Faith-Based Offenders and Reentry

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Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Guy Charity. Guy is the secretary of the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program and that is a program, a faith based program dealing with the provision of services to former offenders. We have two people currently under the supervision of my agency; the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we’ll simply know them as Larry and Michael. So to Guy, Larry and Michael, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Guy Charity: Thanks. Glad to be here.

Len Sipes: All right. Guy the first question goes to you. Now, the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. First of all, describe what that is and let’s get onto the broader topic of assisting people who are coming out the prison system.

Guy Charity: The Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program is a 501C3 program that is sponsored by Metropolitan AME church that is designed to help ex offenders returning back to the community by strengthening their family, spiritual, and economic well being.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now that is laudable and let’s get right into the questions in terms of the different people listening to this program. They’re gonna say okay, should the church be involved in dealing with ex offenders. Doesn’t the church or5 the mosque or the synagogue have elderly people to deal with or poverty or about 1,000 other issues that the church should be focusing on? Why is the church dealing with former offenders?

Guy Charity: I think the church is doing this in that they have the resources and they have the commitment to make things like this happen. Metropolitan AME church is located in downtown D.C. so it has an urban ministry. So, we have the ability to reach out into the community and provide these types of services

Len Sipes: Okay. So everybody in the church is on board.

Guy Charity: Yes.

Len Sipes: And everybody is supportive of the concept of dealing with ex offenders.

Guy Charity: Yes. Very much so.

Len Sipes: Okay. I mean, you see the difficulty, I’ve been working with offenders for decades and they tell me they come out of the prison system and nobody wants to give them any time at all or for that matter, the churches, they’ve said the churches have not been supportive. They go and try to get employment, they go and try to get services and its like, man you’ve been in prison, I’m sorry. I’ve got a whole waiting list of more worthy people standing in front of you. So there’s always been that barrier and I’ve heard from people in the past that the churches and maybe the mosques and the synagogues are also part of that barrier. But in your case it’s not.

Guy Charity: No. I think you have to educate yourself and you have to educate your congregation. Once the congregation knows and people know that it’s not that bad and that there is results, positive results, that can be had from taking steps into addressing the needs of this target population, it’s very rewarding.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Guy Charity: So, it’s a matter of just educating. If you educate your congregation, if you educate the community and they see that it’s not really that bad and that positive results can result from efforts taken, I think they’ll be more willing to step out.

Len Sipes: All right. So, to get around to the larger issue of people coming out of the prison system, you and I had a discussion one time when we were doing fugitive safe surrender and people were voluntarily turning themselves in with warrants and you and I were having this discussion outside of the church and we just basically agreed that this is a difficult area. That I’ve worked in the area, I’ve had hands on experience in working in the area and it is really difficult to see so many young men and in some cases women purposefully throw their lives away in terms of crime and drugs. Even if they come out and get a second chance, sometimes it’s a daunting situation trying to convince them that there is a life outside of that heroin needle, there is a life outside of being on the street, hustling, being a part of the game. It’s difficult. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Guy Charity: Yes. It’s all about choices and unfortunately if you make a bad choice it takes time to recover from them, but we in the church community and the faith-based community, we understand that it’s about choices and we understand that you can be forgiven and we understand that you can have a second, a third, and a fourth chance.

Len Sipes: All right. Who wants to go first, Larry or Michael? Somebody raise their hand because I’ve got questions for you. Okay. So you are Larry?

Michael: Michael.

Len Sipes: Michael. I’m sorry. Michael, tell me. Now you’re currently under our supervision and you’re a client over at the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. Correct?

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: Can I ask you why you’re under supervision?

Michael: Well, I was under the supervision for marijuana possession with intent to distribute.

Len Sipes: Okay, and you’ve done either recently or somewhere in your history, you’ve been incarcerated.

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. So you’re out on the street. How’s things going for you?

Michael: Well things are going fine. I’ve been employed by the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. I’ve been given a mentor who’s got a charity, right here sitting beside me and it’s been a good experience in the program. Initially when I first got in the program, it gave me a hope for the future and that was important. Being in the summer program that they had at the time was very good. It gave me something to do everyday, life skills; it taught me a lot of things.

Len Sipes: All right. How long you been out?

Michael: We’ll say February of 2006.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been out on the street for a while. Are you successful?

Michael: Yes. I would say, I mean I feel like I’m more successful now that I ever was because of the position that I have with the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program.

Len Sipes: What do you do?

Michael: I’m administrative assistant for the program and, you know, I work hands on with a lot of ex offenders.

Len Sipes: All right.

Michael: It’s very rewarding.

