we have, then they start to see that these people are really here for me and one of the big differences with the faith-based being attached to CSOSA is they kind of come with that kind of “oh well, my CSO sent me” thing and then they get there and they see, okay, well this is not like going to see my CSO. This is somebody else who kind of really cares. Not to say that the CSO doesn’t care but you know, when you go to see your CSO you go with that oh, “they’re just going to tell me to do this and do that” type of chip on your shoulder. When you come to the faith base, you see that this person is really here trying to help you kind of be in good standing with your CSO, help you navigate through some things, solve some problems so that you don’t have that chip on your shoulder.

Len Sipes:  And CSO for people outside of the Washington DC metropolitan area, we stand for Community Supervision Officer what most of the country calls parole and probation agents. La Juana, the person that I described coming out of the prisons again, with the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana – am I exaggerating or am I accurate?

La Juana Clark:  No you’re not because I was one of those people and because even though I didn’t have a long term time in jail, I was one of those people and I was like you know…

Len Sipes:  What’s your game?

La Juana Clark:  Yeah, what is your game and I don’t need all of this stuff. I just want to get back to work?

Len Sipes:  What’s in it for you, why are you here? What are you trying to do to me?

La Juana Clark:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Because so many people coming out of prison just see other people as just gaming them. As just, they are just there to exploit them.

La Juana Clark:  Yeah, but you know, you have to be open and so I was open. Because I was open, nothing else was working. All of my cards read zero and so I was like, you know I have to be open to this and in order for me to not get back in trouble, I have to do something and I’m too old also. So I was open and I had to own up to what I had done so, that card, I was owning up to my responsibility. The part that I played in it and I was open to whatever services that CSOSA and the faith-based community offered.

Len Sipes:  How long did it take you to trust the people in the faith community to the point where you were ready to open up and talk about your real experiences?

La Juana Clark:  It took a while.

Len Sipes:  How long?

La Juana Clark:  It was like six months.

Len Sipes:  Yeah. And that’s not unusual Natasha?

La Juana Clark:  It takes a while.

Len Sipes:  That’s not a first day process, a second day process – it ordinarily takes months for that relationship to build to the point where the two trust each other. Correct?

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct and that is why in our program we make it so that the person has a mandatory minimum of six months left on their supervision so that way we can make sure that the relationship is cultivated in such a way that they can trust and we can really get down to the nitty gritty of what their real needs are and kind of touch on some of the real issues that they have, so that they can again be a successful member of society. Because if we don’t touch on those issues, it’s so easy for something bad to happen in your life and you turn right back around and start doing the things that made you comfortable.

Len Sipes:  Right and the beauty – and this is, I’ve talked to several people who have been through our faith-based program and tell me if I’m right or wrong – the beauty is that you could be two years out. You could be two years away from the faith-based program, you’re doing fine, you’ve got a job, you’re off of drugs. Everything is going okay but suddenly everything is not and they reinsert themselves and the faith community embraces them once again. I mean, am I right or wrong?

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct and that is the true beauty of the program because we are the faith community at the same time that we work with CSOSA, we are the faith community so they can always come back and receive the services and the support just as if they never left and some cases people don’t leave because we become their surrogate family, their second family so they come to us and they become members of the faith institutions, of course we don’t [PH] prosthetise or we don’t force anyone…

Len Sipes:  Right and I do want to get that point across very clearly that they do not have to belong to the Muslim religion, the Baptist religion, the catholic religion, the Jewish – they don’t have to… they can just come and be mentored.

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct and they never have to join a faith institution at all but some people do. They choose to and like I said, they become active members of that congregation and I’d like to point out that La Juana at her faith institution, Covenant – she joined. She is a member of their choir. She sings very beautifully.

Len Sipes:  Wonderful. Wonderful. Congratulations.

Natasha Freeman:  And she’ll be modest – she has a very wonderful talent in singing and she has performed at the Kennedy Center so that is something

Len Sipes:  Now that’s quite a transformation going from the system to the Kennedy Center La Juana.

La Juana Clark:  Yes. I performed at the Kennedy Center three times as a matter of fact. Once was for … in 2011 – I was still on probation mind you, and I performed at the Kennedy Center, we had a celebration of Let Freedom Ring, it was for Martin Luther King’s birthday and we performed under the director of Nolan Williams and we backed up Patti LaBelle. It was a wonderful show.

