Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – UDC Sound Advice

Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders – “UDC Sound Advice”

“Faith Based Partnerships and Offenders” features a discussion with a policy maker within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a Cluster Coordinator with CSOSA’s Mentoring Faith Based Program and an individual currently under CSOSA supervision.

Guests for this program:

  • Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Office of Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs – Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)
  • Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator for CSOSA’s Faith Based Mentoring Program
  • Tonya Mackey, an offender on CSOSA Supervision.

The show is hosted by Shelly Broderick, Dean of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law.

See for our radio shows, blog and transcripts.

Television Program available at

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[Video Begins]

Shelly Broderick:  Hello, I’m Shelley Broderick, Dean of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law and your host for Sound Advice.  In the District of Columbia, approximately 70% of convicted offenders serve some portion of their sentence in the community.  As such, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (or CSOSA)’s effective supervision of convicted offenders provides a crucial service to the courts and paroling authority and is critical to public safety.  Establishing partnerships with other criminal justice agencies, faith institutions, and community organizations is very important in order to facilitate close supervision of the offenders in the community, and to leverage the diverse resources of local law enforcement, human service agencies, and other local community groups.  Approximately 2,500 men and women return home to the District of Columbia from prison every year.  Among the challenges they face are the need for housing, health care, education, and employment.  With me today to discuss how CSOSA meets these challenges are Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director, Reverend Kelly Wilkins, Cluster A Coordinator, and Tonya Mackey, successful returned citizen and day care assistant.  Welcome.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  Let me start with you, Cedric.  We go back many years.  It’s so nice to have you on the show.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Shelly Broderick:  And I don’t get complacent, we’ll get you back, too!  Because you have a lot to talk about.  Tell us what CSOSA’s mission is and what its reach is, because it’s hugely important in the District of Columbia.

Cedric Hendricks:  CSOSA is a public safety agency responsible for supervising men and women on probation, parole, and supervised release.  So we have about 16,000 individuals under supervision on any given day, and about 60% of them are on probation, meaning that they went to court, were sentenced, and went home, and then about 40% are on parole or supervised release, meaning that they experienced a period of incarceration and have come back home.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  And what are, and you know, it’s such a crime what we do, because when we send people to prison, we don’t provide education, we don’t help people get the housing they need, and we don’t, you know, we just don’t take care of business, and so often, people come back and don’t make it.  And so that safety net that CSOSA is helping to provide is just critical to people being able to succeed.  So how many folks work at CSOSA?

Cedric Hendricks:  We have about 900 employees that work at the agency, and we’re a fairly unique federal agency because our mission is focused solely on the District of Columbia, and so the men and women that we supervise, for the most part, are residents here, and what we are trying to help them do is successfully complete their periods of supervision which can involve a few months to several years, and so what we see across the board, and this is what those who are on probation as well as those who have returned home is that, as you’ve indicated, housing, health care, education, and employment are the major challenges that they face, and so we’re very active in trying to partner with the District government, the faith community, and nonprofit resource and service providers to try and help those we supervise meet the needs that they have.

Shelly Broderick:  Okay.  Tonya, let me turn to you.  You’re a returned citizen.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  You were locked up for how long?

Tonya Mackey:  For about five years.

Shelly Broderick:  And you came back to the District of Columbia?

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  All set, you were ready to go, everything was perfect?

Tonya Mackey:  Not –

Shelly Broderick:  No, okay.  It’s not surprising.  How did you, you went to CSOSA, because you were required to –

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly, for reentry.

Shelly Broderick:  And tell me what advice they gave you.

Tonya Mackey:  The advice they gave me was just some little simple things that, at first, didn’t sound so simple, but I knew I wanted my freedom and I wanted to be on the street, and so I did what was necessary.  It took, it wasn’t all good, but at the end, I’m on top because I’m successfully completed, and through CSOSA, what they told me was, is that I needed to, I needed to get some help from some other women, and a lot of times, women like me never really wanted to communicate with other women because we didn’t, I didn’t think that we had anything in common but being a woman, but thank god that CSOSA sent me to a faith based program where I met Reverend Kelley, who is now my spiritual guidance, and I have a mentor from a program which is from women based empowerment, it’s a program called Empowerment for Women.  Ms. Mignonne who teaches it, I got a whole lot out of it, and what they help me to do was deal with my mom, coming home in society, dealing with other women, dealing with getting an education, dealing with how to ask someone how you get housing, where to go and ask, believing in myself again and believing in God, and –

Shelly Broderick:  Talk about your mom.  Talk about your mom.

Tonya Mackey:  My mom, who has been there with me for my whole entire life, she, I have always done, I felt like I have always done wrong to her, and now I’m trying to make a difference in her life and my life, actually my life first, and then her life, because that’s the only way I can do it.  My mom is a cancer survivor, she’s been diagnosed, she just –

Shelly Broderick:  She just found out.

Tonya Mackey:  – just found out she was diagnosed with cancer, and I went on actually my first cancer walk with her last year, so –

Shelly Broderick:  Wow.

Tonya Mackey:  – to be, the grace of God, and I always say, to be, to God, because without him, I know that I wouldn’t be on this journey, and other people that help me along the way so far, CSOSA, and faith based led program.

Shelly Broderick:  So you came out of all this in West Virginia –

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  – and you came back, and one of the first things that happened is you found out your mom had cancer.

Tonya Mackey:  Yes.

Shelly Broderick:  Now is that the kind of stress that can really –
Tonya Mackey:  – take me back out, or would have.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s right.

Tonya Mackey:  Would have.

Shelly Broderick:  I mean, that’s the kind of thing that makes people go back on drugs.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  As one of my friends, a drinker, says, what’s so great about reality?  You know, right?  So it’s one of those things that can just turn you upside down.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  Reverend Wilkins.  You met Tonya around that time.

Kelly Wilkins:  Yes, actually, I did, and Tonya, when I first met her, she came to the group.  It was Purpose Empowerment, women’s empowerment group.  She came to the group, and she really was not participating that much.  You know, she really didn’t want to be there.  She didn’t really see the reason why she needed to be around a bunch of women because she had never really had any bonding relationships with women before, and so I would say about, let’s say two months into the program, they started in December, somewhere about February, we had that, we had awful snow in the District of Columbia, and I remember people in the group calling me saying, is there a way we can still meet at the church?  And I’m thinking, like, no, there’s no way!

Tonya Mackey:  We can’t get there!

Kelly Wilkins:  So the facilitator who was just, she created the program, and she’s completely committed to it, figured out a way for them to talk on the phone, to really deal with whatever stresses they were dealing with, being locked in the house because of the snow, so I mean, awesome support for Tonya, and I saw her grow.  I mean, she just grew so phenomenally from December, and she graduated in May, the first week of May.  So yeah, it was a 17-week program at that time.

Shelly Broderick:  What does that feel like?  Was it hard at first?

Tonya Mackey:  At first, yes.  I was like, didn’t want to be there, I wasn’t going to participate, I was going to go pass and go through –

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off your list.

Tonya Mackey:  Right, right.

Shelly Broderick:  Check it off.

Tonya Mackey:  But after a while, you know, even after I finished the program, now I’m returning back.  So it was real, it was a real blessing to me because now I have, like Ms. Kelly says, I have women that I can call, we can talk, we can bond.  We can talk about anything that’s going on.

Shelly Broderick:  What kinds of things?

Tonya Mackey:  We talk about how we hurt our families, we talk about how we can make a difference in other people’s lives, how I can come back, and this right here is even a blessing to me, because I was like, oh wow, somebody’s calling me and asking me to be a power attraction to someone else, whereas I had low self esteem, low self worth, didn’t think that I could become better than what I am today, and I feel real good about where I am today, and where I’m at today is that I’m helping my mom, even with her cancer, the part of surviving, you still have to go back and get treatments, but I’ve been able to be accountable today.  You know, I’m not stealing her money today.  I’m not lying today.  You know, it feels real good.  You know, a lot of times, she still may have doubt, but that’s not up to me.  As long as I stay on this path, I know that everything’s going to be all right, because she’s along with me to take care of her children today, that she had just started her business, her own day care business, so now I am an assistant to her, and it feels real good, and like I said, I graduated from the empowerment, women’s empowerment program, and I still go back, and I still constantly go down to the courts every now and again, and just to hear cases, and to find out how I used to be and how I can go back, and I don’t want to go back.  I want to stay where I’m at today, and being here with you guys makes me feel so good, lets me know that I’m accomplishing something.

Shelly Broderick:  It lifted me up, I’ll tell you that!  I was a defense attorney for a long time, and I watched some of my clients go away for a good long period of time, and it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes you can feel like it can be a good thing, just put a stop in the action, get away, it’s not a good place you ever want to send anybody, but get to a place where you’re out of this environment and get it together and come back and make it work, and you know, for so many people, it doesn’t work because they come back and they don’t have the safety net and the support system and the help.  You come back, you can’t get into housing.  You can’t get public housing.  Okay, where are you supposed to, oh, back in the old neighborhood!

Kelly Wilkins:  Yeah, and let me just say, support is very critical to recovery and reentry.  Without support, we can’t do it by ourselves.  Even the faith, the faith based community can’t assist returning citizens by themselves.  That’s why we need Court Services to be a partner with us.

Shelly Broderick:  Tell me what the partnership looks like.  How do you enter in?

Cedric Hendricks:  We came to recognize at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency that we couldn’t do it by ourselves, and that we really needed to have solid partnerships with the natural resources, the natural systems in the community.  There are many neighborhoods in the District of Columbia where you can find a church on every block, and all of these faith institutions have ministries. They’re about the business of serving their congregations and their communities in a wide variety of ways, and so what we saw to do was tap into that network.  So back in 2002, we put out a call to the faith community through using a strategy called re-entry Sunday, and through having collaboration, communication with faith institutions, we were able to build a network that was willing to work with us, and from the congregations of those faith institutions, many men and women came forward to serve as mentors for those men and women who had come home from prison.  So that work continues to this day, and we continue to match men and women who are coming home with mentors so that they can have someone to talk to, as Tonya indicated, many of our mentors are returned citizens as well, and we’re allied with faith institutions across the city who are opening their doors to be helpful in so many wonderful ways.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s fantastic.  So my first job at a college was at Lorton Prison doing group therapy with inmates.  Now why did they hire a 21-year-old white girl?  I don’t know!  What were they thinking?  But anyway, you know, I learned way more than I taught, and I had an opportunity to meet a lot of guys who it was clear to me didn’t need to be there.  Guys who got in trouble when they were real young, just 20 to life, right?  20 to life is what everybody got.  And they just did maybe 15 years of that, no education, no job training, just, and they were poets: smart, interesting, thoughtful people being wasted, and I think it had a huge amount to do.  Actually in college, I worked at a halfway house on Euclid Street for inmates within six months of release.  I was at AU, I didn’t know anything.  But I was interested.  I don’t know why.  And then I ultimately went to law school and became a defense attorney.  So this is a world that I care very deeply about, and I’m so glad to hear, because it really, it’s so important to put these families back together, because what happens is the kids don’t know Dad or Mom, and there, it’s just, it’s destructive forever if we can’t make this kind of connection and help you make it work.

Tonya Mackey:  That’s what, actually, I was getting ready to say something on that part right there about you saying that a lot of times, the parents, you know, don’t really have the time to be there, and then they get subjected to some things you might have just one father, one mother trying to do the best that they can, and a lot of times, we make our own decisions too, you know, but when we get the help that we need.  I know it’ll be a lot more than me that would do better than they’re doing.  It’s just that we have to want to do the best that we can, and today, I’m just choosing, saying, I wasn’t great, I wasn’t good all my life, and that’s why I’m here saying that if we put forth the effort, we can be the best people that, we can be whatever we want to be.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s a wonderful think.  So Reverend Wilkins, talk about your church and how this came about for you and –

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay.  Well –

Shelly Broderick:  We love your church, and we want to give them full credit.

Kelly Wilkins:  I attend Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, which is on South Capitol Street SW.  My pastors are Drs. Christine and Dennis Wiley, and at our church, I serve as the associate minister of social justice and reentry, and we also have a nonprofit, which is called Covenant Full Potential Development Center, and that’s really how we are able to work with Court Services is through our nonprofit organization, and our church, we have a, we’re a very progressive church.  We have a very strong social justice stance in our community, so we, this is our area.  We believe that helping the least of these is our calling and our job.  We’re located in Ward 8, and Ward 8, which most of the returning citizens return home to Ward 8, a large portion of them, and it’s a lot of poverty in Ward 8, and –

Shelly Broderick:  And not very many jobs.

Kelly Wilkins:  Not many jobs –

Shelly Broderick:  Not housing that –

Kelly Wilkins:  That’s right.

Shelly Broderick:  – folks have access to.

Kelly Wilkins:  But they’re good people in Ward 8, and they just need the support, and they need the support of our faith community as well as our federal agencies, and I think advocacy is really at the top, and when we look at returning citizens, I think the environment, the whole attitude towards returning citizens has begun to change because of advocacy in the community.  There are plenty of advocacy groups, and our church tries to partner with as many as possible so people know that, you know, just because you were incarcerated doesn’t mean that you’re not a person, that you’re not human, that you don’t deserve a second chance, that you did pay your dues, so it’s time to allow people to have a second chance, and so our church takes that stand as the lead institution for 7 and 8.  When you say Cluster A coordinator, that means I actually recruit mentors and services for 7 and 8, but we do a lot of citywide events and services as well, and so part of our church’s stance on returning citizens is, not to be silent about it.  Let’s not be silent about incarceration anymore.  I think the, particularly, African American community has felt ashamed about incarceration, where you talk about the number of years that people went away, and we didn’t know the impact of that in our own families.  It has exacerbated our families in our communities.

Shelly Broderick:  It’s so true.

