Faith Based Mentoring of Criminal Offenders

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[Video Begins]

Segment One

Leonard Sipes: Hi, welcome to D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Len Sipes. Approximately 7,000 D.C. offenders are incarcerated within federal prisons. About a third of those come back on a year-to-year basis, and when they come back, there’s a responsibility of my agency, the federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We provide strict supervision and accountability, but more important, we provide services. Part of that service is a faith-based advisory counsel and partnership. And to discuss the faith-based advisory counsel and partnership, we have guests today; we had Diane Simms-Moore and Patricia Robinson. And to Diane Simms-Moore and to Patricia Robinson, welcome to D.C. Public Safety. Now, I’m excited about this program, this program I think, brings together the faith community in the District of Columbia and elsewhere to help offenders as they come out of prison to make their lives more livable, to help them in that transition from prison back into the community. But it’s a frustrating job, Diane, isn’t it?

Diane Simms-Moore: Thank you, Leonard, for having us. I would not say that it’s frustrating; I think that it’s pretty exciting. We have an opportunity to do a collaborative effort with the faith community and CSOSA. We’re excited that we have so many partners from the faith community who decided to be part of this program. What we do, we provide mentoring and other support services to make sure that individuals who are coming home, transition will be smooth. As we know, we see ourselves sometimes as an extended family-we know that a lot of our members who have gone away to prisons have burned bridges prior to going leaving. And the faith community provides a bridge to help them transition back into their families with just another focus.

Leonard Sipes: And Diane-and I’m glad you clarified that because it’s challenging, it’s not the easiest job in the world, but it’s a necessary job. I mean, the idea of the individuals coming back out of prison, if they don’t have that support of the faith-based community, it becomes a much more difficult transformation for them. I think that’s the bottom line behind the program, that we can reduce recidivism by getting more people in the faith community to help these individuals as they come out of prison.

Diane Simms-Moore: Exactly. That is one of our objectives, it is also to help them transition back into the community, become more productive citizens. We help with housing, we help with substance abuse counseling, we help with our mentoring, program-so we try to provide an array of services that will make their transition much easier.

Leonard Sipes: And we have an array of faiths involved in the District of Columbia and outside of the District of Columbia in terms of our volunteers. We have the Muslim religion, the Christian religion, other religions, all coming together in terms of this effort.

Diane Simms-Moore: Yes, what we know is that crime does not have a denomination, and we know that the individuals who are coming home are coming back into an entire community, not just one segment of the community, but the entire community. So the faiths initiative allows each of the denominations of faith to come together and to work together in a collaborative effort.

Leonard Sipes: And we also work with the community supervision officers, essentially the parole and probation officers within Court Services and Offender Supervision and the entire effort is one of CSOSA working together with the churches and the mosques, working together with businesses-it’s a collaborative effort, that’s the bottom line.

Diane Simms-Moore: Exactly.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. Patricia Robinson, now you and I have talked before, you’ve done a couple stretches in the federal penitentiary-

Patricia Robinson: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: …you’ve had a very, very, very interesting and some cases a tragic background. But if it wasn’t for the faith-based initiative, Patricia, where would you be in your life right now?

Patricia Robinson: Well, I wouldn’t be sitting here, that’s for certain, because of my past behavior. I mean, you know, I have an over 20-year history in the court system, in the penal system and I found it to be to my best advantage on my return coming home this time. It allowed me to have an accessible component that was gonna have resources and tools available for me, and to help me address some issues that I ordinarily wouldn’t have addressed in my prior incarceration or my recidivism behavior. The faith-based initiative program and partnership with the court system and the community has also allowed me to be able to complete any and all assignments that was required to me upon my release back into the community as well. It also allowed me to be more open and less desensitized and more sensitive to the needs of the community as well as those of the ex -offenders that are coming home. You know, you have to really, really be able to learn how and want to break the cycle of recidivism, and the only way you can really do that is know that you have to have accountability and responsibility. What in turn would help for me was simply that those issues that I hadn’t addressed, I was able to address through my parole officer, through my mentors-

Leonard Sipes: And that’s Willa Butler-

Patricia Robinson: Absolutely, absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: …and that’s one of the-and when people watch this program, they’re gonna see you and Willa interacting.

Patricia Robinson: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: You give a lot of credit to Willa Butler-

Patricia Robinson: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: …your agent or your community supervision officer.