Len Sipes:  WOW – that’s an amazing experience all right. Well first of all, thank you so much both of you for being on the program. Ladies and gentlemen we’re going to close. Natasha Freeman, she’s a Cluster Coordinator with Israel Manor Incorporated. She is with Israel Baptist Church in North East. La Juana Clark used to be under our supervision. She used to be a part of the program – actually you still are right?

La Juana Clark:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  You still are part of the program and that is one of the wonderful things about what we do. You’re over there at Covenant and congratulations La Juana to all the successes that you’ve had and I do want once again to take an opportunity to remind everybody that our big yearly faith-based mentoring program is going to be at St. Luke’s Catholic Church. St. Luke’s Church Center, 4923 East Capital Street, South East Washington DC on February 21st and there is plenty of parking. It is a very large operation. We have hundreds of people from all over the city involved in the Mentor and Mentoring program that come together to celebrate the success and the challenges of the Mentoring program. If you need additional information, go to our website,  Thank you for your cards, your letters, for your emails, for your feedback in terms of what we do and have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Women Offenders-CSOSA Reentry Reflections 2013-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is going to be about women offenders, always one of the more popular programs and one of the more interesting programs that we do. We have three guests with us today – Dr. Willa Butler, she is the Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women. She used to run groups and in fact invented groups for my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We have Patricia Bradley, and she is going to be off of our supervision this September, thank God, and she is doing extraordinarily well. Marcia Austin is another person doing well, off in April, and we are here to talk about women, and women and crime, women and the criminal justice system. There is going to be an event coming up in Washington, D.C., on February 9th from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 in the afternoon discussing the Women’s Reentry Forum, 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast D.C. It’s part of the larger Reentry Reflections events held over the course of January and February. You can find more information about all of the events about Reentry Reflection, www. – my agency –; and to Will and to Patricia and Marcia, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Women: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Len Sipes: That was a very long introduction. Willa Butler, boy, have you been around. You invented practically our women’s program here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, even to the point where it is now a priority for us to be sure that gender-specific programs are integral to what it is that we do on a day-to-day basis. You’ve invented groups, you’ve expanded groups, you’ve expanded services to women offenders. Why is the emphasis on women caught up in the criminal justice system so important, Willa?

Willa Butler: Well, I want to say thank you for having me back, Leonard. The most important thing to me, I have such a compassion for our female offenders because so long ago, when you look at the history, women have gone unnoticed or forgotten. As far as men are concerned, women were never intelligent enough to commit crimes therefore the system was not designed for them, and when you look at basic traditional counseling or even the system is designed for men by men.  And then over the years, in 1998, when the drug trafficking laws increased and women started going to prison for little petty crimes that listed them in the area of a king pin, then we had an over-flux. We had an over-flux of women to enter the penal system and it was like, well what are we going to with these women? Where are we going to put them? And it just gave us an understanding that as a parole officer during that time, how do we work with women? We knew it was something different but we didn’t know what the difference was, and I just studied it. I studied it and I investigated it, and I found out it’s that women are not needy, it’s just their needs were never met. And through law investigations and studying and having groups, gender-specific groups to address the vulnerabilities of women, we were able to develop the gender-specific programs for CSOSA, and from that came the Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women which is a reentry program for women coming home from prison because housing is a very big problem for women coming back home – housing, employment, it’s whole plethora of things that affects the female offender, but I could go on and on. I hope I answered the question.

Len Sipes: I think I just about cried when you retired from the Court Services and  Offender Supervision Agency and you went over with New Day because I had been dealing with you for the last ten years and it’s like what am I going to do without Willa Butler?

Willa Butler: Oh, thank you.

Len Sipes: So ladies and gentlemen, people listening to this program, I have had literally hundreds of women in the ten years that testify to the fact that Willa Butler has changed their lives, and Willa, I will always be grateful for your involvement in the criminal justice system. Before going on to the ladies who are our guests, I do want to very quickly run over some statistics. Men compared to women, women compared to men caught up in the criminal justice system – women have higher rates of AIDs, higher rates of mental health problems, much higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, much higher rates of physical or sexual violence. Approximately 7 out of every 10 women caught up in the criminal justice system have children, and women have higher rates of substance abuse. So there’s a bit of statistics or a series of statistics that does taught about, Willa, the difference between men and women offenders. Women offenders, they come out of the prison system or they come off probation, they have a wide array of problems that male offenders do not have, in fact they have more problems than male offenders, correct?