Kelly Wilkins:  And so we didn’t know what the impact of that was going to be, but what has happened is, particularly the black church, but our faith institutions, have always had a strong social justice stance, and so incarceration wasn’t a part of that.  So it is the tendency for churches and faith institutions to be silent about it.  So we want our partners to talk about incarceration: the pain, the struggle of the family, the needs, all of that.  We want to educate pastors and tell them, look, don’t be quiet about incarceration in your family.  You have people in your pews who are returning home or families who are struggling because of a family member missing, and so that’s the kind of things that we want to educate our community and our faith partners on as well.

Shelly Broderick:  It really, you know, when I was a little girl in Maine, there was a prison called Thomason Prison, and they had a store.  They had people doing crafts.  And so every time we went past there, we used to go into the store, they had prison inmates working in the store, you know, getting close to getting out, so I grew up thinking prisoners were all white, because in Maine, they’re all white, and they’re really good at crafts!  I still have this set of three paintings that we got.  I still have the stool in my kitchen made at the prison.  My sister gave us each Christmas stocking gifts last summer, all from the prison, because that was my conception as a kid.  You know, and because the prisoners I knew were getting close to coming out, it was just all very natural and, you know, we don’t do that.  We send our prisoners a million miles away.  They are completely hidden from society, and we don’t have that kind of easy give and take back and forth that I experienced.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, you know, one of the challenging things about the District of Columbia is that the District’s prison, Lorton, that you mentioned you worked at closed back in 2001, and all of our inmates were dispersed across the United States.  And that has made it, I think, extremely difficult to maintain contact with your loved ones.  So if you were locked up in Louisiana, Idaho, you’re not going to get visits from your family.  It’s even going to be challenging to get phone calls from your family, and if you’re away for five years, as you’ve mentioned, and you don’t have regular contact with your support system, it does create, I think, challenges to come back, and so it is essential that we have mentors from faith institutions to kind of step in while folks are coming back trying to reestablish connections with the community, because sometimes families are slow to embrace their loved ones when they come home.

Kelly Wilkins:  They’re mad.  Sometimes they’re mad because you left them.

Tonya Mackey:  – you took my stuff and, hey, I just don’t want to be bothered with you, I felt you have to prove a point to me, and I’ve been there, because that in and out of, coming out of jail and nobody believing in you because you said it over and over again, so when do you change?  When do we stop?  It has to.
Shelly Broderick:  Well, you make a good point –

Tonya Mackey:  But you have to make a community.

Shelly Broderick:  First of all, Alderson is, what, six hours away?  You were just right around the corner in West Virginia, but six hours, that’s crazy!  You can’t, like, there’s no plane there.  It is a trek!  It is so hard.

Kelly Wilkins:  And if you have children, how do they eat in the ride going down there, when they get down there, do you drive six hours, and then you visit an hour, and then you drive six hours back?

Shelly Broderick:  And can you afford to stay in a hotel?  Is there a hotel anywhere nearby?  A motel or anything?  No, it’s crazy.  And then, they don’t lock women up very often unless they’ve got a history, so you –

Tonya Mackey:  Yeah, I had a history.

Shelly Broderick:  You did, in and out –

Tonya Mackey:  In and out of jail.

Shelly Broderick:  – locally and all that.  So you had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  You had a mountain to climb.

Tonya Mackey:  Exactly.

Shelly Broderick:  So talk to me about your mentor.

Tonya Mackey:  Well, what happens is, a lot of times, when I go to my other program, Empowered by Women, we stay in touch, me and Ms. Mignonne, and me and Ms., my mentor, we stay in touch, Ms. Kelly, and what happens is, just like she called me today, and she was like, well, I need to kind of like, help me out.  I’m in a spot.  Not a problem, and that’s what it’s about, me being accountable today.  Even though I was at work –

Shelly Broderick:  I see that.  I’m guessing you don’t wear that on Saturday.

Tonya Mackey:  But thank god that I’m able to do that today!  You know, thank god I was able, like I said, not just come home and get a job, because I still have some things that I have to do, but I’m just helping my mom, because like, she’s going through her cancer situation, which I know God already having, and I’m her only child to speak about it, so I took my mom, when I got locked up, she was locked up, and a lot of us don’t realize that until after we get a certain amount of clean time, people in our life who we can share the real gut level things about how you treated your moms when you was on the street, and then a lot of people don’t have their mom, so I’m real grateful today that I have my mom to talk to, and like I said, I talked to Ms. Willis and them, and Ms. Kelly, like, on a regular, because it’s like, I need people in my life to keep me on the right track when I need to stay outside of myself, when I get angry, and it feels like there’s nobody in my corner, you know, I’ve learned how to pray.  I mean, it’s like, I talk to God, at first I was like, I don’t know how, I don’t know where, but I’m like, God, can you just help me.  Next thing I know, there’ll be a phone call.  I’m here.  And that’s only through the grace of God, because, hey, I always wanted to become a positive role model.  I just didn’t know how.  So today, I’ve learned how to become a better person and a better human being.

Shelly Broderick:  We’ve got about four more minutes.  You’ve got two, and you’ve got two.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, great!

Shelly Broderick:  What else do we need to know?

Kelly Wilkins:  Through the faith-based initiative, we look for faith partners.  I’m always…

Shelly Broderick:  You’re recruiting right now.

Kelly Wilkins: I guess, I’m always recruiting mentors, and I’m always trying to recruit services that will help our returning citizens –

Shelly Broderick:  How do you become a mentor?  Somebody who actually wants to, hey, you know what, I’d like to work with somebody like Tonya!  I think I could do that!  I like her, and I could do that.

Kelly Wilkins:  Be a concerned citizen.  We are looking for concerned citizens.  We have a mentor training that, a mandatory mentor training that we ask that you go through.  There’s the application and interview process, and then once you complete that process, then what happens on a regular basis is CSOSA refers clients to me.  Their parole officers, or what they call Community Supervision Officers, refer clients to us, and we will match those clients with a concerned citizen in the community, and that person, just an hour or two a week, just to make sure they’re talking to their mentees and making sure, maybe they may have certain needs.  We create a mentor plan for them, each individual in the mentor plan.  So making sure their needs are getting met –

Shelly Broderick:  I lied.  We only have one more minute.

Kelly Wilkins:  You only have one more minute?  Okay.

Shelly Broderick:  I’m going to give it to you –

Kelly Wilkins:  No problem.

Shelly Broderick:  And then you’re going to have to come back.

Kelly Wilkins:  Okay, no problem.

Shelly Broderick:  That’s what it’s going to have to take.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just say, at CSOSA, what we’re after are people successfully completing their community supervision, and that’s why Tonya’s here with us as an example of what is possible.  And so we want to let the community know that, in order to realize the success, we need help.  We partnered with the faith community, we actively partnered with the District of Columbia government, so anybody listening who wants to join this effort, they should contact me at 220-5300, and we’ll pull them into the network of help and support.

Shelly Broderick:  Absolutely fantastic.  I am so glad, especially you, Tonya, but for both of you, just to have you on and let people know there are so many positive things going on, and there is a place to get help and to get support.

Tonya Mackey:  There’s hope.  There’s hope.

Shelly Broderick:  If you are interested in learning about CSOSA and reentry programs regarding men and women returning home from prison, please visit CSOSA’s website at and click on the offender reentry link or call Cedric Hendrick’s at 202-220-5300.  CSOSA and their faith partners, partnerships, are committed to assisting our returning citizens come home and stay home.  They invite the public to assist them with achieving that goal.  I’m Shelley Broderick.  Thanks for watching, and please join me next time for more Sound Advice.

[Video Ends]


Women Offenders – DC Public Safety Television 2011

Women Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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

See for our radio shows, blog and transcripts.

Television Program available at

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is on women offenders, and one of the reasons we’re doing today’s program is the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, both in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.  Now the other issue is the fact that women offenders have higher rates of HIV, of substance abuse, of mental health problems.  But the thing that really astounds me is the difference between sexual violence when they are directed towards women offenders as children.  There’s a huge difference between the women coming into the criminal justice system, and male offenders.  To talk about what we’re doing here in Washington, D.C., and the what’s going on throughout the country, we have two principals with us today.  From my agency, we have Dr. Debra Kafami.  She is the Executive Assistant for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We also have Ashley McSwain, the Executive Director from Our Place, DC.  And to Debra and Ashley, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Thank you.

Ashley McSwain: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right.  Well ladies, we have this issue of offenders coming into the criminal justice system, and of greatly concern to us.  And they’re different from male offenders, and we need to say that straight from the beginning, that there’s a big difference between male and female offenders, people caught up in the criminal justice system.  Debra, our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re reorganizing everything that we do around women offenders.   Why are we doing this?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, CSOSA is an evidence-based organization, and a lot of research coming out has shown that women are very, very different from male offenders.  And we started to look at what were we doing for female offenders. And they were kind of like just in with the men, and we weren’t doing a whole lot of specialized programming for women, yet they have very different needs and they have very different pathways into crime.  So we started to realize that the numbers are also increasing.  We had probably about 12% of our population ten years ago that were female offenders, and now we’re up to around 16%.  And nationally, the women entering the criminal justice system have outpaced the men.

Len Sipes: Right.

Dr. Debra Kafami: From 5% to about 3.3% since 1995.

Len Sipes: Right.  Now on the second half of the program, we’re going to have Dr. Willa Butler, she runs women groups for us, and we’re going to have an individual currently under supervision.  So she’ll talk more about the practical reality of what we do at CSOSA in terms of dealing with women offenders.  But one of the things that Willa’s group has been able to demonstrate is that they have a pretty good success rate, once you take women offenders, put them into a program, put them into a group setting where they can talk through these issues, where they can sort of help and heal each other.  So we’re reorganizing in CSOSA, in Washington, D.C., around these groups, correct?  And we’re going to add a day reporting component, and all women offenders are going to be reporting to one field agency.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So we’re just reorganizing everything we do!

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.  What we decided to do was to create three teams at one of our field sites, centrally located near Union Station and have the women report there.  We’re establishing a day reporting center, just for female offenders, so they can come in one place and get services.  And their programming will be completely separate from the male offenders, which we did not have before.  Women behave differently even when they’re in groups, and they’re less likely to open up when they’re in groups with male offenders.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I’ve attended a couple of Willa’s groups, and I have to ask permission to come in, and the women have to get to know me and like me before they even allowed me inside the group.  But once there, it was a really extraordinary experience.

Dr. Debra Kafami: We’re also especially training our staff to work with female offender.

Len Sipes: In terms of the gender specific?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Ashley McSwain, Executive Director of Our Place, DC.  First of all, Our Place — and I’ve said this constantly — is maybe the most comprehensive one-stop service for women coming out of the prison system anywhere in the United States.  It’s amazing!  Instead of sending the people coming out of the prison system over here for legal assistance, over there for clothing, over there for HIV, you’ve got all of these services under one roof.  I have no idea as to how you do it.  And I’ve heard so many women caught up in the criminal justice system speak so highly of Our Place, DC.  So tell me a little bit, what is Our Place, DC?

Ashley McSwain: Okay.  We work with women who are currently and formerly incarcerated.  So we actually go into the facilities and we offer employment workshops, legal clinics, HIV programming, and we offer case management prior to women ever being released.  So we have really good relationships with the prisons, the jails, the half-way house.  In addition, when a woman is released, she can come to Our Place and we have a drop-in center where she can just drop in, and we offer her tokens for the metro.  We offer birth certificates, identification.  We have a clothing boutique where she can get clothing.  We have HIV prevention and awareness programming, so she can get condoms, and we have a HIV 101 that every woman is subject to.  We have an employment department to help women get resumes.  We actually have a legal department, so we have two full-time attorneys on staff, which is one of our biggest programs.  We take collect calls from women.  We get five hundred calls a month.  We have a case management program so we work with women four months before they’re released, and then we work with them after they’re released.  So it’s very, very comprehensive.  We have a visitation program where we take family members to various facilities to visit their loved ones.  So, yeah, we do quite a bit at Our Place.

Len Sipes: That is amazing.  We did a radio show a little while ago, and I said, during the radio show, that if anybody out there is looking for a wonderful 501c3 tax exempt organization where they can donate money, they need to look at Our Place, DC.  And the website for Our Place DC is going to be shown constantly throughout the television program.

Len Sipes: All right, so CSOSA, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Debra, our agency, we’re a Federal Parole and Probation Agency.  Women are a part of who we supervise, Ashley.  Women come into Our Place, D.C. and get all of these comprehensive services.  I love the fact that you’re inside the prison system, making contact with women long before they come out.  So let’s get to the broader philosophical issues of women offenders, if we could for a second.  There’s a huge difference between men and women.  Certainly one of those issues is the fact that the great majority of women coming out have kids.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, I don’t want to be overly stereotypical, and I’ll probably get phone calls, but the sense that I get from a lot of the male offenders is that they don’t see themselves as responsible.  The sense that I get from the women offenders is they want their kids back.

Ashley McSwain: Yes.

Len Sipes: How do you do that?  How do you come out of the prison system with all the baggage that you have to carry, in terms of finding work and re-establishing yourself, and taking care of a couple kids?  That, to me, almost seems to be impossible.  Ashley?

Ashley McSwain: Yes, it’s extremely difficult.  And one of the things that’s happening now, since we’re looking at gender-specific issues, is this idea that women have to not only build a foundation for themselves when they’re released, but they also have to build foundation for their children.  And acknowledging that as being their reality is helpful, as we help them prepare for their future.  It’s very difficult.  What we do at Our Place is try to build some of the basic foundations, you know, so housing, and dealing with whatever the underlying legal issues are, and helping them identifying jobs.  And then we tackle this issue of getting custody of children and identifying visitation, and those kinds of very serious issues.

Len Sipes: We talked about higher rates of substance abuse, Debra.
We talked about higher rates of HIV.  We talked about higher rates of mental health problems, and this astounding issue of the rate of sexual violence being directed towards them when they were younger, a lot of cases by family members and friends.  Most of the women offenders that I’ve come into contact with throughout my career have got a rock-hard crust.  If we’re going to have any hopes of — I mean, public safety is our first priority.  We’re not going to hesitate putting anybody back in prison if that’s going to protect public safety.  But if we’re going to really succeed in terms of getting these individuals through supervision successfully, we have to have programs.  For the programs to be successful, we’ve got to break through that hard crust.  How do we do that?