Patricia Robinson: Yes, yes, absolutely. And my parole officer, Ms. Butler, she has a spiritual background, so that in itself is also a need for ex-offenders, and as well as us to be able to collaborate and just have a bonding experience with the community, your parole officer, and your mentor. I mean, in the past we always had a breakdown, you come home and you’re back into the community, and you just, you know, you’re just stuck. So ordinarily or you’re gonna go back into behavior that’s similar. You know, so when you have the mentoring program and you have a church-based community behind you, they allow you to walk you through step-by-step.

Leonard Sipes: What I need to emphasize right now, Diana, this question will go over to you, that you don’t have to embrace the faith to be part of the faith-based community, an offender when they’re coming out of prison, or even anybody that gets involved in this, they don’t have to necessarily embrace a particular brand of the Islamic faith or Christianity, they can come in there and simply take advantage of the services, correct?

Diane Simms-Moore: Correct, that’s correct. We don’t offer a religious support system, we offer a faith support system which allows us out there have access to various sources from the community that are being now provided by the faith institutions. We have a lot of institutions from the faith community that provide housing, substance abuse counseling, clothing banks, food banks.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s one of the amazing things, and I think we need to dwell upon that. There’s a lot of faith-based communities in the District of Columbia and outside of the District of Columbia that support this program through the services you just talked about; day care, drug treatment, housing, clothing, and that’s something I’m not quite sure a lot of people understand, all of the support mechanism currently available.

Diane Simms-Moore: Sometimes it’s difficult to get that out. We found that by having the broader base of the faith community, we’re able to tap into more resources and we’re also able to put that resource information out there for the offender when they come home. One of the exciting things about our program is that we attempt to establish a relationship prior to them coming home.

Leonard Sipes: Right, and in some ways we do that through a video program with the prison in North Carolina. Patricia, back to you, so many offenders struggle, and they struggle big time when they get back to the street.

Patricia Robinson: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: And an awful lot of individuals when they come of prison, simply don’t make it. Could the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency provides a ton of services; educational, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health? The faith-based program is there but still for the average offender coming out of prison, it’s a difficult place to be coming out of prison into the community.

Patricia Robinson: Yes, it is, it really is and what was benefit to me was because I had a second outlet to whereas I knew all these services and resources was available to me in the past. I mean, you know, drug education, after care, mental illness, housing, and things of that nature, but I never really grasped onto it, you know, throughout the duration of the process-

Leonard Sipes: Why not?

Patricia Robinson: Well simply because-I can honestly say I felt disconnected.

Leonard Sipes: Okay. And when you came out of prison this time, what happened? What brought upon that connection?

Patricia Robinson: What brought upon this connection was prior to me being released out into the community-

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Patricia Robinson: …the faith-based initiative program was offered to me-

Leonard Sipes: Oh, okay.

Patricia Robinson: as a volunteer and at my own accord, I wasn’t forced to comply with the program. And I had just gone through my ends and wits, so you know, I had depleted everything that I had did in the past and this was something that, you know, I felt that would be more feasible for me this second and last chance back into the community.

Leonard Sipes: But why, what is the key ingredient about the faith-based initiative? When they reached out to you, what did that mean to you?

Patricia Robinson: It was an overwhelming experience because I had a group of people, a community, that embraced me with all my faults and all of my bruises and all of my scratches, and embraced me with an unconditional guidance, care, and love. You know, when you deplete all of your resources and your family and your connections, you feel disconnected, even when you come back home. So what made a difference for me was because in the initial assessment, I saw this, you know, and I had no other recourse but to embrace this because this was unfamiliar to me, but it was comforting, and it was consistent, you know. And one thing I learned through the faith-based initiative program, that consistency is something that I can really rely on because it’s not a breakdown.

Leonard Sipes: Now was it the message of hope and acceptance, or was it the provision of services, or both?

Patricia Robinson: It was collective.

Leonard Sipes: Was it the entire package?

Patricia Robinson: It was the entire package.

Diane Simms-Moore: Yeah. Right.

Leonard Sipes: Diane, please.

Diane Simms-Moore: And I think one of the exciting things when we first met Patricia was that when we made it known to her all of the services that we would provide and the extent of our mentoring and support for her, she said to me, ‘and you mean I don’t have to do anything,’ that, ‘you guys are willing to support me without my having to give anything to you in order for that support?’ which for her was a new experience. The faith community is there, it’s available to support, we’re there to practice what God tells us, to love and respect each other.

Leonard Sipes: But in most cases, both of us, all three of us would have to admit that difficultly of love and respect in terms of offenders coming out of prison.