Willa Butler: Yes, it is correct. It just that they have more in a sense that although men go through the same things – of course they don’t have children – it’s just that women process it differently. When we start off at an early age, when you look at the criminogenic gender risk factors, when you take mental illness, we’ll look at that first because a lot of times mental illnesses stem from the trauma that the women have experienced as children and it was never addressed, or if it was addressed, it was addressed in a very negative way meaning that we’re not going to talk about it, we’re going to push it under the rug, what part did you play in it, it was your fault, and things off nature. And so what the women do as children, they carry that baggage with them. They carry at a young age the guilt and the shame that I have experienced that was placed on me. I did not cause this. I have no refuge, and the refuge that they find usually will come with the drugs or the substance abuse, somewhere, or in other relationships, somewhere where I can feel this void, where I could be loved, where I could be really taken care of. And a lot of times they get hooked on the drugs and then, like I said, the trauma goes unaddressed, and the trauma which can stem into mental illness, and then that’s not addressed.

Len Sipes: Sexual and physical violence is a common, common occurrence in the life of women offenders, and the vast majority of that takes place before the age of 18. Am I correct or incorrect?

Willa Butler: Yes, that is correct.

Len Sipes: All right. Before getting into the ladies, again, a reminder, our Women’s Reentry Forum, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, is going to be on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00 at 700 Southern Avenue in Southeast Washington, D.C. You can get additional information about all of the events that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency on Reentry Reflections, a whole series of events dealing with the concept of reentry at Patricia?

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: How are you doing?

Patricia Bradley: I’m doing great. How are you?

Len Sipes: I’m fine. Now, you’re off supervision, correct?

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: And you’re off supervision as of September 2012.

Patricia Bradley: That is correct.

Len Sipes: Congratulations.

Patricia Bradley: Thank you.

Len Sipes: What did it take to come off supervision successfully? All we ever hear are the negatives. All we ever hear from the media is the fact that the person did not do well. You’ve done well. What was the key ingredient in you coming through the criminal justice system, you coming from an incarcerative setting and doing well?

Patricia Bradley: It was easy for me. I can’t speak for a lot of the other women. For me it was real simple – support. A lot of women don’t get just moral, simple support. I had requirements. I had a one-year probation, that was my sentence, and it was simple. I was to report to CSOSA to do weekly [PH 0:08:41] urinals. I was going twice a week, and then I got a once-a week, and then it went to a month, and then it was phased out, and it’s just simple requirements. And sometimes, if you’re a substance abuse user, it can be difficult. First of all, you’ve got to get yourself together and stop using your substances first, you know. That’s step one. For me it was going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, meeting with my probation office regularly. I was scheduled to meet with him. And it just wasn’t hard. It was just something real simple, you know, and then me being a resident at out New Day too, Temple of Praise Transitional House. They helped also because that was one of my support mechanisms because without support, in some cases with some women like me, with not only just substance abuse issues, I also have mental health issues as well but you have to address all your issues.

Len Sipes: But look, to me the idea of a woman coming out of an incarcerative setting, coming out – she has kids. You have kids, correct?

Patricia Bradley: Yes, I do.

Len Sipes: Seven out of 10 have kids, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, not a lot of money, not a lot of support, that almost seems to be impossible to overcome all those odds, and the fact that you did it to me is courageous.

Patricia Bradley: Very – very courageous because there was a time, like I said, with the issues, because you can run into different issues. Just simple, something basic, is transportation to get to and from these places. I’m not embarrassed to say one of my sons was helping me with transportation. New Day, they helped, they had a transportation van that would take us to our appointments and different things that we had, and I think that’s where women, one of their biggest issues and biggest problems is just having their basic needs met, you know? Without that, you can’t be successful. You need help in a lot of these areas, and a lot of these programs that we do have, I think with the very few that we do have, in order to be successful, a lot of these women, including myself, they need help, you know, just simple resources, and for me, that’s how I became successful.

Len Sipes: How many kids?

Patricia Bradley: All together, six.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s a lot of kids.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they’re going to depend upon you either for financial or emotional support.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not you, it’s seven human beings – six kids and you.

Patricia Bradley: Yes.

Len Sipes: A lot of people out there listening to this program are going to say, “Hey, Patricia, I’m really sorry. You did the crime, you did the time, you committed a criminal act. I’m not putting a lot of money into you. If there’s money to be put, I’m going to give it to the school. I’m going to give it to the elderly. I’m going to give it to people from Hurricane Sandy. I not going to give it to you because you’ve been in the criminal justice system. You harmed yourself and harmed other human beings in the process. Why should I support programs for you?” So, that’s the question. Why should people support programs for people like you?