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well it’s not an easy job, that’s for sure, and that’s where our specialized programming comes into play, with our specially-trained staff that we have.  I know Dr. Butler will talk about the Women in Control Again Program, but that’s just one example.  We also want to address the substance abuse issues.  Many of them don’t get enough treatment while they’re incarcerated, and they need that.  We also work with them on traumatization and victimization issues.  Housing — housing is another big issue for the women, trying to find stable housing.

Len Sipes: Especially in Washington, D.C.!

Dr. Debra Kafami: They face, really, an insurmountable — almost — number of problems. — And family reunification is another very big one.

Len Sipes: Right.  But I mean, getting, breaking through that hard crust, I mean, sometimes they can be as hard as nails.  When they come out of the prison system, they don’t trust you.  Why should they trust us?  We just put them in prison.  Why should they trust government?  Ashley, isn’t that one of the most difficult things when a woman comes out of the prison system and gets into Our Place, isn’t that one of the most difficult things that you have to deal with, and your staff?

Ashley McSwain: Well, one of the things that happens is that because we are working with the woman prior to her release, we’re actually establishing a relationship, a trusting relationship, with her before she’s released.  Our Place has a really good reputation of being a safe place, and so when the women come here, there’s this welcoming environment that says that it’s a safe place, a safe space to be.  And not only that, it’s a place where you can trust what it is that you’re sharing is confidential.  We don’t send people back to prison.  We don’t have those kinds of authorities, and so the dynamics are a little different.  So we can build a trusting relationship in a way that CSOSA and other organizations may not be able to.

Len Sipes: Yeah.  We would have a hard time because we’re a law enforcement agency, and at the same time we’re trying to break down those barriers and help them in terms of programs.  We all agree, the three of us agree, that substance abuse programs, mental health programs, HIV programs, and programs to deal specifically with this history of sexual violence, are all necessary if that individual is going to successfully complete supervision.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain: Yeah, that’s correct.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Definitely.

Len Sipes: I mean, we’re living in a day and age of cutbacks. We’re living in a day and age of limited government.  So we’ve got to be able to tell people that these programs save tax dollars.  You know, one of the programs that we have, the great majority of people successfully complete the program, which means they don’t go back to prison, which means they save tax-paid dollars, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of tax-paid dollars.  So there’s an economic incentive as well as a social incentive to be doing these things, correct?

Ashley McSwain: Yes.  I would also say that Our Place helps a woman begin to implement a plan.  So many of the women, while they’re incarcerated, they don’t know where to begin.  And so this idea of saving tax-payer dollars, you know, someone has to have a plan in which to begin to develop in order to stay out of prison.  And so that’s one of the really important services I think we offer is the ability to work with a woman so that she has some hope and some ideas about what her next steps are going to be.

Len Sipes: Okay.  And Debra, the national research does show that if you’re gender-specific in terms of your approach of dealing with women offenders, you’re going to have a much higher rate of success in terms of them successfully completing supervision.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Yes, and better outcomes.  And I did want to add that when the offender comes to CSOSA, the first thing we do is a risk-and-needs assessment, and we also come up with a prescriptive supervision or an intervention plan.  We work very closely with Our Place staff too, so our Community Supervision Officers are on the same team, with Our Place staff, to try and help guide the offender.

Ashley McSwain: I just want to say, one of the things we do is that we don’t actually create release plans.  We help implement the plans that were created by CSOSA and the Bureau of Prisons, which is really helpful for the women.

Dr. Debra Kafami: And sharing information.

Len Sipes: And sharing information.  It just strikes me that — and Debra, you and I come from the same system in the State of Maryland — the women offenders just came home and they were home.  That’s all there was to it.  I mean, there were no programs specifically for them.  There were no efforts.  We have CSOSA and we have Our Place DC.  I mean, there really is a focus now on making sure that that individual woman gets the programs and assistance that she needs, and if we do that, fewer crimes are going to be committed and fewer people are going to go back to prison, saving a ton of tax-paid dollars.

Dr. Debra Kafami: Well, not to mention too, that the women, most of them have children, and that separation from their children is not good for the children or the mother, and if we can help the women be successful and not go back to prison, it’s going to only help their children.

Len Sipes: Right, by every woman offender we help, we’re helping two or three or more other individuals have a much greater chance of having a pro-social life.  Research is clear that the rates of the children going into the criminal justice system or having problems in school are much higher if a parent is incarcerated.  So this is not only dealing with her, it’s dealing with three or four other human beings.

Ashley McSwain: Right.  And that also speaks to this issue of gender-specific.  When a woman goes to prison, you’re not only dealing with that person — woman being a mother, she’s someone’s daughter, you know.  So all of these people are impacted when she’s incarcerated, and also they’re impacted when she’s released.

Len Sipes: Right.  So I think we’re going to out the program with that.  I really appreciate the fact that you two were here and set up this whole program.  On the second half, ladies and gentlemen, what we’re going to do is talk to Dr. Willa Butler.  She runs groups for women offenders, and we’re going to talk to an individual currently under supervision.  Please stay with us as we explore this larger issue of women offenders in the criminal justice system.  We’ll be right back.

[Music Playing]

Len Sipes: Welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  We continue to have a conversation about women offenders.  In the first half we did talk about the fact that there are more women coming into the criminal justice system, and the question becomes what is our agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, doing about it, and what’s happening throughout the country.  With the bottom line behind all of that are gender-specific programs, and the research is pretty clear that if you have these gender-specific programs, programs and treatment specifically designed for women offenders, they have much better outcomes.  And we have two individuals to talk about much better outcomes, Dr. Willa Butler, she’s a group facilitator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency, and Talynthia Jones is a person currently under supervision by my agency.  And to Dr. Butler, to Willa, and to Talynthia, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Dr. Willa Butler: Thank you.

Len Sipes: Willa, this whole process with the group — you’ve run the group.  I have seen some of the groups.  It is an amazing place to be when the women under your supervision open up.  Some of the stuff that they talk about is scary.  I always like to refer to it as a trip to Mars, because their experience probably is not your experience.  It certainly hasn’t been my experience in terms of all of the issues that they have had to deal with in life.  A lot of these individuals come to us battered and bruised, and we’re not making excuses for their criminality, and we’re not saying we’re not going to send them back to prison.  We will in a heartbeat if that’s going to protect public safety.  But your group has a good track record of getting them through supervision successfully, and considering the issues they bring to the table, I find that astounding.  So tell me a little bit about this group process.

Dr. Willa Butler: What it is, WICA — Women in Control Again. It’s a group that I developed some years ago for the agency, and it deals with the issues and concerns of the female offender. — Their pathways to crime, how they got started in the criminal justice system, and knowing how they got started lets us know how we can keep them from returning and breaking that cycle of pain.  And what we deal with in group, we deal with first of all we start with who they are.  And a lot of women don’t know exactly who they are, because they’ve been out in the drinking and drugging for so long, and at such an early age, it’s like, “I really don’t know who I am today.  And now that I’m clean, I’m trying to find myself”, in a sense.  And that’s what we deal with, things of that nature.  And we deal with the substance abuse, and the whole gamut, the parenting skills, housing, whatever issues that concerns them.  That’s mainly what we deal with.  There’s basically seventeen critical issues that we deal with in that group process.  But the main thing is showing empathy, showing that you care, and developing a trusting environment, where they can not only trust you, but trust each other.

Len Sipes: The criminologists call it cognitive restructuring, and there is plenty of research out there that indicates that that works.  Now “cognitive restructuring” to the average person listening to this program is helping individuals think differently about who they are and what they are.  My guess is that a lot of the women involved in your groups have never dealt with that subject before in their lives, have never had an opportunity to say, “Who am I?  What do I want to do?  Where do I need to go?”  Is that correct?

Dr. Willa Butler: That’s correct.  And when you talk about cognitive restructuring, it’s basically getting to the core, getting to the core factor as to why I do the things that I do.  And once we find that out, then we can start changing, because that begins to empower the person.  And we know what our limitations are, and we also know what our assets are as well, and it helps us to develop.

Len Sipes: I’m going to go over to Talynthia in a couple seconds.  But you and I have had other programs together about this topic, and my favorite story is when I was with the Maryland Correctional System and sitting down with a bunch of women offenders, and they actually told me that prison, in this pre-release center, was preferable to going home at times.  And I always found that astounding, why would an individual find prison to be preferable to life on the outside.  And they said to me that they’ve never felt safer.  They’re getting their GED.  They were getting at that point a food certificate, a culinary arts certificate.  And they were running groups.  And for the first time in their lives, they weren’t trying to figure out who they were and where they were going with their lives.  And also, it was safer in prison because they had been so beaten up on the outside.  So there’s a larger, really societal issue that is at play here that we’re not going to be able to solve.  But Talynthia, over to you.  Thank you very much for being on the program.

Talynthia Jones: You’re welcome.

Len Sipes: I really appreciate it.  Now you’re currently under supervision by my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and you’re currently involved in a lot of groups.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  Does that group process work for you?

Talynthia Jones: It’s working very well for me.  Dr. Butler is a good counselor.  She’s helping me to deal with me, to learn me, to get inside myself, to know what’s going on with me and why I keep using, why I keep doing the things that I’m doing to go back in the system.  And I’ve been doing this for too long.  And as we do the group sessions and the work papers that we do, you know, in the groups, it’s helping us to not just wonder how dominate we can be to stay strong, but how dominate that we can put ourselves into another place, to learn how getting your life together is much better than to just cover it up with some mess.  And I’ve just been feeling good about myself here lately.

Len Sipes: Wonderful.

Talynthia Jones: And I love, I love every minute.  I get up early in the morning, I’m always there early, because I can’t wait to talk about me.  Because I’m tired of just having all this bottled-up junk inside me that’s keeping me going back into the places and the phases that I’ve been doing.

Len Sipes: Is this the first time in your life that you’ve had an opportunity to really sit down and talk with other people about everything that’s happened in your past?

Talynthia Jones: Yes.  It’s actually been the very first time that I’ve actually even dealt with women, because I have women issues.  And Dr. Butler is teaching me how to communicate with women, how to communicate period.  And it is very good, it’s very good.

Len Sipes: Now in terms of sharing that information, I mean, was I right before in the program where I said that a lot of women who come out of the prison system were rock-hard.  They don’t trust anybody.  They don’t trust any one for any reason.  How did Dr. Butler break through that barrier to get to you?

Talynthia Jones: She broke the barrier with me because I don’t see Dr. Butler as a Court Service Agency.  I see her as a mother figure.

Len Sipes: Right.

Talynthia Jones: Because she don’t look at us as criminals.  She look on us at people, as children, you know, children of God, you know.  And she loves us unconditionally, and she’s willing to help us. When other people out in society, they look at us, “Well, she’s nothing but a drug addict.  She’s nothing but a criminal.  She keeps doing this and she keep doing that.”  But Dr. Butler doesn’t see us that way.

Len Sipes: And in terms of this group process, if you weren’t involved in this group process, where would be now?  If you came from the prison system and all we did was supervise you and put you under GPS and drug test you and hold you accountable for your actions — if that’s all we did, we didn’t supply this gender-specific approach, this group process, where would be now?

Talynthia Jones: I would be still using.  I would be back in the penal system. Because all drugging do is cover up your feelings, covering up your emotions.  It’s covering up what you dealing with instead of you dealing with it on your own, or dealing with it with someone that’s going to help you to get involved with yourself, to let all these emotions out so that you won’t cover it up with drugs.

Len Sipes: Right.  And how to cope with life without turning to drugs.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: And so, you said you had women’s issues or issues with dealing with other women, how difficult was that? — Because you’re in these groups, you share that experience. You share all these ugly things that have happened to you throughout your life, sharing that with a group of women.  Was that easy or difficult or what?

Talynthia Jones: It was difficult when I first got in, until I saw Dr. Butler, because I was able to talk to Dr. Butler before.  And she really lets you know that it’s okay.  It’s okay to talk about what’s going on with you.  And see, I’m a person that’s afraid to talk about what’s going on with me because I’m afraid of what somebody going to think of me.  And that’s what most women think, you know.  And doing the things that we do, if we talk about it, somebody won’t think something bad about us. It’s always come to me and my attention, as brought up, that what I did was my fault.  And I know everything that I do is not my fault.

Len Sipes: Right.  Well, before we get back to Dr. Butler for the close of the program, getting back to that whole issue of how other people think about you — most people, you’re coming out of the prison system, they’re going to say, “You’re a criminal.  I don’t want to fund programs for criminals.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry.  Let’s give it to the church.  Let’s give it to the PTAs.  I don’t want programs for criminals, and I don’t want to hire criminals.”  Okay, you’re a criminal, technically.

Talynthia Jones: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay.  That stereotype — that’s the difference between what people have in their mind of criminal, and there you are, a pretty young woman who’s successfully dealing with all the issues in her life.  How do you feel about that?

Talynthia Jones: Well, it makes me feel bad for the people out there, because they don’t realize that the women here are dealing with so much emotional things, and because they are dealing with it in the wrong way, and the people don’t want to help them, it shows that they only think of themselves.  They’re worrying about themselves.  They’re not caring about what we feeling and what we going through, why we’re doing this.

Len Sipes: And you’re not that stereotype, is the bottom line.

Talynthia Jones: I’m not that stereotype.  I want the help.  And some women are out here that don’t want the help, they just want to get off paper.  But me, I want the help.  I know I need the help, not for me, but for my family.  And I have to think about me first, because if I don’t care of me, I can’t take care of no one else.

Len Sipes: Understood.  Completely understood.

Talynthia Jones: And see, and that’s what the society needs to know, that if we get the help that we need, and not only from the government, well maybe from family members, the support that we need, the love, the care and affection that we didn’t get back in our childhood that causes us to grow up in adulthood to do the things that we do.

Len Sipes: Right.  Willa, the great majority of the people that are in your groups complete them successfully.

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.