Patricia Robinson: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Most people, I mean, we have to put this on the table, have this aversion, you know, a person coming out of prison, no. When a person-when they hear about a person coming out of prison, they don’t see Patricia Robinson, they don’t see struggle, they don’t see hope, they don’t see possibility, they see something entirely different. But the two of you coming together, in a faith community coming together, we have a different Patricia Robinson.

Patricia Robinson: Yes.

Diane Simms-Moore: Exactly because a faith community sees beyond that, sees beyond your faults. And I think by coming through the faith community back into the community, it also helps the community to open their arms and embrace those individuals that are coming home.

Leonard Sipes: And if everybody, I mean, this is just theoretical, if everybody coming out of prison had that to come back to, had that group of people to embrace them-and again, I understand that it’s a difficult embrace for many people, but if that was there, instead of the recidivism rate that we have now, I’m assuming that we would have a dramatically lower rate of recidivism.

Diane Simms-Moore: We certainly like to believe that.

Leonard Sipes: And Pat, where would you be, again, without this program you said it at the beginning, where would you be right now? I mean, your background is difficult.

Patricia Robinson: I would be probably locked up or dead, really. My behavior was totally extreme and disrespect and uncaring nature in my past behavior. And as I said before, this was over a 20-year period, so absolutely, you know, it wouldn’t by completely terminated or you know, I would be back in prison.

Leonard Sipes: And a 20-year period is a long time-

Patricia Robinson: It’s very, very long time.

Leonard Sipes: If this had been in place ten years ago, what would happen? Would you think you could have made the break back then?

Patricia Robinson: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely. I would have been able to make the break back then simply because it would have stopped it, and it had a lot to do with the issues that I had to address on my own and to have some assistance with that. Not only with clinicians, or parole officers, or the court systems, or social workers, but simply another component that I can have a choice to go out and reach out to that would automatically reach out to me.

Leonard Sipes: All right, Patricia, we’re out of time. Diane, Patricia, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for watching us.

Patricia Robinson: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Be with us in the second segment where we talk to director Paul Quander, the director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Reverend Donald Isaac, the chair of the faith-based advisory partnership, where we continue our discussion about faith-based efforts for ex-offenders in the District of Columbia. We’ll be right back.

Segment Two

Leonard Sipes: Hi, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety, I continue to be your host, Len Sipes. On our second segment we have two new guests. We have Paul Quander, the director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and we have Reverend Donald Isaac, he’s the chair of the faith-based advisory partnership. Paul and Reverend Isaac, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Male 1: Thank you.

Leonard Sipes: Director Quander, now the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, essentially we are the parole and probation entity for the District of Columbia, correct.

Paul Quander: That’s correct, we’re an independent federal organization agency who’s mission is to supervise men and women who are on probation, parole, supervised release, or any type of court supervision to the superior court or to the United States parole commission for offense that have been committed in the District of Columbia. We are the supervising authority for those individuals.

Leonard Sipes: To get a partnership, to establish a partnership with the churches, with the mosques, the other religious entities within the District of Columbia that help offenders coming out of prison, I mean, that is in essence basically a bold step to enter into that sort of a partnership with them. Where do you see that partnership going?

Paul Quander: I think it’s the next step in a continuum of progress for how do we help individuals return to the District of Columbia, return to their communities, and how do we protect our communities, how do we make them safer? All too often, you know, you look at government as having all the answers to the problems, but we realize that government by itself can’t do this job, we needed to reach out. And what better place to reach out to than organizations, faith institutions, that have been doing the same type work in their ministries? Many of these churches have had prison ministries, have had outreach ministries, had food ministries, housing, clothing, nursery school and educational programs, it was just a natural match for us to reach out to invite the faith communities. And in the District of Columbia we’re very thankful that we’ve had a very overwhelming response, good leadership, as we try to build this partnership to help the men and women of our community.

Leonard Sipes: And Reverend Donald Isaac, that’s a perfect segway over to you, now you’re the chair of the faith-based advisory counsel and partnership-this is to me an amazing event of the idea of the church and the mosques and the other religious entities coming together to help former offenders. As Paul said, the churches and the mosques have been doing this for a long time, but now it’s being done under one umbrella, one partnership, one entity, and the harness the power of all the religious institutions, amount I right or wrong?

Rev. Donald Isaac: Well, you’re absolutely correct. The faith advisory counsel is an effort to really give leadership to the CSOSA faith partnership, and essentially is an effort to really connect the dots as you indicated, both in the faith community, both Christians and Muslims alike have been doing this work for a number of years, so it’s just a recognition that the problem is big enough that all of us have to work together to have impact.