Patricia Bradley: I think we should be supported so that we can, you know, I know a lot of people don’t believe in ex-offenders being given a second chance. They think it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, but I’m here to tell them today that that is not true. Really, that’s kind of a tough question to answer but why not? I mean, one day, you never know, the persons who are saying that, they could be on the other side of the fence too because I never thought I would be an offender. When I had my incident, when I got arrested, I was like 44 years old. I’m now 46, and who would have thought I would commit a crime but I did, you know, so you never know. People really shouldn’t be so, you know, judgment because you never know.

Len Sipes: You never know.

Patricia Bradley: You never know.

Len Sipes: You never know. If you did not have the support either from New Day or from Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency – if you did not have that support, where would you be today?

Patricia Bradley: Being 100% honest you, I probably would have re-offended.

Len Sipes: You probably would have gone back to the criminal justice system?

Patricia Bradley: More than likely, I would say 100% yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Marcia!

Marcia Austin: Hey, Len.

Len Sipes: Hey, how are you doing?

Marcia Austin: I’m good.

Len Sipes: Good, and you were telling me before the program that you’re on supervision now. You’re going to be off supervision in April, and first of all congratulations for that.

Marcia Austin: Thank you, thank you.

Len Sipes: And what was your experience, Marcia? Again, this is a very emotional issue for so many of the women that I’ve talked to throughout the actually 20 years of sitting down and interviewing women caught up in the criminal justice system. They tell me often times very emotional stories, and you basically did the same thing before we hit the record button. Tell me a little bit about your background.

Marcia Austin: My background is coming up, you know, I was abused. I was told I was dumb and I’d never amount to nothing. I grew up with that, you know. I started using drugs to fit in, to have somebody to love me. I started going to jail. I started going to jail early in life because I thought being bad was the way I needed to be because that’s what I was told. I got locked up in 2008 for a stolen car and violation of probation. I got out in 2010. When I got out, I was homeless. I had nowhere to go. I was broke and lonely. I was sad. I was depressed. It wasn’t until that I met my probation officer, Miss Hunnigan, who introduced me to New Day 2. When I got to New Day 2, my emotions was going crazy because I felt caged in. I felt like I couldn’t get no help from them but I was wrong. I had a 30-day black-out period; a 30-day black-out period helped me to be able to map out my long-term and short-term goals. The 30 days allowed me to seek mental health and it helped me with anger management. We took parenting classes in New Day 2 and we prayed often. We had Bible study and we had church, and it helped me with my spiritual side of life. The love that I got from New Day 2, they encouraged me to go to school. They encouraged me to connect with my family, and that’s what I did. I went to school. I went to school for construction and I never thought that I would complete it because I was told I was dumb all my life. I did complete that class and I graduated, and the New Day team, Dr. Anderson and some of her workers, they came to my graduation. They gave me flower and candy, they gave me love and hugs, and I said, “If it feels this good being in love just by doing something good, if I can get this kind of attention, I’m going to keep going,” and that’s what I did. I’m in GED classes now and then I’m in SRO. SRO helps me save money, teaching me how to manage my money, and it’s the next step to getting my own apartment.

Len Sipes: I have two very quick questions for you and then we’re going to go for a break. So before you got involved in CSOSA and in New Day, you felt like what? Give me a quick answer.

Marcia Austin: I felt broken, lonely, on my own.

Len Sipes: And now you feel?

Marcia Austin: I have hope, you know. I feel smarter. I think that I can do anything. My probation officer – I have a probation officer, her name is Farmer, and she shows me much love. She encouraged me and let me know that I can do it, and that’s what I’m doing.

Len Sipes: Let’s go for the break. Ladies and gentlemen, you are listening to DC Public Safety. We are doing a program on women offenders. What we’re trying to do is support the Women’s Reentry Forum that we have every year in the District of Columbia. It is going to be on February 9th from 8 o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast in Washington, D.C. Again, it’s part of our larger Reentry Reflections, a wide variety of activities taking a look at reentry in the District of Columbia and throughout the nation. is the website to get additional information. Dr. Willa Butler, she is a Clinical Supervisor for Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, and she used to run groups and invent groups and invent the women’s program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Patricia Bradley and Marcia Austin are our guests who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. Marcia, let me quickly get back to you. Many of the women that I’ve talked to over the decades felt as bad as bad could possibly be, as hopeless as hopeless could possibly be because of the abuse, of the sexual violence, of people calling them names, of people not lifting them up, and I see hundreds of women at this stage of their involvement real human beings. They go from not being human at all to being fully functioning human beings. Is that where you are? Is that where you’re headed?