Len Sipes: The rate of successful completion is much higher than it is for men.  It’s much higher than it is for everybody combined.  I think what Talynthia just said, and it was very impressive and I thank you for sharing that story, is the heart and soul of it.  She’s getting the help she needs and she’s doing fine because she’s getting the help she needs.  Is that the bottom line behind this?

Dr. Willa Butler: Yes.  And that is the main bottom line behind, like you say, is to give them the help and support; but not only that, but to have an understanding of what’s happening.  Most of the women who have been through the criminal justice system have been raped or molested at a very early age, and that’s something that comes out in the group process.  And it gives them an understanding, like Talynthia said, and why we drug through that.  We’re not using it as an excuse, but when you’ve gone through a trauma like that, and then there’s no one out there to help you or assist you, and that’s one thing that the women don’t have as children, they didn’t have that support, that healthy network and system.  So they turn within by using drugs or whatever else was out there, and then they ended up in the criminal justice system, because they’re trying to support their habit or whatever, and live out of the normal society.

Len Sipes: And you’ve got the final word.  First of all, thank you very much, ladies, for being on the program.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us as we explored this issue of women offenders.  Look for us next time as we look at another important topic in today’s criminal justice system.  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


Women Offenders-Our Place DC-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From our nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s program is going to be on women offenders, and we have two people who are true experts on the subject. We have Ashley McSwain. She is the executive director of Our Place D.C.,, one of the most comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive women’s reentry program in the United States of America.  We also have Dr. Willa Butler.  Dr. Butler has been before our microphones before.  She’s in charge of women’s groups for my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We are a federal parole and probation agency here in the District of Columbia.  Before starting the show, what I want to do is to do something rather unusual, and that is to promote two events.  We generally do evergreen radio shows.  Well, we don’t really tag events or tie events to the radio shows, but these are important coming up.  February 5 on a Saturday in Washington DC, we have the Women’s Re-entry Forum, which is one of the reasons why we’re doing a radio show on women offenders, at the Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, February 5, this Saturday, Women’s Re-entry Forum at the Temple of Praise Church, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8AM to 3PM, come out and join us if you like.  Also, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly, which is something my organization does every year, where we bring those people involved in faith based mentoring, the successful mentors and their mentees together for a celebration of the hundreds of offenders who have been through the mentoring program.  That is at the St. Luke’s Center, 4923 E Capitol Street SE from 6:30 in the evening to 9:00, come on out and join us for a wonderful evening, an exciting evening, it is something that you have to really experience.  Again, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly at, this Saturday – I’m sorry, Saturday, boy, I’m screwing this up!  Thursday, February 10, Thursday, February 10 from 6:30 to 9:00 in the evening, and before bringing the ladies onto the radio program, what I want to do is to go over some statistics in terms of women offenders, and these I find startling.  Number one, if you take a look at male and female offenders involved in state and federal prison systems, the percentage growth for women is stronger than it is for men, so more women are coming into the prison system in terms of a percentage basis than male offenders, and we need to talk on the radio program about that a little bit today.  But if you look at other federal research, whether it’s HIV, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, or whether it’s drug use, whether it’s family violence, it is startling as to the difference between men caught up in the criminal justice system and women caught up in the criminal justice system.  Women seem to have higher percentages of HIV, mental health, astoundingly higher percentages of sexual abuse.  There’s a big difference in terms of male and female offenders.  That’s one of the things that we want to talk about on the radio show today, and also, in terms of physical and sexual violence, nearly 6 in 10 women in state prisons had experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past.  6 in 10 women, and 7 out of 10 women involved in the correctional systems have minor children.  So, I’ve laid out the stats, I’ve laid out the upcoming events that are coming out, and now to get back to our true experts on this topic, Ashley McSwain and Dr. Willa Butler, and to Ashley and to Willa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Willa Butler:  Great, thanks.

Ashley McSwain:  Hello.

Len Sipes:  Willa, I’m going to start out with you.  Now the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, our agency, we have a different focus now on women offenders.  We’ve decided to reorganize how this agency approaches women offenders.  Can you tell me a little bit about that and why we’re doing it?

Willa Butler:  Yes, I’m excited about it too.  What we’ve done, we’ve gone gender specific.  We have three teams now under the mental health branch, two mental health teams and one general supervision team that only supervise female offenders, and the purpose of going gender specific is to answer the needs that women have.  We say women are needy, but it’s not so much that they’re needy, it’s just that their needs have not been met, and over the years, the traditional counseling or any type of counseling or therapy, even treatment or supervision has been geared toward the male dominated group, which was not feasible for our female offender population, and now at this day and time, which is good that we are able to answer that, and it’s 17 critical factors of vulnerabilities that hinders women or barriers, when it comes to supervision and that type of growth, and then it’s, our groups that we have, we have our WICA, Women in Control Again, which are psychoeducational groups to address the needs that the women, and address their mental health needs and the substance abuse needs and any other type of need that they may have, because women come with a multi-facet of things that are of concern, and that’s what we’re doing today.  We’re addressing these needs, and one of them, the main thing is their pathways to crime, how did they get into this situation?  One thing we’ve learned how to have an understanding of, we have an understanding of how they got there.  Now we need to move and have an understanding of how to get them out of that situation, and that’s what we’re working on today by having a gender responsive program.

Len Sipes:  The organization is reorganizing.  CSOSA, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we’re reorganizing.  We’re reorganizing around this issue of women offenders.  So is it to play catch-up with the services in the past that have been given more to males in the criminal justice system?  Is it a matter of catching up, or is it a matter that there seem to be more women coming into the incarcerative setting where women, on a percentage basis, there’s a huge difference between the sheer numbers of men and women going into the prison system.  I don’t want to mislead the audience, by and large numbers, it’s predominantly male offenders going into the correctional settings, but the percentage of female offenders is rising.  So is it that, is it playing catch-up, is that one of the reasons why we’re going through this big reorganization?

Willa Butler:  Actually, it’s both, Leonard.  We’re playing catch-up, not only playing catch-up, but we are designing a program to address their needs, and when we say playing catch-up, because women have always been in the criminal justice system, far back as the 17th and 18th century, but they’ve never been treated fairly.  They’ve been put in dungeons, cast away.  They’ve even been put in insane asylums.  It’s like, we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to do with them.  It’s not like we don’t know, but it’s like, they just fail to address this.  It’s like, we, we’re always looked on as being insignificant, overlooked, not recognizable, and even today, because I’m talking about 17th, 18th century, even today, you look at how women are put in the federal institutions, and they wear men’s clothes, nothing is geared towards them.  But now we’re trying to respond to what the women need, and like I –

Ashley McSwain:  I also think there’s a social stigma component that has –

Len Sipes:  Right.  This is Ashley McSwain, the executive director of Our Place DC.

Ashley McSwain:  So there is a lot of shift towards women, but a lot of what plagued women offenders has been this stigma that comes with just being female, which suggests that women shouldn’t get into these kinds of troubles, and so we’re not providing the kind of services and supports, because they really, you know, they’re not the population that behaves this way, and so it makes it very difficult to go to ask for funding when society doesn’t think that, you know, there’s a problem.

Len Sipes:  Now I do want to reintroduce Ashley McSwain, she’s the executive director of Our Place DC,, and I do want to say that Our Place is one of the most, if not the most comprehensive re-entry program in the United States of America for women offenders, coming out of the prison system.  This is a one stop shop.  They go into the prisons way before the offender comes out of the prison system, they make their initial contacts in prison, they extend the invitations, they will take this individual, they will provide housing, they will provide clothing, they will provide food, you have to come in and work with them and obey the rules, needless to say, but they work with individuals piece by piece by piece, rebuild them as human beings, if you will, and then get them ready to go ahead for the re-entry program, part of it successful re-entry.  Ashley, your program is just amazingly comprehensive.

Ashley McSwain:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  I understand why you do it that way, but you know, the criminal justice system is made up of a housing piece here and a drug or a substance abuse piece there, and a legal part of it to get legal assistance over there, you’ve got everything under your roof!

Ashley McSwain:  Well, when you approach it as a female issue or a gender specific issue, then all of those different components have to fit within the needs of the female offender, and so that’s what Our Place has done, and so we recognize that there are other organizations that are providing legal support, but a lot of them don’t understand the experience of being a woman and being in the criminal justice system and all of the myriad of obligations that they have to meet in the same way that Our Place does, and so that’s the reason why the services are so comprehensive, so when a woman is still in custody, we can begin to provide her with some guidance and support.

Len Sipes:  You know, now that we’ve done the introductions, and we’ve given a sense as to what both organizations are doing here in the District of Columbia, let’s get into a larger discussion of women offenders.  They come out 7 out of 10, according to national statistics, come out, they have children in the community.  The males don’t.  Now that alone is just such an incredibly big bridge to cross.  Not only do you have to deal with your own substance abuse, not only do you have to deal with your own issues, and a lot of these individuals have histories of being abused as children.  A lot of them have histories of sexual abuse, flat out sexual abuse from young ages.  Much higher than the percentages than males.  The rate of substance abuse is higher, the rate of substance abuse is higher, the rate of mental health problems is higher, then they come out, and then they have to reunite with their own children.  That, to me, is almost impossible.  Considering the problems that we have with male offenders, and we say, 50% go back to prison in three years, that’s a national statistic, 50% don’t, by the way, but 50% do, so if that 50% are going back to the prison system, male offenders and female offenders together, throw on the obligation of taking care of your kids seems to be almost insurmountable, especially in Washington DC’s economy.  Any, who wants to take a crack at that?

Willa Butler:  Well, let me get back, address the reuniting with the children situation.

Len Sipes:  And this is Dr. Willa Butler.

Willa Butler:  That is one thing of concern, because when they come out, the main thing is, their focus is trying to be reunited with their children, and the hard part is that sometimes the children have been adopted, or they’re in foster care, they’re not, they’re going through the process of trying to get their children back, and in some instances that they really can’t get them back because of what all has, they’ve gone through while they’ve been away, while they were incarcerated –

Len Sipes:  Somebody else has been mom and dad while they’re away, and in some cases, they haven’t really come into contact, direct contact with their children for years.

Willa Butler:  Years, and some of them don’t know their children –

Len Sipes:  That’s right.

Willa Butler:  And since, and it’s kind of hard, and when we talk about the different programs being integrated, which makes it even better for the women to come out and try to work together in not only getting their kids back, but also getting themselves back together again, when you talk about an integrated treatment modality, which is feasible for addressing all of their concerns.

Len Sipes:  But again, you go back to my larger question, and that is that it’s very difficult for male individuals to come out of the prison system and find work, even if their criminality is behind them, and we have people on our caseload, by the way, that have been, it’s been years since their last positive drug test.  It’s been years since their crime.  So they’re pretty much adhering to the rules, yet they still can’t find work.  Now you have a woman offender coming out with the same set of circumstances, although she’s got kids to raise.  I mean, there’s a certain point where you can [ph] pall up so many obstacles to the point where, for women offenders, it sometimes seems impossible for them to cross the bridge.  Ashley?

Ashley McSwain:  Well, when you start thinking about the fact that this is the experience of female offenders, and you start looking at taking a gender specific approach, those are the things that you factor and consider.  Some of the women have not only their own issues to deal with, but they have the issues that come with having children, and as long as we acknowledge that that’s a part of their reentry process, then we can provide the kind of supports that they need to move forward.  Prior to this dialogue, you know, people didn’t acknowledge that women coming home also had to now deal with the responsibility of taking care of their children, and so, I mean, this is a great conversation to have to begin to think about what are the interventions that are necessary to ensure that a woman does not recidivate, or that she does not fail.

Len Sipes:  And the other part of it, and I have to close in a couple seconds to reintroduce you, not close, but reintroduce the two of you before we go on with the rest of the program, is that most of the individuals, because of that history of being abused and neglected, pushed around, you come out, you have substance abuse issues, a lot of the women caught up in the criminal justice system have led very hard lives.  They don’t trust anybody.  They don’t trust me, they don’t trust either one of you, and yet both of you put women in groups and begin to break through those barriers.  That, my guess is that out of everything that we’re going to talk about that mistrust of the system, and both of you are in one way, shape, or form, part of the criminal justice system, breaking through that barrier is the hardest part.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, I would agree with that.  I mean, one of the things we try to do at our place is create a sense of community for the women.  I mean, it’s called Our Place for a reason, so that the women can get some support from each other, you know, and some hope for some differences or some changes.  I mean, that’s what the women are seeking.

Len Sipes:  All right.  Go ahead, Willa.

Willa Butler:  I sort of piggyback on your name, Our Place, and that’s kind of our perspective in what we did when we put all the women in one building, and it’s like our place now.  This is your home, and we’re here for you, and we try to present empathy and mutual respect and develop a type of rapport, and that relaxes them –

Len Sipes:  Yeah, but we can still put it back in prison.

Willa Butler:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  I mean, it’s empathy, it’s rapport, but at what point –

Willa Butler:  – a little different.  Right now, we’re going with trying to be firm, holding them accountable, and being firm as well, but also less confrontational.  In other words, we’re trying to work within –

Len Sipes:  I understand.  I’m just pulling your chain.

Willa Butler:  You know, work with them, and let them know that they can really, they can really do this.  We’re moving more into motivating them for change and working on their recidivism and bringing it out, because it’s in them, and they just never had anybody to bring it out of them, and that’s what we’re doing today, just bringing something out of you that’s already there in a –

Len Sipes:  Want to reintroduce both of our guests.  Ashley McSwain, she is the executive director of Our Place DC,  Ladies and gentlemen, somebody out there has got some money, somebody out there has got some deep pockets, and if you’re ever looking for an organization that desperately needs financial assistance, and an organization that produces incredibly good results, reuniting mothers with their kids, taking care of the kids, taking care of the moms, moms becoming taxpayers instead of tax burdens, this is the place where you need to devote a buck or two.  Our Place DC,  Also in front of our microphones, Dr. Willa Butler, who’s funded by the Federal Government, as I am, so we don’t need your money.  Give it to Our Place.  She’s in charge of women’s groups for my organization, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency,  All right, ladies, back to the second half of the program.  Okay, so, okay, so you finally break through that barrier, that woman gives you, and sometimes, hard as nails barrier, and you finally break through, and the woman comes into either one of your groups and sees that the other women are being taken care of, and she opens up a little bit.  Once she opens up, she’s going to get involved in a history that would scare the bejeebies out of most human beings, and then you start getting into the psyche of the background of the individual, why they got involved in drugs, why they got involved in crime, why their behavior is so self-destructive, and once you’ve crossed that bridge, you have just wandered into an incredibly difficult arena, that all the problems that those individuals bring to the table in terms of their background.  Am I right or wrong?