Len Sipes: So, it’s not only you’re getting mentorship from the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Center, you also have a job?

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. So what is the key ingredient in terms of taking people who come out of the prison system or come out of jails, and what is the key in terms of turning them around? Because the statistics are not very encouraging according to the Department of Justice, two-thirds are rearrested within 3 years and 50% are reincarcerated within 3 years.

Michael: Well, the reason that it’s probably not successful is because the active probation is more inclined to have you reincarcerated. Because if you weren’t on probation, you wouldn’t get locked up for missing a meeting with a probation officer or felony drug test, so you really, probation is gonna get you locked up, you know, it’s you got really one foot back in jail anyway. But, programs like the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program, they kind of offset that in a way because they give young men something, some hope, and something to do. Because a lot of young men, this isn’t their first time in the system. You know, so I mean

Len Sipes: How old are you?

Michael: I’m 20, well I just turned 30 yesterday.

Len Sipes: Congratulations. Happy Birthday.

Michael: Yeah. So it’s like the program it teaches you life skills, it gets you on the right path and plus you know you have a congregation behind you, a lot of people behind you, a lot of resources.

Len Sipes: I’ve heard that so often a lot of people come out of the prison system, a lot of people come out of the prison system and they’re not well connected to either their family and their friends may not be the best of friends to go back to and a lot of times I’m told that the religious organizations that are part of this network, that’s a really important thing. Not necessarily the religion, we’re not asking people to become Baptist, we’re not asking people to become Muslims. But just having people surround you and take care of you and discuss things with you and support you and take you to job interviews or to do whatever, supply you with a set of clothes for the job interview. Well, evidently that seems to be important in a lot of people’s lives.

Michael: Yes because a lot of people don’t have, weren’t raised up around that type of environment where you have an uncle who’s a lawyer, you know, an aunt who works down at the court building, where you can have things, the system could work for you, you got people who can pull strings for you. And you know, I mean so when you have, when you enter a program like the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program, you getting the whole Metropolitan AME church behind you.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: Whereas whatever resource you need, if someone in that church, since the whole church is on board with the program,

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: And they’re not looking down on you like you’re a sinner because the whole basic thing of church is forgiveness.

Len Sipes: Right, it is forgiveness.

Michael: That’s what church is about.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: You know, so I mean when the church signs on and everybody is on board, it’s like you have a whole network of people behind you and you can, and strings can be pulled for you that might not have been able to be pulled for you in the past. So, it’s really like you come from being a second class citizen to maybe like a middle or upper class citizen as far as your connections.

Len Sipes: Because you have, you’re surrounded by people who are, you know pro social people who are not involved in crime, not involved in drugs and they’re embracing you and they’re helping you take you from point A to point B.

Michael: Yeah. You’re meeting people where you wouldn’t have met in the past.

Len Sipes: Right. Understood.

Michael: And you’re interacting people and you’re seeing that these people have made the right decisions. They haven’t had to dabble in the street life or in the drug culture.

Len Sipes: But both of us know that an awful lot of people that come out of the prison system go back to the criminal justice system. Now I want to get back to your point a little while ago. When you said, you know, the probation system sort of sets you up for failure, the average person would say but you know, aren’t you obligated not to do drugs, aren’t you obligated to show up to your parole and probation officers place on time. That these are things that if you’re out of the prison system, these are things that we want you to do. So, how does that set you up?

Michael: Well, like I can answer that in two ways because. You’re exactly right. You do owe your debt to society which is part your prison sentence and the other part is your probation when you’re on the streets or halfway house, whatever you have to do.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: So, that is true. At the same time, you’re expected to live a life and pay bills if you’re not in a halfway house, you’re expected to live somewhere, you’re expected to feed yourself, you’re expected to do a lot of things. And when you expect to do those things, you might have a lot of obligations. You might have a drug program at 6:30 that day. You might got to meet your PO at 2:00. You might have to go to a program, like say for instance you in the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. You’re in there during the middle of the day. Your day is filled up and really where’s the money coming from. So there you go. You need money. So that might be one reason why if you’re looking for a job or you have a job or you have a way you can get money, it kind of conflicts with those things and your bound to miss some things like that. But I do say that the probation officers here that I’ve had in the District of Columbia have been understanding. I’m not gonna say they’ve been to the point where they just have no understanding of what you’re going through because you know they off in the community too. They probably have an uncle or nephew that’s on probation and they understand what you’re going through.