Marcia Austin: Well, right now I’m right where God want me to be, you know. I’m peaceful, you know. I’m going through some changes but I can deal with it. I can deal with it because I talk about it. I have a psychiatrist. I can always call the staff at New Day 2 and get any kind of information and encouragement that I need. Like I said, I have a probation officer who just smiles when I come in, you know, that makes me want to continue me to good, who encourages me, who hugs me, something I have never had out of a probation officer before. I just want to give a shout-out to Ms. Farmer because she’s an awesome probation officer first, and Ms. Ishiman. But my biggest challenge this year was kind of like leaving New Day 2. I felt like when I leave there, that there was no more love and support but that’s a lie. I call them all the time and they still support me in everything I do, and I’m just going to keep on and letting the women know who’s in the criminal justice system that we need help and we can get it, you know. We just got to keep pushing on. We got to keep the hope.

Len Sipes: And if these programs were not there, where would you be?

Marcia Austin: I would be homeless right now. Without New Day 2, I would have been homeless. I was homeless before I got there. I was broken and depressed. I mean, I was going from house to house to house, you know, and I just thank God for Bishop Staples and Dr. Anderson and Dr. Butler for New Day 2 because I would be in the streets. By now I would be locked up, you know, because when I’m homeless, I steal, I have no food to eat, so when they accepted me into the program, I was the first female there, I mean, I just was shown incredible love.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to go back to you. Okay. So how many times have we done this sort of radio show? This is what, our tenth, eleventh, twelfth time we’ve done this sort of radio and television show, and every time you bring me women who were broken human beings and you’re now at the end of their supervision, at the end of their treatment programs. You bring me women who are repaired human beings. They’re taking care of their kids. They’re taxpayers. They’re not tax burdens. They’re not committing crimes. How in the name of heavens do we convince people that these are programs worthy of support?

Willa Butler: First of all, just listening to the stories here, it’s very rewarding for myself and to have the understanding, and I want people to have the understanding that a second chance is what it is. It is a second chance. We talk about keeping the community safe and reducing recidivism, and the only way you’re going to do that is to ensure that our women, they have jobs, that they’re able to sustain themselves, they can take care of themselves and their families. Just like both Patricia and Marcia were saying earlier, if they didn’t have a place to go, if they didn’t have income, they would go back to committing crimes again because that’s the way they know how to survive and that’s the only way that they have learned how to survive, and if we keep pushing them down and stereotyping them and saying that we’re not going to help you, all we’re doing is what, we’re throwing fuel into the fire, and we can’t do that. When a person is productive, you build self-esteem, they’re building their residual strengths, and like Marcia said and Patricia, “I can do all things,” you know, and that’s what we are promoting here, letting people know that we need their support. And while they’re at New Day 2, we have a lot of wrap-around services that they are getting involved in, they get their needs met, and then they come out and they’re working and they’re productive citizens again.

Len Sipes: The question becomes do we want a more dangerous society or do we want a safer society?

Willa Butler: Right.

Len Sipes: Do we want people paying taxes or do we want people taking our tax money?

Willa Butler: Right. Right. That’s right. We want what? – We want more people paying taxes. We want a drug-free and crime-free environment especially here in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: And we want kids to be taken care of.

Willa Butler: We want our kids to be taken care, and not only that, once we do that, we break that cycle of pain because it’s only going to continue to the next generation, you know, and that’s what we’re trying to stop. We stop here, as they say, the buck stop here, right now and here, and this is beautiful for me to hear these women and to know that not only have I played a part working with CSOSA but also at the Temple, at the Transitional Home, because we brought the same I guess techniques that I’ve used before over there, the Wicker Program, empowering women, and building them up, and letting them know, hey, I can do it. I can really do this thing this time. And like I always say – I know I talk a lot, forgive me – I always say that women are not needy. We always look at women as being needy. No, they are not needy. Their needs have never been met, and if you are constantly in a position where nobody is hearing you, nobody is giving me what I need to survive in this world; of course I’m going to appear to be needy. Of course I’m going to appear to be less vulnerable. Of course I’m going to seem like no, I can’t do it, but I can. I can.