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, you’re right, I mean, but the objective is to really break it down into smaller pieces, because it can be very insurmountable when you start thinking about all of the life experiences that brought her to the moment that she’s there, so I mean, I wouldn’t recommend that we approach it from this broad, you know, place, excuse me.  Right now, we really deal with what the woman needs at the moment that she’s there with us, and then we build from there, and we often find that the women come in for one thing, but through our dialogue and conversation, she begins to identify that there are other needs and that there are other areas of support that could assist her as she moves forward.

Len Sipes:  Right.  She comes to Our Place for legal assistance, and maybe a place to stay for a while, and suddenly, she gets involved with the other groups, and the process begins.

Ashley McSwain:  That’s exactly right.  Oftentimes, they’re coming for employment, and there’s just some underlying legal stuff that has to be addressed, and she doesn’t have any clothing, so there are some very foundational things that she needs, and a lot of times, the women we see, they don’t know how to ask for what it is that they want.  They think that it’s safe to ask for a birth certificate, but there are so many other things that they really need that they don’t feel that they can ask for, but given the right setting, you know, they’ll begin to explore a little more about what it is that they really need.

Len Sipes:  And that becomes a key issue, actually, the right setting, because a lot of people, and when I respond to emails, and comments on these programs, a lot of people are saying to themselves, look, for the love of good god, Mr. Sipes, these are criminals.  What is it about the right setting?  I just want you to protect me.  That’s your job.  Protect me, protect me, protect me.  But one of the things that the research and our own experience has pointed out pretty clearly that, if you put a human being in the right setting where you hold them accountable for their actions, I mean, public safety is CSOSA’s top priority.  Protecting the public is CSOSA’s top priority, but if you’re going to break through those barriers that he or she brings to us and work on the reasons why they’ve spent the last ten years in a bottle, or why they spent the last ten years snorting, or why they spent the last ten years with a needle in their arm, they have to be in the right setting.  We’ve got to create an environment where they’re comfortable enough to talk about who they are and what they are.

Ashley McSwain:  Yeah, the research talks about women make changes through relationships, and so, I mean, as abstract as that might seem, you have to build relationships with women in order to build trust and in order for them to become accountable for the choices that they’ve made, and that’s our objective, is to help people become aware of who they are and how their choices have affected their past and how their choices will affect their future.

Len Sipes:  And the bottom line of all that, Ashley, is that it protects public safety.  If the woman is dealing with her substance abuse, dealing with her own history, she’s going out and getting a job, she’s reuniting with her kids, that makes her a thousand times less likely to go out and reengage in criminal activity, which protects you and me and everybody else.  So we talk about the right setting, the comfortable setting, but the flipside of that is what we’re talking about is public safety.

Ashley McSwain:  That’s right, and it’s everybody’s job to provide this level of support.  I mean, these women are your mothers and your sisters and your cousins, and you know, you certainly want to make sure they have the supports they need so that they can be productive, and we all can move forward.

Len Sipes:  Right, and we as taxpayers don’t have to constantly shell money out.  If they’re off of drugs, and they’ve got their kids, and the kids are taken care of, and they’re working, that’s exactly what everybody wants!  But it’s the right setting that gets us there, and the public needs to understand that.  It can’t all be hard on the offender, hard on the offender, there’s got to be a balance.  Willa, when I talk to the different people involved in your group and Marcea’s group, you know, they praise you and Marcea, and they praise the group process, because for the first time in their lives, they’re dealing with issues that have bedeviled them for their entire lives.  For the first time, they’re actually talking about who they are, what they are, and what they need to do to kick drugs, kick mental health issues, reunite with their kids, get a job, and it’s that group process that really does seem to bring all that out.

Willa Butler:  Yeah, during our group process, first of all, we start off with the question, who am I?  They have to identify who they are first.  They might, whatever they were a drug out of, an offender, an ex-offender, right now, this is what, who I am, but now I’m working on some things, and a lot of times, when women in group, a lot of things, they’ve never talked about before, and they’ve repressed their feelings, they’ve repressed everything that has happened to them, and then it comes out in group, and we start talking about it, and then we start being able to not only to talk about it, but to get them help, to get them treatment, and we talk a lot about, a lot of our women are mental health.  They have concurrent disorders, they have substance abuse disorders, they have mental health disorders, and we try to put them in a place where we can treat both of that, not only that, they suffer from, like I say, victimization.  A lot of them have never talked about the part that they’ve been raped before, I’ve been molested a few times, I’ve been raped a couple of times –

Len Sipes:  Or a lot of times –

Willa Butler:  Right, or a lot of times, and all of this comes out, but yet, we’re still able to give them the help and the resources that they need.

Len Sipes:  Now my favorite story about women offenders, and the real eye opener to me was when I was with when I was the director of public relations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, which was law enforcement and corrections, and we’re training public affairs officers at a women’s minimum security prison, because they had a culinary arts program, and we could feed the different people who came for training.  So I’ve got people training, and I didn’t have anything to do for two hours, so I go out in the courtyard, and I light up my cigar, and those were those days where you could actually have a cigar in prison, and the women who started coming out to the courtyard to have their cigarettes, and they know me because I was in the media a lot, and they sat down and started talking with me, and there was a two hour session in that courtyard with those women offenders, and where they took me, it was like taking me to Mars and back, because they freely talked about their lives, and one person said, Mr. Sipes, you know what?  I don’t want to go home.  This is the first safe place I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m getting my GED, I’m getting my culinary arts certificate, I’ve never talked about my issues before, but now this is the first place I’m talking, here’s a human being who says I find prison to be safer than the real world.

Willa Butler:  Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.  You get three meals every day, you know where you’re going to sleep, you know, it’s unfortunate –

Len Sipes:  You know you’re not going to be abused.

Ashley McSwain:  Right, and that’s what I was going to say, because a lot of, the abuse started from the home, you know, and when, like I said, when women leave prison, you think it should be a happy time, but it’s like a road down perdition again, because there’s no change, and I’m going back to the same situation, a double up situation, I don’t have a place to stay, I don’t know where my children are, and if they’re there, somebody else is raising them, and –

Willa Butler:  And they don’t fit in.

Ashley McSwain:  Right, they don’t fit in.

Willa Butler:  And you know, we’re actually doing some research on that, and one of the things we’re finding is that the women, while they’re still in custody, they’re very hopeful, and three months after they’re there in the community, that declines.  I mean, it’s just, you know, the options are so limited, and that feeling of empowerment that they felt so excited about is reduced when the reality of not having housing and the options for employment, you know, they really set in, and so these women start out very hopeful.

Len Sipes:  And my guess is, and we’re going to wrap the program up very quickly, so any quick responses, my guess is, if Our Place DC did not exist, and Willa, if your groups here at CSOSA did not exist, I, my guess is that there are going to be thousands, and I’m not exaggerating, thousands of women would have been, went right back to crime, right back to the criminal justice system, would have cost taxpayers tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and the two of you together, and Marcea and everybody else involved in this program, I mean, you’ve saved lives, and you’ve saved literally thousands of lives.

Willa Butler:  Yes.  Yes, we do.  Right now, our place is really encouraging women to be literate, educated, be curious, knowledge, reading, I mean, that’s, we think that that’s also going to be part of their ability to be sustainable in the community.

Len Sipes:  All right.  And I just want to make the offer, I’m going to come over and wax your car, walk your dog, do whatever you need, if you get a check to Our Place DC, because the program is that worthy.  Our guest today, Ashley McSwain, executive director of Our Place DC,,  Dr. Willa Butler, in charge of women’s groups here at CSOSA,  I do want to remind everybody about the upcoming events that we have on Saturday, February 5.  We have the women’s re-entry forum, Temple of Praise, 700 Southern Avenue SE from 8AM to 3PM, it will be on our website,, and also on February 10, a Thursday, the Citywide Re-entry Assembly at St. Luke’s Church at 4923 E Capitol Street from 6:30 in the evening to 9:30 in the evening, to talk about successful mentors and mentees involved in our faith based program.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes, watch for us or listen for us next time when we explore another very important topic in the criminal justice system.  I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Successful Offenders – “DC Public Safety”

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[Video Begins]

Len Sipes:  Hi, and welcome to D.C. Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  You know, every year, over 700,000 human beings are released from prison systems throughout the United States, and you’re well aware of the failures, the 50% within 3 years who are returned to the prison systems.  You read about them in your newspapers, you’re exposed to them through radio and television, but the question is, what about the other 50%?  The 50% who do not return back to the prison system?  To talk about the successes, if you will, we have four individuals under supervision with my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C.  We’re a federal parole and probation agency.  We’re going to talk to four individuals currently under supervision for people who have turned the corner, who have crossed that bridge, who are now successes, who are no longer tax burdens, they are now taxpayers.  And on our first segment, I want to introduce India Frazier and Tracy Marlow, and to India and to Tracy, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Tracy Marlow:  Thank you, Len.

Len Sipes:  All right, we’ve had a wonderful conversation before the television show, before filming this show today, about what it is, the stereotypes, when people think of the term “criminal,” “convict,” and they have this image that immediately comes to their mind in terms of what ex-offenders are.  Now in the first segment, the two of you, then we’ll have a couple guys in the second segment, but that’s the issue, is it not, Tracy?  That stereotype that people have of you.  I was watching the other night a couple television shows, just flipping through the channel: National Geographic and A&E, and they had shows about people in prison, and the public comes away with that, saying, thinking that everybody who touches the prison system, they don’t want to hire them, they don’t want to fund programs for them, they don’t want to give them a second chance, they stereotype them.  Are you that person that they stereotype?

Tracy Marlow:  Yes I am.  I’m one of those people that they stereotype.  Society always publicizes what we have done, the bad things we have done, but nobody shows what the good things we are doing now.  What I was, and what I am today is two different people.  I have my own business now.

Len Sipes:  You’re going for your third ice cream truck.

Tracy Marlow:  My third ice cream truck.

Len Sipes:  Your third ice cream truck.  You’re your own business owner!  You have gone from prison to owning your own businesses!

Tracy Marlow:  Yes, yes.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing!

Tracy Marlow:  With the help of CSOSA and some groups and other people backing me up in my life, it was not on my own that I done this.  It’s not because, I’ve been turned down on jobs so many times, but one person gave me a chance on a job.

India Frazier:  But when you go through your struggles in life, if anything’s ever given to you so quickly, so fast, and easy, you’re not going to appreciate it.  You’re not going to hold onto it, you’re not going to build to the next step.  You know what I’m saying?  So you have to go through your struggles.  You have to be patient.  And see, that’s what you were.

Tracy Marlow:  It comes in believing in yourself.  If you don’t believe in yourself, self-esteem is so important coming out of prison.  I didn’t believe in myself.  I thought what people, society say, you’re nothing, you’ve been in jail, you’re never going to be nothing.  I believed that for so many years until one day, I can’t tell you when I woke up, when I woke up and knew that I was somebody, and I worked on this, and I worked on this now, I’m my own business person.  I have people that work for me today, and I have to interview them now.  So now, the roles have changed, and I have people that’s been locked up, and you work with money with me, because I have ice cream trucks, and I don’t want to be like the public was with me.  So I have to interview these people, and I have to give them a chance, and you deal with a lot of money some days, and I say, wow, God, just give me the strength.  Now I haven’t been robbed.  And some ones have been good and bad, but somebody gave them a chance like they gave me.

Len Sipes:  And I think that’s the point, in terms of the fact that, okay, 50% do go back, 50% don’t, but nobody ever tells the story of the 50% that don’t, and that’s what we’re going to start doing today.  India, set up a little bit about your experience, if you will, please.

India Frazier:  Well, my experience is, my experience came when I was, first and foremost, I asked God to change my life.  Give me a direction that I needed to go into.  And I set goals in my life, and then when I came home and I looked into the eyes of my grandson, it was not an option for me to go back to the streets.  It was so easy, it’s so easy to fall back into that life, you know what I’m saying?  And like I was telling Tracy a minute ago, you have to go through trials and tribulations and struggles to get where you need to go or get where you need to be, so I went through my changes, you know, but unlike you, I’ve always believed in me.  I knew I was supposed to accomplish the things that I am accomplishing today.  As of right now, I’m driving, I work through the leaf season and snow season for DPW, the Department of Public Works.

Len Sipes:  DPW, the Department of Public Works.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  In the city of Washington D.C.

India Frazier:  In the city of Washington D.C, and I have a CDL Class A –

Len Sipes:  Okay, Commercial Driver’s License.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  Go ahead.

India Frazier:  Yes, sir.  And I know I can drive.  I love doing what I do.  You know what I’m saying?  And I love coming home to my family and seeing that my grandson and my daughter’s okay, and I love knowing that my grandmother’s fine.  These are the people that believed in me and pushed me to do and be all that I can be, and then I have, Dr. Butler and Miss Ishman, who is my direct parole officer, and she inspires me.  I mean, it’s not a point in time that I can’t pick up that phone and call Miss Ishman and say, Miss Ishman, so and so, and so and so, well, Miss Frazier, let’s look at it like this.  I might be upset, and then I’ll call her, and then she’ll just get it, she’ll just iron things out for me.

Tracy Marlow:  You built a network up.

India Frazier:  I built my network.

Tracy Marlow:  And that’s what we need to know in society is you can make it if you build a network up.