Leonard Sipes: Now but, and again, as I said during the first segment, I’m impressed; so many of the churches, so many of the mosques have the outreach already, have the clothing ministries, have the drug treatment ministries, have the housing ministries, so they’ve been out in the community. But it’s that collective effort that is truly impressive to me, to go into these events and to see the ministers and the imams come together with the people who they’re mentoring, and to see the difference that it’s making in the lives of so many people. I think that’s the message that we’re trying to get out in the program today, that you can make a dramatic difference in the lives of people who may not make it through the faith-based initiative.

Rev. Donald Isaac: Absolutely. I sort of characterize it by saying, ‘moving from the – me to we mentality.’ If it’s the previously incarcerated person who’s coming home, they need other people.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Rev. Donald Isaac: If it’s a Christian church who has a food ministry, we need to be linked up with someone else who has a housing ministry. We all need-there’s an effort for mentors, many of the people who are in our congregations or are in our mosques who want to do something, this is an opportunity for us all to rise up and work together as a collective whole.

Leonard Sipes: Paul, the bottom line between our organization and this entire partnership is one of public safety, is one of protecting the public-

Paul Quander: Absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: …is one of making the District of Columbia as safe as we can make it, and I think that point bears repeating as well. Because we talked to Patricia in the first segment, we know that if she had these resources before, she possibly could have escaped a continual life of drugs and crime and incarceration. If we had this partnership well established even beyond the partnership that we have now, where do you think it could go? What do you think it could do in terms of public safety?

Paul Quander: Not only would we be able to reach more men and women who have been incarcerated who are involved in the criminal justice system, but more importantly, we’ll have a greater impact on public safety in the District of Columbia and in the surrounding region. Every time there’s a man or woman who comes out who we can put together in our faith-based initiative, who we can provide a mentor for, who we can make sure has a job, retains that job, has housing, that individual is less likely to commit more crime. If they’re not out committing crimes, then they’re out being productive; they’re paying taxes-one of the greatest things that we can have is for a man or a woman to be involved in their child’s life, to take care of the child, to go to the PTA meetings, to do all of all those things that many of them aren’t doing right now.

Leonard Sipes: And most offenders do have children.

Paul Quander: Most offenders have children, and so we don’t really talk about that a lot. But if we don’t address it, then that’s the next wave that will be coming to us, and we want to prevent that. So the more and more we can do with these offenders that are coming back, we can promote pro-social values, we can give them the support. And it’s not just the support from the CSO, the probation and parole officer, it’s support from people that look like them, that live in the same communities, that may have gone through some of the same paths that they have and been successful in making that transition. So the more that we can bring to the table, the more that we can show them good examples and good support, the easier it is for them to come over to this side, to come over to the pro-social, to come over to the right, the religious, the faith-based way, and leave that other side alone. But that other side has a powerful draw, and we have to have a stronger message on this side if we’re gonna be successful.

Leonard Sipes: And it is an extraordinarily powerful draw. One of the things we’re going to do throughout this program is put up our telephone number for people who want additional information, or people who want to volunteer, or people who want to get involved in this as well as our website address. But Reverend Isaac, again, it’s that sense of hope, a lot of offenders fail, a lot of people coming out of prison, they don’t make that transformation, they just simply go back to prison, they simply go back to the needle in the arm, they simply go back to drugs, they simply go back to harming other people. In the hundreds of offenders that I have talked to throughout my career, they basically said there was no hope. They didn’t intend on going back to crime getting out of prison, but they essentially after the first week, after the second week, after the first month, there was a sense of no hope. What I’m getting from the faith-based advisory counsel, what I’m getting from the partnership, is that you all provide them with a sense of hope that was not there before.

Rev. Donald Isaac: That’s absolutely right. Often times when people ask what is faith-based, I simply say that it’s talking about the motivation of the persons who are engaging previously incarcerated persons. So the reason I do it, the reason Diane does it, the reason that other people are involved is because of our faith conviction. It’s not a requirement for a person coming home to have that faith.

Leonard Sipes: Right, they don’t have to get involved in that church-

Rev. Donald Isaac: No.

Leonard Sipes: …they don’t have to get involved in that mosque.

Rev. Donald Isaac: No.

Leonard Sipes: Understood.

Rev. Donald Isaac: But through the relationship, we believe in the principle of transference. And that is as they begin to walk and observe and look, they might never come to hear a sermon, but they might see it in the walk and in the way that we conduct ourselves, and it begins hopefully to transfer and ignite hope within that individual.

Leonard Sipes: Because a lot of people who are involved in this, at one time were incarcerated as well, they understand the challenge, they understand the need, or they come from a history of one, or they come from a history of addiction. They can help not only in terms of provide an example, they can identify very clearly with what that person is going through when they’re released from prison.