Len Sipes: But the astounding thing to me is that it takes the criminal justice system to intervene in the lives of women? What about everything that happened beforehand? – And Patricia, I’m going to go – I keep giving you the touch questions, Patricia, so get closer to that microphone. I mean, you know, what is it? I mean, we’re the criminal justice system. I mean, it takes us to save you guys and get the programs together to allow you people to cross that bridge to being productive human beings?

Patricia Bradley: Unfortunately, it does, and that’s not really to me a good or bad thing because without it, somebody has to – we have to start somewhere and unfortunately it’s with the criminal justice system. The problem is in society, again, nobody wants to take responsibility for how everything is with the criminal justice system, the criminals themselves, but at some point we have to draw the line, you know.

Len Sipes: And at some point you have to either have the programs or it just continues and continues and continues, and then it affects the kids, your own kids, and then it continues with them. Somewhere along the line it’s got to stop.

Patricia Bradley: It has to stop. We could stop it now before it gets to the kids. The kids are our future, you know. If we don’t stop it now and if society try to get a grip on this, then the kids will be doing the same thing as the parents are doing.

Len Sipes: And this is something that we in the criminal justice system and in criminology have seen decade after decade after decade – women ignored, their problems ignored, and it just continues unabated.

Patricia Bradley: That’s right.

Len Sipes: So, okay, so I’m going to Marcia. We’re in the last couple minutes of the program, so speedy answers. I’m going to give you the same terribly rough question that I gave to Patricia, and that is so people are going to say, “Look, we’ve got all these fiscal difficulties. We’ve got all these budgets cuts. People are asking more of my tax money. Damn, I’ve got to give money to you all? Why? I’ve got schools it should go to. I’ve got my grandmother; she’s getting old, give the money to her. Why give it to ‘criminals’?” So answer that for me, Marcia?

Marcia Austin: Well for me, I am a criminal, I was a criminal, and I changed my life around through help. I mean —

Len Sipes: But you’re not a criminal now.

Marcia Austin: No, I’m not a criminal now but I’m a work in progress every day, first of all. I’m enjoying my life today but what I’m saying, without the support of the United States, we we’d be lost. Without the support of transition homes, without shelters and churches, we’d be lost. We need support, you know, because it goes deeper than just being a criminal. It comes from how we was being raised and what we was taught and the things that happened to us, and we just need support.

Len Sipes: Do you understand how much courage it took for you to do what you did in terms of your background and in terms of all the things that you suffered through. Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am full of courage” because it does take immense courage to overcome what you’ve overcome.

Marcia Austin: Only by the grace of God. Only by the grace of God, only by the programs and the help of the probation officers that encourage you. That makes a difference, it really does.

Len Sipes: The final couple minutes of the program, and either one of you can jump in – so we are going to be doing the Women’s Reentry Forum at 700 Southern Avenue Southeast on February 9th from 8:00 to 3:00, and we’re going to be bringing together hundreds of women caught up in the criminal justice system, and those hundreds of women, they need to hear what, for them to do the same thing, to have the same accomplishments that you two have had. What do they need?

Marcia Austin: They need hope. They need transition homes to be open. They need shelter. They need mental health help. They need clothes and the ways to get around to look for jobs. They need education whether they’ll be able to get it online, to put resumes online. Education is very important because a lot of us don’t have education, and we just need somebody to love us and to guide us and to take a chance with us, you know?

Patricia Bradley: I attended the Forum last year, I was there, and it was very nice. When the women come, what they need, they need information, and that’s what the forum has there. They had a lot of information because a lot of women don’t know, you know. You’re not going to get your answers until you get the information so when they come out; the information is there available for them. That’s what they really need is the information, and then they can pretty much take it from there once they’ve received the information.

Len Sipes: You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. The program today has been on women offenders. We have been talking to Dr. Willa Butler, the Clinical Supervisor, Temple of Praise-New Day Transitional Home for Women, Patricia Bradley, off of supervision, and Marcia Austin, soon to be off of supervision. And ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for the extraordinarily powerful stories that you tell, and it’s always the most enlightening and heart-warming of all the other interviews that I do, Willa, these programs on women offenders. We thank everybody for listening, we really do.

Willa Butler: Yes, thank you.

Len Sipes: We appreciate your comments. We appreciate your criticisms. We appreciate whatever information that you have to give to us in terms of new programs or suggestions for how we can do this better, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]