India Frazier:  – people believe in you and give you that chance.  See, this is it.  You can’t look at me based on a television program, or you can’t understand who I am until you get to know who I am, until you sit down and talk to me and find out who I am, and that despite something happening 10 years ago, it’s where I’m standing at today.

Len Sipes:  But society doesn’t give us that opportunity.  If society is going to say ex-con, criminal, I don’t like you, I’m not funding programs for you, I’m not going to give you a second chance, I don’t want you in this job, and I understand, all three of us understand the fears of the public.  How can you not watch evening television without understanding the fears of the public?  But what do you want to tell the public directly?  What are the key things that you need the public to understand, because you’re not one of the failures, you’re one of the successes, but yet, you’re still facing the same baggage.  So what do you want to tell the public?

Tracy Marlow:  I want to tell the public, don’t look at what I’ve done, look at what I’m doing.  My past is my past, and only we’re going to leave it behind if you give me a chance.  All I’m asking for is a chance.  I’m not saying that I’m going to be perfect.  I’m not going to sit here and tell this, oh, I’m going to be a perfect and never do this, but I’m going to live for today and try to do the best I can do in society under society laws.  It’s not breaking up anymore.

Len Sipes:  Right. India? And what do you tell society?

India Frazier:  I have to tell society that you can’t base my life today on my past.  I’m a totally different person.  I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, and don’t look at me and make a judgment call on what’s on paper.  Look at me and make a judgment call on how I carry myself.

Len Sipes:  We only have a couple minutes left.  My heavens, this segment just flew by like wildfire!  What is instrumental in your lives?  Was it programs, you mentioned, Tracy, the group, or India, you mentioned the group process through Dr. Butler.  What is it, drug treatment programs, job programs, what is it that we need to help you and others like you cross that bridge?

Tracy Marlow:  Drug treatment first, program, and aftercare.  After we come out of treatment, you need some aftercare.  You need sessions, groups.  The  group that Dr. Butler runs is wonderful.  Somebody’s talking about everyday life.  We need to know about every, going on in your life, this life, productive other people in life.  We need groups and more programs.

Len Sipes:  If we had sufficient numbers of programs, how many additional people could we create, if you will, taxpayers instead of tax burdens?  How many additional people would cross that bridge over to the taxpaying side of the coin?

India Frazier:  You would probably have, maybe, at least 25% more instead of a 50% going back in, you might have 25% more.  I’m not going to say 50%, because, you know, like Tracy said, it’s not, everybody’s not perfect.  Everybody’s not ready to live that right life.  You know what I’m saying?  Everybody’s trying, some people try to find the easy way out.  But you would have at least 25% turnover.  I would say at least 60-75% wouldn’t go back.

Len Sipes:  If society was willing to look at you as individuals, especially in terms of jobs, and if the programs were available, would that make a significant difference in terms of how many people go back to prison and how many people commit additional crimes?

Tracy Marlow:  Of course.

India Frazier:  Definitely, yes!

Tracy Marlow:  Definitely!

India Frazier:  I mean, you have jobs in the District of Columbia that, for real, for real, could save a lot of people’s lives.  People gotta eat!  You’ve got to feed your family!  You know what I’m saying?  You’ve got to pay your rent!  You know, the rent lady don’t want to hear about, you can’t pay your rent because you couldn’t find a job.  You’ve got to pay your rent.  So what you going to do?  You’re going to go out there and do something stupid and go right back to where you were.  So if you have these openings within the District for these ex-offenders, or parole, probation, you know what I’m saying, that would gear them towards working harder toward accomplishing things they need to accomplish, the goals they need to accomplish.  It worked for me.

Len Sipes:  I think the point is, is that, again, we hear the failures.  We are never exposed to the successes.  I’ve spent 40 years in the criminal justice system, 30 years talking to people caught up in the criminal justice system.  I see a lot of success stories.  But those success stories are simply never told.  That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this program today, is to talk about the fact that there are successes.

Tracy Marlow:  Yes, it is.  It is.  And I’m definitely one of them, and the best is yet to come!  Because I’m not finished.  I have kids, I’m raising kids, and they are not going through the system!  They are not going to go through the system.  I am raising them to understand that, if you break the law, these are the options that happen.  We have to break the cycle.  The cycle has to be broken.

Len Sipes:  And the cycle is broken when mom comes out of the prison system, gets programs, gets treatment, gets a job, and the case, your case, your own three ice cream trucks, you didn’t let anybody stand in your way, Tracy!  And you’re saving, not just yourself, you’re saving your kids.  India, you’re doing the same thing.

India Frazier:  Yeah, I love my family.  I love my family, and my grandson, he’s the most inspirational power, power behind every move I make, because I want him, I don’t want him to go through what I went through, you know what I’m saying?  I can’t make the choices for him down the line, but I don’t want him to go through what I went through, and I’m going to give him and push him, I say, lead by example, and the rest will follow.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Now, again, so many people come out of the prison system, and they say, Mr. Sipes, or Leonard, I’m not going to go back.  I’m not going back, I’m not going back, I’m not going back.  6 months later, they’re back.  Now that’s a reality.  There are individuals who cannot make it, or they’re not ready to make it in society, and they go back to the prison system.  So we have to acknowledge that.  Again, part of the fears and the perceptions on the part of the public, but I’ve encountered, again, hundreds, thousands of people just like yourselves.  One out of every 45 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system are in, I’m sorry, one out of every 45 people in the community are caught up currently in the criminal justice system.  That’s like one out of 20 minimum, if you count people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the past.  That means that all of us are running into offenders and ex-offenders and people caught up in the criminal justice system every day!  By the scores!  We’re running into lots of people.  I mean, is the question, do we want them to get the mental health treatment, do we want them to have drug treatment, do we want them to be involved in programs, do we want them to be employed, or do we want to interact with these individuals without those programs, and without those skills?

India Frazier:  Well, if you don’t implement programs, if you don’t implement treatment, you don’t set aside a certain amount of money or set aside programs to help these people take their life and create a new person within, you know what I’m saying, or guide them, or steer them towards the goals they need to go towards, you’re going to keep on having a return rate of 50%, you know what I’m saying?  So yeah, we need mental health.  We need drug treatment.  We need voc rehab.  We need certain little groups that Dr. Butler be having.  You know, you need all of these things because they’re reconditioning your mind to go towards what you need to go towards to be a better person.

Len Sipes:  The final minute, Tracy, in terms of, we’ve heard Dr. Willa Butler several times throughout the program.  She runs a women’s group where people who have been in the prison system as women offenders, they come together, they talk about their issues, they talk about how to solve their issues, that’s tough.  You’ve got only a couple seconds.

Tracy Marlow:  Yes it is.  Yes, because that is very powerful, because women need women, and when you talk in them groups, you get real deep.  You talk about some personal things that’s going on, because one thing, to deal with a person that’s on mental health status, is really something, because first thing society, oh, they crazy!  People have complications, anxieties, pressures in the world, and they can’t cope with it and deal with it, all they need is somebody to talk to, and these groups are very important.

Len Sipes:  And that’s the point that I wanted to make.  Thank you, ladies, for being on the first segment.  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for sticking with us as we explore this whole issue of offenders coming out of the prison system who make it, who become taxpayers, not tax burdens.  Look for us in the second segment as we continue to explore this topic with two additional guests.  Please stay with us.

[music playing]

Len Sipes:  Hi, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.  I continue to be your host, Leonard Sipes.  Our guests today on the second segment are Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman, both individuals currently under the supervision of my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  As I explained in the first segment, we are a federally funded, a parole and probation agency here in Washington, D.C.  The concept is people being released from prison.  50% go back after 3 years, they go back to the prison system, but 50% don’t.  The story of the 50% who don’t go back just doesn’t seem to be told.  Again, you’re exposed every day to the media about the stories of people caught up in the criminal justice system who do go back, you’re never exposed to the fact that there are lots of individuals who don’t.  To talk about that, Cortez and Donald, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, and Cortez, we’re going to start with you in terms of the second segment, and what is it that you think the public needs to understand about people coming back from the prison system?  I mean, they say the word convict, they say the word ex-con, they have another vision in their mind.  I’m not quite sure they have you in mind.  Correct or incorrect?

Cortez McDaniel:  That’s probably correct.  What I would have the public to think about is how they’d like to be associated with us as homecomers.  We like to refer to returning citizens as homecomers, and understand that these folks are coming home anyway, whether you like it or whether you don’t.  Now how the public is associated with them is kind of up to the society as to how they accept them back.  They need to understand the impact that we’re capable of having on society in a positive way, the value that we have, the talent that we have is a very, very large talent pool, and a large number of men who are very capable of being productive members of society.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and I think one of the reasons, in terms of doing this program, they come to my mind, is employment.  There’s literally thousands of individuals under our supervision at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency who would make perfectly good employees out of the 16,000 on any given day.  They are years away from their crimes, they are years away from their last substance, positive substance abuse test.  But they can’t find work, and they’re having trouble finding work, and that makes it difficult for them, it makes it difficult for us.  To me, that stereotype of ex-con, ex-offender, is the barrier.  So what do you say to people in terms of, in terms of that?  They have this sense that, you’ve been in the prison system, I don’t want to hire you, that’s all there is to it.  I’ve got lots of people to choose from, you were there, you’re not getting this job.  What do you say to that person?

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, I would ask them to actually look at forgiveness and what that encompasses.  If a person has served their amount of time that they’ve been given to serve in prison, if they’ve done that, and they’ve successfully completed that, and they come out, and they do the things that they need to be doing in terms of supervision, then there’s absolutely no reason why this person doesn’t deserve to be able to experience some quality of life themselves.

Len Sipes:  Now Cortez, I’m completely at fault, I didn’t properly introduce you when you came onto the program.  You were with who?  What is your job today?

Cortez McDaniel:  Again, my name is Cortez McDaniel, I’m a transitional coordinator with the Father McKenna Center.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and what is the Father McKenna Center?

Cortez McDaniel:  The Father McKenna Center is a daytime service for homeless men, underprivileged men of Washington, D.C., predominantly African American men who come in for our services during the course of a day.  What we do is we assess men, and we act as a triage to link people up with whatever their needs might be, whether it be drug and alcohol rehabilitation, whether it be mental health services, housing issues, whatever the issues might be, we try to work with them and link them up with agencies that will help them in that direction.

Len Sipes:  Did you have a hard time getting that job?

Cortez McDaniel:  Actually, the way I got that job is I’m also core counsel person on the, with the Phelps Stokes National Homecomers’ Academy, and we were asked, as a result of a newspaper article, to send some people over to speak to that group of men, and once we were there, the people, the administration in place there were pretty impressed with what we had to offer, and so a relationship started with me there –

Len Sipes:  And that’s how you ended up getting the job.

Cortez McDaniel:  That’s exactly right.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Donald, you’re with the same operation, correct?

Donald Zimmerman:  Yes, sir.

Len Sipes:  And tell me a little bit about your story.  You came out of the prison system, and what happened?

Donald Zimmerman:  Well, I came out of the prison system, and initially when I came home, I was a general manager of a trucking company –

Len Sipes:  Before or after?

Donald Zimmerman:  This was after my incarceration.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  How did you get a job as a general manager of a trucking company?

Donald Zimmerman:  Some friends of the family, you know, they just –

Len Sipes:  Okay.  You had family connections.

Donald Zimmerman:  Yeah.  They just hired me on, and I learned the business, and I was doing that for a while until the economy folded, and then I went to school to be a chef, so now I’m currently working at a Hospital through a temporary agency called Food Team, and I do temporary cook positions there, but –

Len Sipes:  Can I get into the larger issue?  I started off with the larger issue before a proper introduction of both of you, of once again, the stereotype.  Now I’m not going to be upset with society about their stereotypes.  With the ladies on the first segment, I was watching television, I turned to the National Geographic channel of all channels, and then there was a story about guys in prison, and then I’m flipping through the channels, and there’s the Arts & Entertainment channel, there’s another story about guys in prison, and I sat back and said, you know, if that’s the public’s perception of people caught up in the criminal justice system, there’s no hope.  The story they’re telling was a perfectly accurate story.  They weren’t being dishonest, but it scares people.  The evening news scares people.  What happens when they read their newspapers scares people, and then we have the two of you, and you’re not scary.  So what does the public need to understand about this issue of people coming out of the prison system?  What does the public need to understand to get them to support programs or to get them to give you a chance at a job?

Donald Zimmerman:  The first thing that the public needs to realize is that we’re human, and that we have made mistakes like everyone in life, and we have learned to overcome our mistakes.  They have to learn to accept us and give us that second chance, as if, like a parent would do with their child.  They say, once you finish your prison sentence, that your debt is paid to society.  But is that truly happening?  We tend to have labels put on us like ex-cons and ex-felons, see, but the thing is, you have to take all them labels away and recognize that I am a man and I am a woman and I will stand for something, and I will push, by any means necessary, I will be accepted, and with that positive attitude, only good things will happen.

Cortez McDaniel:  I don’t want to take away from that, the homecomer’s obligation to change their whole approach to life, their whole thought process, and matter of fact, before I came home, about three years actually before I came home, I wrote a book called recidivism prevention workbook.  For people that don’t know, recidivism is commonly used to describe the tendency of a person who’s been convicted of a crime to relapse or return back to criminal behavior.

Len Sipes:  That’s a wonderful –

Cortez McDaniel:  So I thought about that through my own life, and I thought of how valuable it could be to a lot of men.  So in a sense, in my own life, I realize that my whole thought process had deteriorated into how my approach to life was a way of criminal thinking, and so I had to change my principal system, my moral judgment, everything about that had to be looked at, and I had to be man enough and willing to change that.  So I started, I don’t like to use program again, because it’s beginning and end to that, but I started this class that encompassed criminal thinking and criminal behavior, and it was very successful in prison, and I came out here in society with the same ideology that we are capable of being refocused, and that we have a responsibility to approach life differently.

Len Sipes:  How many people who come out of the prison system come out of the prison system with that understanding?  Lots of people who have told me, I’m getting out, and when I used to work inside the prison system, I’m getting out, and I’m not going back, came back.

