Faith Based Mentoring-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Covenant Baptist Church.

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

La Juana Clark:  Yes they do.

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And how were you treated?

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

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

La Juana Clark:  No, not at all.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

La Juana Clark:  Not at all.

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

La Juana Clark:  Yes, absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Tell me about that.

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

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely.

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

La Juana Clark:  Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

Natasha Freeman:  That is correct.

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  Right.

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  Oh? Congratulations.

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

Len Sipes:  What’s an SRO?

La Juana Clark:  SRO is a Single Residency Occupancy.

Len Sipes:  Okay, cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Yes, that’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  What’s your game?

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Exactly.

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  It took a while.

Len Sipes:  How long?

La Juana Clark:  It was like six months.

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

La Juana Clark:  It takes a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes:  Wonderful. Wonderful. Congratulations.

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

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

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

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

La Juana Clark:  Yes.

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

[Audio Ends]

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