Len Sipes: But feel free to criticize us. I mean you get to say whatever it is that you want to say. I’m interested in hearing the reality of the situation and I’m glad that you’re finding the CSO’s, what we call Community Supervision Officers, most jurisdictions around the country they call them parole and probation agents, I’m glad that you’re finding them helpful. So let me just ask a couple more questions and then we’re gonna get around to asking the same questions of Larry. Okay. So we both know that there is a lot of people that come out and don’t do well. We know that there’s a lot of people that come back out, get back involved in lifestyle, back involved in the game, back involved in drugs, back involved in crime and they go back to prison. So what’s the difference between you and them?

Michael: Well, there really is no difference because the thing about it is we’ve all made the same choices in the past and the only difference between me and them is that, I mean it’s the same difference between me and a pastor at a church or someone in the congregation in a church. I might have gotten caught. The person in that church who is sitting in the front row yelling and screaming every Sunday, they might not have gotten caught. So there, that’s why dealing with the church is good because it’s all about forgiveness. We all do things, you know what I mean. So,

Len Sipes: So everybody who’s listening to this program will basically says look my man, you didn’t serve enough time, what do you want from me. Why you even out? You should be in prison. We both know that those people exist and maybe there’s more than just a couple people with that attitude. What do you say to them?

Michael: Well, those people I mean I can understand why they feel that way. They probably, most of them probably Republicans you know.

Len Sipes: Don’t kid yourself. Don’t kid yourself. I think across the board,

Michael: I’m just joking.

Len Sipes: Upper income, lower income, white, black, I’ve heard this over and over and over again.

Michael: I’m just joking. But seriously, I mean I can understand that. If I had family and a wife and kids, I wouldn’t want some guy coming home from jail living next door to me. Because that’s the perception that you have of people who return home. But the thing is if you look at it as all the stuff that you done in your life and you really know that you done and you’ve never been caught for.

Len Sipes: All right.

Michael: They’re no different from you.

Len Sipes: They’re gonna say, yeah I cheated on my income taxes, yeah I drove while intoxicated, yeah I hit somebody when I shouldn’t have, but I haven’t raped, I haven’t robbed, I haven’t murdered anybody.

Michael: Okay. That’s true and neither have I for the record.

Len Sipes: Okay. Not suggesting that you have, but you know, this is how people feel. People are saying, yeah I’ve done that, I’ve done things I could go to prison for, but I haven’t done these really extreme things that we keep hearing about every night on the evening news.

Michael: Yeah. I mean I understand that. To speak on violent offenders and people who commit crimes, heinous crimes, a lot of those people pay their debt to society and they come out, I mean it’s like say you do 20 years, 10 years, I mean it’s you become institutionalized and jail may be your home and you might want to go back there because that’s home. I mean some of that stuff you’re dealing with, issues that you know we can go talk for hours about those issues, but as far as what I would say to somebody who doesn’t understand why these people should be let back into the community, I would just say this community is made up of different people and this is home for people. If a person killed somebody and they go do their time and they come back, where they gonna go. So you better make this, the transition back into society as smooth as possible because they not going to Richmond, they not going to Baltimore. They killed somebody in D.C. in 1980 and they just come home, they coming back to D.C. so you need to make D.C. a place where they can receive the type programs and benefits that can make them a productive citizen in D.C. cause eventually D.C. is gonna be the place where they commit their next murder if they don’t have these types of programs.

Len Sipes: And the research does indicate that these programs, when I say these programs, mental health programs, educational programs, GED programs, job programs, that people who are involved in these programs generally speaking have a substantial less rate of recidivism. In other words, it’s a lot less of the times they’re gonna out knocking somebody over top the head and they’re being tax payers instead of tax burdens and so these programs do seem to work. But for those of us who are involved on this end of the criminal justice system, these programs work, but if they work how come we don’t have a ground swell support in terms of more of these programs. That’s always puzzled me. But it is now Larry’s turn and Larry you’re the one up next and you’re the one who I want to ask. We’re gonna go through this same conversation and then we’re gonna go back to Guy to end it up. Now you’re currently under supervision of my agency, the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, correct?

Larry: Yes.

Len Sipes: Can you give me a sense of why you’re under supervision.

Larry: I’m under supervision, I committed the crime when I was like young. I was like 19 when I committed the crime. I happened to help someone get away after they committed a crime. That’s actually my case, helping someone get away after they committed a crime. Accessory after the fact.

Len Sipes: All right. And you’ve done time.

Larry: Yes, I have.

Len Sipes: All right. So, you’re out. How long have you been out?

Larry: I’ve been out now 13 months.

Len Sipes: And what’s it been like?