Donald Zimmerman:  Well you have a lot of –

Len Sipes:  Came back pretty quickly.

Donald Zimmerman:  Well, you have a lot of men and women who come out with the intent that they’re not going to go back, but when they get out and they see the situation that they’re, no jobs, or they don’t want to accept a job, because I have the notion that there are jobs, people just don’t want to go work at McDonald’s, don’t want to go work at Wendy’s, whereas when you were in the federal prison system, you work for $5.25 a month.  So with that being said, they see their situations, and they don’t have that support system on the outside that will reeducate.  See, one, you have to reeducate yourself into, like, your morals and your values, saying, you know, positive things to you, like, you know, you can do better, you can find a job.  It’s not how much money you make, it’s what you do with the money you make.  You know, when you start to understand the simpler things in life and start, you know, understanding true happiness and just knowing that you have to, you know, first, that you’re on probation or parole, you have to first comply, take it one situation at a time, then you can move to the next step.  Once you start to comply, then you can start going to your meetings, then you can start building relationships, and then eventually, as time progress, you will start to reeducate yourself with better understanding and more.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so the point in all of this is that, if you are willing to go through that process, and if you’re willing to seek help, you can cross that bridge.  You can go from the tax burden to the taxpayer.  You can be employed, but it’s really upon you if you, and how much –

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, the support system is very, very necessary.

Len Sipes:  That’s the point I want –

Cortez McDaniel:  And that’s, with Phelps Stokes, that’s what we’re all about at Phelps Stokes, the Homecomers’ Academy.  That’s what we’re all about is providing a support system for a homecomer that lets them understand that, and helps to reinforce these ideologies in him and helps him understand that he has certain responsibilities that he needs to live up to, but also that he’s not alone, that he has some support and some assistance in getting to where he needs to get to.  A lot of times, people will come out of prison with, have purposed themselves never to go back, but they get out, and the support falls through.  A lot of times people have become estranged from their families for different reasons, and they don’t, they lack people who care or people who are willing to take a chance on them.

Len Sipes:  And that’s what the ladies said during the first segment.  If you’ve got that group of people who can support you emotionally and get you through this process, that really does increase the chances of you doing well.

Cortez McDaniel:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  So the point is this.  The final minutes of the program is that what I said on the first segment is that there are thousands of you guys out there struggling, but they’re ready to make that move.  They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.  They’re sick and tired of being caught up in the criminal justice system.  They would be good employees, they would be good citizens.  There’s a certain point where society does have to recognize who is at risk and who’s trying, who’s struggling and who’s trying to make it, correct?  I mean, that is incumbent upon employers and incumbent upon people, I mean, we have to fund a certain amount of programs to help people cross that bridge.  Am I right or wrong?

Cortez McDaniel:  Well, yeah.  I think we have to have entities.  Like I said, I don’t like to use the word program, because when I talk about a program, I’m talking about a beginning and an end.

Len Sipes:  And this is lifelong.

Cortez McDaniel:  But we believe in relationships, and we believe in those relationships being everlasting –

Donald Zimmerman:  Brotherhoods and sisterhoods.

Cortez McDaniel:  The dynamic may change as things evolve, but we believe those relationships are important –

Len Sipes:  And the same with the research on Delancey Street out in San Francisco 25 years ago.  That’s exactly what they said in terms of the former offenders coming together as a group to help each other out.  So that’s the bottom line.

Donald Zimmerman:  What we need is real people dealing with real problems trying to find real solutions.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  And you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve come in contact with Cortez McDaniel and Donald Zimmerman.  This is D.C. Public Safety.  We really appreciate the fact that you’ve been with us today to explore this very important topic of people who are successes who have come out of the prison system, and yet at the same time made successes of themselves.  We appreciate your attention, and please stick with us and watch for us next time as we explore another very important topic in the criminal justice system.  Have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]


Violence Reduction Program-“DC Public Safety”

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, we are here to talk about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. CSOSA is a federally funded parole and probation agency with responsibility for parole and probation issues in the great city of Washington, D.C. To talk to us about this program we have three extraordinarily interesting people. We have Zoë, and that’s not her real name. She is an individual under supervision of Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency to talk about her participation in the violence reduction program. We have Tanesha Clardy, and she is a community supervision officer, and we have Michelle Hare-Diggs, she is a treatment specialist, and to Zoë, and to Tanesha, and to Michelle, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Tanesha Clardy: Thank you.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Thank you.

Zoe: Thank you.

Len Sipes: All right. We’re going to start off with you, Michelle, and you’re going to explain what the violence reduction program is all about.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: The violence reduction program was put into place by CSOSA to, it’s to successfully help the offenders on probation to successfully complete parole and probation. There’s three phases to the group. Phase one kind of gets everybody comfortable with being in the group, comfortable with the group process, so we do a lot of, I guess I would say icebreaker exercises, which is treatment readiness exercises. That runs three weeks, and they come twice a week for three weeks, and then we move on to phase two, which is the meat of the program, and we do a whole slough of, we learn a whole slough of activities, and it’s not just violence. Most of the techniques can be used in everyday life: communication styles, different communication styles, relaxation techniques, so everything that we do in the group can also, it just doesn’t relate to just violence. And that phase runs 12 weeks, and they come twice a week. And then we move on to phase three, which is, the purpose of phase three is to help, we want the offenders to, in turn, want to be able to help someone else to successfully complete parole and probation, so we integrate them into community activities, and that phase runs six weeks, and they come once a week.

Len Sipes: So in essence, what we’re doing is helping people, the theory in criminology called cognitive behavioral therapy, where it’s sort of thinking through life’s event differently than what they’ve done in the past, and I would imagine that’s sort of what we’re talking about now, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yes.

Len Sipes: So it is how to stay away from situations of violence, potential situations for violence, how to extract yourself, how to deal with all of that in such a way not to land you back in the criminal justice system.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Exactly, and there’s situations where you can’t do that, how to make a better choice, what would be a better choice.

Len Sipes: A better choice. Okay. We were talking beforehand, my wife constantly tells me about better choices. I get angry at my daughters, and she’ll tell me to go cool off. I mean, this is sort of a lifelong learning situation for a lot of us, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. So it’s just situations where we try to, if you’re in a situation where you can’t just walk out, what would be the better thing to do, how to take a time out in your head. Some of the techniques sound corny, but they really work. Things that you would never think of, how to count to ten, and we hear it, but do we really do it? How to shout loudly, stop it, to yourself, so you’re able to not give yourself that continuous negative self-talk.

Len Sipes: And Tanesha, we’re going to go to you for the next question. You work with these women, the women offenders on a regular basis. Do you deal just with the women, or with the men, or both?

Tanesha Clardy: I deal with both.

Len Sipes: With both. Do you have any preferences over which group? Are women easier to deal with than men? Or do they, or they bring their own unique issues?

Tanesha Clardy: All of them bring unique characteristics to the program.

Len Sipes: Because the average person is going to –

Tanesha Clardy: What I’ve discovered is that women, they have different issues, totally different issues that come from, as far as growing up and being a female, you have molestation, you have rape, you have substance abuse, and you just have emotional, physical abuse. So those are different issues that women more deal with than men.

Len Sipes: And that’s pretty much clarified by the criminological literature, by all the studies basically, talking about the fact that women offenders, women caught up in the criminal justice system have much higher rates of substance abuse than men, have higher rates of mental health issues, and the rate of prior sexual abuse is astounding. It is one of the highest correlates or the things that are connected to crime, it is astounding as to how many women caught up in the criminal justice system come from that sort of a history, and the women offenders that I’ve talked to in the past, they’re, they’ve had a lot of explosive anger going on with them and throughout their lives, and a lot of it’s self destructive, which I would imagine a lot of the emotional issues and substance abuse issues come from that history.

Tanesha Clardy: True. It’s all about their defense mechanisms. It’s things that women internalize more, so when it gets to the point where you can’t take it anymore, it’s easier to just lash out, and so it’s probably easier for them to just, you know, commit an act of violence when they feel as though they have to defend themselves. They have to protect themselves, because here you are, you’re coming up against me. And so that’s what I’ve just, you know, just noticed on my women offenders.

Len Sipes: Either one of you can answer this question now. We’re talking about basically a four month program where we take individuals with a history of violence, and we sort of restructure who they are and what they are in terms of their day to day ability to cope with the stresses of life. Correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

MD: But I think the group is, because it is four months long, it gives you time to really think about behaviors and how it may have impacted your decisions in the past, so that’s the real purpose of the group. We want you to see how your past behaviors now, how have they impacted your decisions, and for whatever reason, have put you on parole and probation, and how can you rethink those past behaviors, and how can we use them differently in the future to help us make better decisions.

Len Sipes: Right. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence, so this protects the public. We don’t want the person engaging in additional acts of violence because it protects the taxpayer, because the person theoretically does better, and the research indicates that individuals do better with these programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, or violence reduction programs. So this is a win-win situation for everybody. What we’re doing is helping people understand that the stuff that they’ve done in the past, they cannot continue to do in the future, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right. And in turn, we also, not just for themselves, but because some, like with the women offenders, some of them are mothers or sisters, the skills that you learn, even again, they sound corny, but as you’re at home, I’m sure, they joke about it later on. Like, we did this skill. But if you really practice it, and this is something that you try to practice with your siblings at home or your children, or your significant other, it’s not something that they themselves are just learning, they’re also teaching others.

Len Sipes: And that’s important. I mean, what you teach individuals, they teach their sons, they teach their daughters, they teach their peers, a lot of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system who are now doing well, people sort of wonder, well, why are you doing so well? And one of the reasons why they’re doing so well is they’ve learned a new way of thinking about who they are and their lives. Most people don’t want to return to the criminal justice system. I get a sense that a lot of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system don’t quite understand how they got there to begin with. All they were doing were hanging out with friends, drinking a beer, doing whatever, and somebody said the wrong thing, and they lashed out. It’s not like they sat down and said, gee, I want to assault somebody violently with a beer bottle tonight. Stuff happens.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And stuff happens quickly.

Len Sipes: Stuff happens quickly. It happens rapidly. And sometimes you’re not even quite sure why you did what you did, correct?

Tanesha Clardy: Very true, very true. But I’m, I guess, that’s the benefit of the program, because instead of just reacting the way you normally would act, you sit back and you think about, okay, what is my next move? Like, you have to make a choice, and hopefully the choice is a positive one.

Len Sipes: All right. Now we’re going to go over to Zoë. Zoë is, what we said before the program, was the truly authentic person sitting in this room. The rest of us are paid by the federal government to do what we do on a day to day basis. Zoë, you’re here, because I’m quite sure you volunteered to be on the radio show, and just absolutely adored the idea of sharing your feelings with the public.

Zoe: Absolutely!

Len Sipes: Okay, cool!

Zoe: The public needs to be informed.

Len Sipes: Cool. Why does the public need to be informed?

Zoe: Well, because everyone that commits a crime or commits an act of violence isn’t a bad person. It’s just a way, you have to rethink the way that you’re going about things, think about how you’re going to approach this situation, and think about who you’re in the situation with. You can’t react the same to everyone, so that’s what I take most out of the group, that even though we’re not talking about something that directly applies to me, I can take the message out of that and apply it to my life, and it’s helpful.

Len Sipes: Well, what we’ve said before throughout the entire program is the sense that too many people are being caught up in too many acts of violence. They need, what we call in the field, cognitive behavioral therapy, what the other person, the average person listening to this program would be, come to you-know-what meeting, or come to reality meeting, or whatever, you know, our parents read us the riot act in the past, we got punished, we were instructed by uncles, aunts, others, people in the community that what we were doing was inappropriate. We had no business doing it. Are we suggesting that people didn’t grow up with those guidelines?

Zoe: Well, some people didn’t. Everyone didn’t have that uncle or aunt or cousins or family members around to give that positive reinforcement, or even still, just the things that you were doing wrong, no one told you they were wrong. No one really reprimanded you for it. So that catches up with you in the end, and pretty much here, we’re just reversing, kind of, the bad learned behavior.

Len Sipes: Well, there are two questions. Is it too easy to get involved in acts of violence?

Zoe: Yeah –

Len Sipes: And, you know, again, most of the people that I’ve talked to have been caught up in the criminal justice system, didn’t say, you know, I set out that evening to beat my brother over the head with a beer bottle because he insulted my wife. I mean, that’s not how it went down.

Zoe: No, it went down, in the flash of an eye, before you knew it, someone was hemmed up because of whatever internal anger that, well, that I had, this is my personal experience. Yeah, so before I knew it, I was already at a 9, and just that one little small incident just took me to 27 somewhere, and I ended up in the system.

Len Sipes: It was an explosion.

Zoe: It was an explosion.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been through the criminal justice system, and you have been through the violence reduction program –

Zoe: Currently in the program.

Len Sipes: You’re currently in the program, and what does that mean to you now?

Zoe: Well, for one, when we first started the program, I was kind of sketchy about, I just really didn’t understand why I was in the group, but now, I look forward to coming to the group. These are just people, these are my friends, now, actually, and we talk about different experiences that we have throughout the week, and it’s helpful. It’s really helpful. Whether I’m actually joking around, or we come in there and play around, but at the end of the day, all right, we actually got something out of this, and it’s valuable to put forth in your everyday life.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing to me, because that is something the average person doesn’t hear. The average person listening to this program is saying, wait a minute, people who are violent belong in prison. They don’t understand that the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the correctional system or in the street, they’re under parole and probation supervision. Parole meaning, they’ve come out of the prison system, probation means the judge decided to sentence them to a period of community supervision, and not necessarily prison, but prison’s always hanging over their heads. So the overwhelming majority of people caught up in acts of violence aren’t in prison, they’re in the community.

Zoe: Yeah. Your next door neighbor.

Len Sipes: Their next door neighbor, the person you interact with at the gas station, the person who serves you at your local restaurant, the person who hands you your dry cleaning, it’s one out of every 45 people in the community are under active community supervision. Now most criminologists have said, well, if it’s one out of every 45 under active, current community supervision with correctional systems, it’s at minimum one out of every 20. So you’re encountering people every day by the scores who were either once caught up in the criminal justice system or currently caught up in the criminal justice system. So these programs, this particular program, what does it mean to you, and what does it mean to public safety?