Rev. Donald Isaac: Absolutely, absolutely, and that’s the case, so we think-and Paul kind of indicated, I think that we talk about mentoring, but in my experience, there’s nothing more therapeutic or powerful than a father and a son sitting across the table from one another, it just does things with regard to stirring up a sense of conviction and determination on both the part of the father and the young person that you just can’t explain or you can’t duplicate it.

Leonard Sipes: And so many people watching this program, quite frankly they’ve lost hope. They are more than willing to take people coming out of prison and basically toss them aside. There are so many other things to worry about, but here there is that sense of hope, there’s government, there’s the faith-based community, there’s businesses-what is the most you think, Paul Quander, is the key ingredient here? I think personally, it is having that sense of hope where there was no hope before, having that sense of direction where there was no direction before.

Paul Quander: Right. Hope and compassion and a consistent message, the one thing that has been consistent throughout is the faith community. They’ve been there, they’ve been there for years and they will be there. The new ingredient is the government coming to the faith community and saying, ‘let us work with you as we walk down this road together.’ The other thing is we’re starting early; we’re not waiting for the men and women to actually get to the District of Columbia to start this. We’re actually in the prisons now, we’re in the Rivers Correctional Facility in Winton, North Carolina for the men, and very soon we’re going to be at one of the women’s facilities as well. We do video hookups, so by that way we can get the mentors in, we can tell the men and women what programs are available, what services are available, so they can see even while they’re still incarcerated, while they’re getting ready to come home, that it’s a new home, it’s a new day, there are new opportunities. Accountability is still job number one, public safety is still job number one, but there is a means to help them with that transition. They don’t have to have a life of crime, they can start doing those pro-social things that we as a larger community want them to do, so they can see that and they can see the transition. And there are some success stories that are people that have already been out there. For every Diane that’s out there who has made it, that has a tremendous impact on those men and women who are still incarcerated.

Leonard Sipes: Sure, sure. And for those people who are watching this program right now, if they want additional information that they didn’t take advantage of it coming out of prison, they can still get involved in the faith-based partnership. And again, we’ll put up the telephone number and we’ll put up the website for additional information. Reverend Isaac, where do we want to go to from here in the final moments of the program, do we want to go from, you know, a couple hundred churches and the mosques to 400, do we want to go from, I’m sorry, 50 to 100, do we want to go to a couple hundred volunteers to 400 volunteers, where do we want to go in the next couple years?

Rev. Donald Isaac: Well I think it’s essential, I’m glad you asked that question because I think it’s essential to our mindset to understand that we’re not running a program, but we’re building a movement. And often as we look at the death of Coretta King and Rosa Parks, I think it’s fitting because it reminds us of the type of social engagement, the type of social involvement, the type of explosion was necessary in order to address a very serious problem that we have within our country. And finally in that context, it’s really not about numbers, even though we want to see numbers, but we feel that a few dedicated, committed persons can have tremendous impact on the quality and direction of our society.

Leonard Sipes: And we saw that through Diane and Patricia Robinson. Paul, in the final minutes of the program, where do you see us going with the faith-based community?

Paul Quander: I’m trying to reach as many men and women who are incarcerated as they come back. As you mentioned in the beginning, there are approximately 7,000 men and women from the District of Columbia who are incarcerated in federal facilities. Those are our sons and our daughters and our parents, and they’re a part of our community. I want them to come back and I want them to be involved in their children’s lives, I want them to be able to take care of their parents and their grandparents. I want them to come back and get jobs and be taxpaying citizens. I’m talking about just the social fabric of our community. The more that we can bring them in, the more productive that they can be, the better our community is going to be, the safer our community is going to be. And that’s what we’re about, we want to reclaim those lost souls and those lost individuals, we want to make them whole again and we want them to be a part of our community.

Leonard Sipes: And people need to understand as we said before that so many children are involved in this, if we can reclaim thousands instead of hundreds, we’re talking about in the process, thousands upon thousands of children who are dependent upon them, not just for their emotional support, but for financial support, for physical support, to be there, and they can’t provide that support if they’re in prison, they can’t provide that support if they’re doing crime, they can only provide that support if they’re part of this initiative and doing the right thing.

Paul Quander: Absolutely, absolutely.

Leonard Sipes: All right, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for watching this edition of D.C. Public Safety. Watch for us next time as we explore another very, very, important topic within the District of Columbia’s criminal justice system. Have yourself a very pleasant day.

[Video Ends]

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