Larry: It’s been rough for me in the beginning, but I sticking to it, holding on now. I’m working and I go to school during the day.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now let’s get back to the part of being rough. A lot of people that come out of prison and they’re not prepared for what it is they’re coming to and a lot of people tell me that you have elation, the family picks you up and everybody gets together for a nice meal and everybody is happy that you’re home and it’s, you know, nice for a couple of days, but suddenly, you’ve got to find a job. Suddenly, you’ve got to find a place to live and even though the family has welcomed you home with open arms, they may not necessarily want you to live with them. So a lot of the guys that I’ve talked to, its a rough transformation. They’re not mentally, psychologically prepared for, you know, those days after everybody welcomes them home.

Larry: Yes it is rough a lot for one, when a person come home from jail, he’s obligated to, he or she is obligated to bills, the world doesn’t stop because you’ve got problems. When you inside, life’s still going, you’re family still pay bills. So when you come home, you have to help support and its hard coming straight out of prison because you have no job, you coming straight from scratch like a newborn baby.

Len Sipes: Now, what would happen, by the way, if you had these programs in the prison system. I mean, every warden I’ve ever talked to, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the federal system or the state system, every warden I’ve ever talked to basically supports the following proposition. That everybody in prison should get their GED, everybody in prison should get drug treatment, everybody in prison should have a job training program and everybody in prison should have mental health treatment. And all that stuff should be continued when they get back out to the community. Now, every warden says this, but the research tells me that, the national research is that the overwhelming majority of folks leaving the prison system aren’t getting these services or while they’re in the prison system they don’t get these services. Now why is that?

Larry: It’s that because it takes folks so long for the program to get setup. The time that individually, like my self, will be able to get in, will likely get in one of the programs, there might be a waiting list. I might not have enough time. I might have to have a certain criteria of time, jail time to do. I might be shorter than that or I might be longer than that. It’s just I’m not coming home for the next couple of years, they might put me on the back burner and back burner for them people that is short, put them first, you know and that’s how that goes on.

Len Sipes: All right. But is it, I guess this is what I’m trying to get out of you Larry. In your opinion is this a sense that, I mean we build jail beds, prison beds, by the leaps and bounds and by the way, just for the record, I’m not against that, if you do the crime you do the time and I’m not quite sure you would agree or disagree with me on that. But, there are certain people who need to be incarcerated and certain people who need to be punished. But, as long as they’re in the prison system, they should get the services they’re going to need so they don’t continue to commit crimes when they get out. I mean, that’s my own editorializing and I’ve always wondered, okay why is this? We build prison beds by the tens of thousands every year but we don’t build these programs that folks need while they’re in the prison system.

Larry: I really don’t know the reason why. You have to ask someone that’s like in charge of doing the programs, you know. But where I just come from, I come from a prison that’s really strictly for all of D.C. inmates. You know, where I was just at, we had programs.

Len Sipes: But that was a federal prison, just for people listening outside of the District of Columbia.

Larry: It was a federal prison.

Len Sipes: All D.C. offenders now go to a federal prisons or the people beyond the limits of the District of Columbia.

Larry: Yeah and I was in the prison in North Carolina and this particular prison it was a private owned but we was funded by the Bureau of Prisons.

Len Sipes: Right.

Larry: So everybody down there is from D.C. or they was an immigrant. And that prison, the majority of people who go to,

Len Sipes: Rivers.

Larry: Rivers, that’s the name of it. They do have a lot of programs. When I went to Rivers, I got into keyboarding, every type of keyboarding, word processing, all the way through Microsoft Excel and Power Point; I did all that. I even got a, even went to college. We went to college. They had a community college, Roanoke Chowan Community College. I went there for a year, got my heating and air conditioning certification, my CFC. I went through a 30-day drug program to teach me a little life skills. I went through, they do have a lot of programs there for you, but you have to be, you’ve got to be able to want to get in them yourself.

Len Sipes: Right. You’ve got to have the mind set that you want to go in and pick up these and run with them. Now, how you doing on the outside?

Larry: On the outside, I’m doing swell. I’m in the David Alexander program and a program located around Willow Creek, the old valley green, I’m in a pre apprenticeship doing construction industry there now.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’re using those skills that you picked up in the prison system?

Larry: Yeah. I’m trying to. See in the prison system, it was all books, it was no hands on.

Len Sipes: Right.

Larry: They couldn’t get equipment and things like that. So I really just got the book smart, but that’s not what I need to get a job in that field. I need some type of training, so that’s why I’m in Willow Creek right now for.