Zoe: Well, as far as public safety and, the program really just has people to, I don’t really –

Len Sipes: It’s a hard question. I’m sorry, it is a ridiculously hard question to answer. But I mean, the bottom line is, if more people were involved in programs like this, would there be less violence?

Zoe: Yes, there definitely would be less violence.

Len Sipes: Okay, and why is that?

Zoe: Because it changes your way of thinking about it. Change the way of thinking about the situations that you’re in, and things that may seem like a threat to take you from 10 to 27, they’re not, they don’t bother you as much anymore.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: I also think the peer interaction they’re getting from the group, the peer feedback that they’re getting, things that they would, there are situations where we’ll come out, somebody in the group will come up with a scenario that may have happened over the weekend where they didn’t think that there was any other way to handle it, and the peer interaction or peer feedback that they’re getting inside the group like, okay, maybe you could have tried this, you could have tried that, and then it seems more realistic. Like, okay, maybe I could have done that, where some people, sometimes you think, the only thing I could have done was hit this person or lashed out or cussed the person out, or have, however you may have acted before, the interaction that the peers give, the interaction in the group from the peers is just, it’s amazing. The feedback, well, next time, maybe you could try this, walk out, come back in, things that you would never think that you yourself could do, you know, they test themselves, and I really like that.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, and I’m going to reintroduce everybody here at the microphones today. Zoë, not her real name, but an individual kind enough to participate. She is currently in the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Community Supervision Officer Tanesha Clardy, and what most people call parole and probation agents, we call community supervision officer, and a treatment specialist, Michelle Hare-Diggs, all three are before our microphones talking about the violence reduction program here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Now ladies, I’m going to go back to my experience when I ran groups in the Maryland prison system, and one of the things that I discovered is how folks react in a treatment setting, and how they act in the community can be two different things.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, I think what makes this group unique, because I’m a treatment specialist and I’m not a CSO, they kind of see it as separate, so I think the group tends to be a lot more real. It’s not as, I think what most people would consider as fake, and Zoë, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

Zoe: No, I agree with you. I like, okay, at first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I like the fact that it’s, the time period, the length of it, because if we were meeting once a week for a month, I wouldn’t know these people, and I wouldn’t tell them anything. It wouldn’t be a conversation, it’d just be Ms. Hare-Diggs talking to us. She’d just be talking at us pretty much, vs. us interacting.

Len Sipes: A lot of people go through these programs because they’re stuck with going through these programs. How authentic is this? Any one of you can answer. How real is this? How deeply do we get into the lives of the individuals, and is there real change? That’s what the public wants to know?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Well, it is a real change, because one, you don’t have to be there. You can just be at home, and next thing you know, you’ll get someone at your door taking you back to jail. You don’t have to be there. But you come, and then you choose to participate. So you can come and not say anything, and you can come and share your experiences, so just by that, and just us learning to trust each other, we can talk about these things and throw ideas off the wall and give each other constructive criticism or just say pretty much whatever we’re thinking without it becoming an issue. So the fact that we have that freedom, that ability to just let it all hang out and put it out there. We get a lot of things accomplished. We talk about a lot of different issues, and we hear each other out. We’re more receptive to our peers, because they’re not someone talking down at us, they’re someone that’s going through the same thing I am.

Len Sipes: How scary of a place is that? I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been through drug treatment describing it as one of the scariest events of their lives, because they had to confront all the garbage that has gone on in their lives that calls them to be caught up in the criminal justice system. Sometimes treatment is not pretty. Sometimes it’s dragging a person through everything that happened beforehand and coming to an understanding that it doesn’t matter what happened to you beforehand, what happens is now and how to control yourself now.

Zoe: It definitely gets ugly at times where, you know, the group forces an individual to look at their own behaviors and stop putting the blame on everybody else, from the PO to their mother to, sometimes, it’s really difficult to look at your own behavior sometimes, so it gets ugly when the group forces that person to address and take some ownership in their behaviors.

Len Sipes: When I did group, it was like going to Mars in many instances because, no, you went to a different planet. You got involved in an extraordinarily intensive examination of people’s lives. In my life, the lives of the participants in the program, it was scary at times, because, not because of what they said, not because of threats or anything along those lines, but you dig deep into the individual’s life, and suddenly, they are dealing with issues of their past for the first time. They’ve never really dealt with them before. Am I right or wrong?

Tanesha Clardy: You’re definitely right, because I’ve definitely seen a change in, especially the females who weren’t very interested in being in the program at all. Like for Zoë, she definitely came a long way. She didn’t want to do the program, she didn’t understand why she had to do the program, she understood the charge, but to her, I’m not an angry person, I’m not a violent person, the situation happened, it is what it is, I just want to do this and get on with my life. But she comes to group, she actively participates, she’s very open, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and I’ve just definitely seen a positive change in her.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the most meaningful part of all of this. When you go through interacting with a whole bunch of people, and they come to understand what’s happened to them in the past, and they come to understand that they can control it, there are a lot of people caught up in the criminal justice system who have been, I don’t know, I mean, ships on the ocean without sails. I mean, the wind’s just pushing them all over the place, and suddenly, they learn how to put up sails and move in the direction that they want to move in. Boy, that’s a great analogy, isn’t it? I just thought of that! And then there are people who are listening to this who are going, you know, Mr. Sipes, you’re so full of hooey, don’t you understand that they’re just jiving you, they’re just doing what they have to do to get through the program, and –

Zoe: Well, they show. When you show back up, and you’re locked up, it’ll show whether you got something out of the program or not, and it’s all about what you put into it. You can’t expect to, okay, well my life has changed, when you don’t even talk in group. You don’t even participate. It’s not going to happen. And they’ll see you again. So if you’re trying to put your best foot forward, just go ahead and actively participate, pay attention, try to get something out of it, and you won’t, hopefully you won’t have to be in the system again.

Len Sipes: My guess is that an awful lot of people involved in the criminal justice system could use this type of, who could use this kind of program, that this kind of program would be valuable to them. It’s just not people who are ostensibly “violent offenders.” There’s a lot of people with nonviolent charges who have a history of violence. And you, we can judge that through our own instruments. We’ve pretty much come to a good understanding here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency through our instruments as to who that person really is, correct?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Correct. I think anyone can benefit from the program. You could probably benefit from the program yourself because it’s all about conflict resolution, different communication styles, and coping skills, because it’s nothing but a table that separates me from Zoë. I could have been in that same restaurant, and someone pushed me, and I turned around and slapped them, and here I am, I’m on supervision.

Zoe: That’s what happened. No, that’s what happened.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but that could happen to any of us. But I mean –

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It’s all about how you react and the choice that you make.

Len Sipes: And according to the research, most individuals who are caught up in the criminal justice system at the time of the arrest were under the influence of something. And most were young. So if you have a younger individual full of pee and vinegar who doesn’t feel that good about themselves, who –

Tanesha Clardy: Pee and vinegar?

Len Sipes: As Tanesha tries to recover from that statement, and, no, no, no, I mean, this is the reality of what we’re dealing with, is it not? I mean, tell me if I’m wrong. It’s, they’re young, they’re very emotional, they’re caught up in the moment, somebody has insulted them, or there’s a perceived insult, may be real, may not be real, and that person just explodes, and that person, they don’t have to be young?

Tanesha Clardy: No, they don’t have to be young. I mean, we don’t have many old people in our group, but there’s a few. Yeah. And they, they get just as much out of the group as I would, or as the next person. So you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be a male or a female to get caught up in the moment, and next thing you know…

Len Sipes: But you do have to be willing to understand how you became involved in the criminal justice system, how you came to be arrested that evening, and that arrest is oftentimes just the tip of an iceberg. I mean, people caught up in the criminal justice system, they’re here for a burglary, but you know, they’ve been down the road before. They’ve been involved in the criminal justice system. We just don’t know about it. Most crimes aren’t reported, most reported crimes do not end up in arrest. I’m talking about national statistics, and most reported, even when they’re prosecuted, most felonies in this country don’t get prison time. So I mean, to be involved in the criminal justice system, you’ve really had to do something, or you did a series of things before they send you to prison. So, I mean, the point is, is that people are actively engaged in lots of different things that could get them involved with our agency or put them behind prison bars. I mean, it’s just not one instance in many cases, and in many cases, there’s a history of violence, there’s a history of crime, there’s a history of acting out.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Right, the group also focuses on trying to get the individuals to understand what they did and how it has led, again –

Tanesha Clardy: Ownership.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Ownership, taking ownership to their behaviors, because a lot of things are learned behaviors, and they don’t see anything wrong with it, so we have to really focus on what you did and how it’s affected your life.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just, I guess the point that I’m trying to make, Zoë, is that it’s, in many cases, it’s not just one altercation. We’re talking about a history of inappropriate behaviors.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: So we try to focus on learned behaviors and unlearning behaviors, and it can be done.

Len Sipes: That’s the interesting thing where the audience does need to hear that. I mean, you can be 27-years-old, according to Zoë, you can be 47 years old, and you can have this whole life of not making the best of decisions, and you can come out of these sort of encounters making much better decisions. It does work, is the question the average person listening to this program is saying, ladies, does it work?

Michelle Hare-Diggs: It does. I mean, it’s hard for an individual, if you’re 47, 27, whatever, if you’ve been reacting the same way your whole life to whatever situation, if you’re used to lashing out, holding off hitting somebody, smacking somebody, spitting, whatever, and then you’re in a group with other people who have the same issues, some of the similar, some of the same, similar incidents have happened, and you can hear how somebody else is able to react to a situation, it makes you think at some point, okay, maybe I can try that, you might, you might not want to try it the first time, maybe not even the second time, but the third time, be like, okay, I can try that, and then if it works, it works, if not, we use so many different skills, you can try a different one, a different type of coping skill –

Len Sipes: Like retreating.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Retreating, right. Or counting to 10, removing yourself, some people are like, I’m never going to walk out. I would never do this, and you just try something different. So every skill doesn’t work for everybody, but we, thinking errors, you think about, what have I been doing all these years, I’m sorry, what have I been doing all these years, and you have to think, how has it gotten me to this place? And I think that’s the biggest thing that we learn in group, so many, we do the same things over and over and over again, and if it doesn’t work, what can we do differently?

Len Sipes: I talked to a guy who went through this program who was telling me about being involved in a confrontation on the street, and for the first time in his life, he retreated. He removed himself from that situation. It was a tool that he learned in group, and he was able to use that tool and extract himself, and he simply said, my going back to prison is not worth an altercation with this idiot. And that was a huge revelation for this individual. It prevented a violent crime from going down. It prevented him from being further caught up in the criminal justice system. It saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of incarcerative dollars. That was effective. I mean, just simply saying to himself, I’m going to extract myself from this situation. I’m getting out. I’m not going back to prison.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: And I guess another thing, when you have that peer interaction in the group, the peers tell you, it’s okay to walk away. It’s not such a bad thing. Whereas before, you might have said, I’m not walking away. If this is a way of living, you’re not used to walking away, you’re used to handling things in a violent manner, or in a physical manner, and you’re hearing everyone say it’s okay to walk away, you keep telling yourself that, and if my freedom is on the line, sometimes you need that, the cost, the interaction from your peers telling you, what’s the better thing to do in this situation?

Len Sipes: We just have a couple minutes left. Ladies, I mean, to me, this has been an extraordinary half hour. To me, it really has been. The two of you who are paid to be doing this, and Zoë who got sucked into it, but I mean, the explanation, the explanation is, I think, powerful, that people can change through the right kind of programs, and if we had more of these programs, more people could change. Is that overly simplistic? If you had programs in place for more people, we could, we could have a greater impact on public safety.

Michelle Hare-Diggs: Yeah, sure.

Zoe: Definitely. Definitely.

Tanesha Clardy: This is something that could be put into the community. It doesn’t have to be called a violence reduction program. It could just be at a community center, just have people come in from the community, sit down, just learn these different skills, like, be the bigger person. You don’t always have to, of course, defend yourself, but you don’t have to do anything drastic to where you’re going to actually hurt the other person, but just turn away, walk away, I have something to live for, I have a life, I love my freedom, so okay, I’m going to let you get away with this one, and I’m going to just keep moving, because I don’t want to go to my PO and be like, yeah, I got arrested.

Len Sipes: I’m going to let you get away with this one because you are of no consequence to me. I am of consequence to me, and I’m going to protect my kids. I’m going to protect myself, and I’m going to protect my family by getting out of it –

Tanesha Clardy: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Because, my man –

Tanesha Clardy: It’s not worth it.

Len Sipes: – you’re nothing to me.

Tanesha Clardy: I have way too much to live for.

Len Sipes: I have way too much to live for. So he’s not getting away, his opponent is not getting away with anything. He’s getting away with a much better life.

Tanesha Clardy: Right.

Zoe: Right.

Len Sipes: And that’s the whole idea behind this program, right?

Tanesha Clardy: Yes.

Zoe: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. Any final words? Before we close?

Zoe: Well…

Len Sipes: Okay, Zoë. You’ve got the final word. What is it? Is it meaningful?

Zoe: Well, the program is meaningful. I do appreciate now, I can say this now, once again. I do appreciate being chosen to be a part of it, just, just so I can see, okay, this behavior is not right. Something has to change. And now that I have some of the tools in place and some of the methods in place, I’m able to do that and not just take it to the extreme every single time.

Len Sipes: Well, for me, it’s been a wonderful half hour, ladies. I’ve really enjoyed this, and I think it’s been very meaningful, and I think a lot of people and the public are going to learn from it. Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, Zoë, who, it’s not a real name, but she’s a person under supervision with our agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in the violence reduction program. We have community supervision officer Tanesha Clardy, and we have treatment specialist Michelle Hare-Diggs. Ladies, again, thank you for being on the program. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, radio programs from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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