Len Sipes: Larry, tell me, what do people need when they come out of the prison system? They hear from me, they hear from Guy, they hear from the President of the United States who in his State of Union speech back in 2004 talked about the necessity for these sorts of programs, specifically faith-based programs. You hear from advocates and you hear from lots of people who simply say, hey I’m sorry, we’ve got the elderly to deal with, we’ve got schools to improve, we’ve got kids who are sick and don’t get medical care. I’m sorry I got too much on my mind to deal with people coming out of the prison system. I’ve got all these other things going on and I just don’t have a lot of time, nor do I have a lot of sympathy for those who come out of the prison system. So, you represent those 650,000 people coming out of prisons every year back into the community. So can you imagine that? You came into here representing one person and today you represent 650,000. What do you say to people to convince them that you’re worth investing in?

Larry: You have to always give people a chance. Everybody is not as bad as what it say on paperwork. Like in my instance, paperwork you’ll say that I’m a very violent person based on my criminal background my case that I had, but I’m not that way at all. People need a chance. That’s all we need is a chance to make it. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be as soon as we get out we’re gonna do the right thing. It takes time. Some people have to change their whole lifestyle, their whole character, not just their lifestyle their character. You know, some people just grew up just in the corrupt environment and it takes time to change. Change takes time.

Len Sipes: All right. Guy, we’re gonna go back to you for the last 5 minutes of the program. Now we’ve heard from Larry and we’ve heard from Michael and we’ve heard two individuals who have been incarcerated, they’re now out, they’re now drug free, they’re now employed or getting training. They’re now either tax payers or about to be tax payers instead of tax burdens. Are these the rare few individuals who are, if the services were there across the board for people coming out of the prison system, would they be part of the mainstream of offenders coming out of prison system or are these just hand-picked, cherry-picked guys who are doing well? What do think would happen if we had all these programs that we feel are in society’s best interest?

Guy Charity: I think this is the rule and not the exception. These guys are doing well. We didn’t cherry-pick them. I think they wanted to change and we provided them the opportunity. As with our program, there’s a learning curve. When we first started out, we stumbled around. We didn’t exactly know what we were doing, but we put one foot in front of the other and we led and we just went out in faith. We made our mistakes and, for instance, when we first started the program, we had committed to providing jobs. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but when we started we said we we’re gonna provide, one of the cornerstones of our program is gonna be jobs. We want to give, we promised, we will promise you a job. Didn’t know where it was coming from, but we made that promise.

Len Sipes: Right.

Guy Charity: So the guys came into the program saying okay he said he’s gonna get me a job. And so when the program progressed along, we said okay now we’ve got to get these jobs. Now where they gonna come from? So, I actually stood up at a blackboard with our board members and we actually crafted a plan to provide jobs. So we did. So we actually found jobs. So the first job that we found we sent one of our program graduates to, it was a restaurant. The restaurant said, the guy said you send him here, we need help right now, you sent him he’s hired. If he shows up, he’s hired. So we’re excited. I’m excited, I’m like rah our first job. We got somebody a job. So, we send him to the place, he looks at the outside of the building and he says, I don’t want to work here. You know, so I call, I’m thinking that that’s a done deal and we can move on. I find out he never even showed up, never went to the appointment. So, you have those types of disappointments. But, we took that into consideration, we changed, worked with the program, calibrated it, and figured out well we’ve got to ask these guys what they want.

Len Sipes: Right.

Guy Charity: He didn’t want restaurant, so we should have known that, so we shouldn’t have sent him there. So we had to make these types of corrections. We had to deal with these types of disappointments and frustration, but it’s a growing process, and I’ve think we’ve learned from it and we have been able to do what we said we were going to do.

Len Sipes: Yeah. It’s never been easy. I did one time a little over a year of street counseling, on the streets of the city of Baltimore working with gangs. No structure. You were just out there at night with these guys and these guys could be a little rough and tough and, it was just heartbreaking seeing so many young men who sort of so willing to toss their lives away. But, you know somebody told me at one time that just be ready for me Mr. Sipes. He said, when we’re ready for you, you’ve got to be ready for us because if you’re ready for us, if you’re in a position to help, there’s a whole mess of people, maybe even the majority who will walk over, cross that bridge to being tax payers instead of tax burdens. And I always felt that was a unique perspective.

Guy Charity: And I think we discussed this in our previous discussions that we got to catch them before they turn 40 and sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Len Sipes: Oh absolutely. Somehow, I want the 25 year olds, I want the 22 year olds, I want the 17 year olds because that’s exactly that high-crime age. You know, you get to 35 and you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. I want to reach him when he’s 15. And that’s a wonderful show. We are bringing Larry and Michael back in the future and let them tell us how to reach them when they’re 16. Ladies and gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety. Our guests today have been Guy Charity, the secretary of the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Center and two people who he is assisting, Michael and Larry. Thanks guys for coming in today and ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening. Look for us at our website which is Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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