Faith-Based Offender Mentoring

DC Public Safety Radio

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Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capitol, this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very interesting program for you today. Faith-Based Offender Mentoring, we have the mentor and mentee of the year. Coming up for our Reentry Citywide Assembly at Gaullaudet University, talk more about that later, on Thursday February 19th.

I want to welcome to our microphones Maurice Marshall who is the mentor and Ellis, as we’re going to call him, who is the mentee. And to Maurice and Ellis welcome to DC Public Safety.

Ellis: Thank you.

Maurice: Thank you very much.

Leonard Sipes: All right gentlemen, mentoring is extraordinarily important. What you guys do is, and we’ve been doing this program since 2006, so what we have through various faith institutions, is that we have individuals like you, Maurice, who volunteer, and thank god that you do, you volunteer to reach out to men and women that we have on supervision here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And they volunteer their time to interact with a person who is on supervision, which in this case is Ellis, to help them out. It’s an extraordinarily important program and we really do want more mentors.

Maurice, can you tell me how you started out? What made you decide to become a mentor?

Maurice: Well what made me decide to be a mentor was that I’m a retired correctional officer. My correctional experiences were with adults and juveniles for the district government. I retired in 2008. I decided, from working as a correctional officer at Oak Hill, to learn from that skill watching young men go through the system who have so many skills that they were unable to realize their potential.

So I thought it would be best to find something that would tie me in with being retired, working with youth and then trying something new that would enable me to take that experience even further.

Leonard Sipes: And so many correctional officers really do understand the importance of reaching out to people under supervision. You know the criminal justice system probably better than anybody. How long were you a correctional officer?

Maurice: Twenty-two years. That’s as adult and juvenile.

Leonard Sipes: That’s a long time.

Maurice: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leonard Sipes: So you saw many people coming through and probably coming through multiple times.

Maurice: That’s true.

Leonard Sipes: And you wanted to do was reach out and try to do something about that.

Maurice: Yeah because we had conversations amongst my correctional officer coworkers about what could be done to stop youth from doing the same thing over and over again. Because, unfortunately, at Oak Hill and so many juvenile facilities what happens is the youth are almost like a farm team for the prisons.

You know working at DC Jail, working at Lorton, being a frontline supervisor at Lorton, you saw these type of things happen all the time. Repeat offenders… it was all the time. You just want want to know what you can do. Especially being a native Washingtonian, you say “Hey, wait a minute, this has to stop.”

Leonard Sipes: It’s a bit heartbreaking.

Maurice: Can be.

Leonard Sipes: To see so many young men and young women come through this system with such obvious potential… be caught up in the criminal justice system time after time.

Maurice: That is correct.

Leonard Sipes: I did jail Job Corps a lifetime ago and so I interacted with a lot of individuals from the DC metropolitan area, from the Baltimore metropolitan area, who were caught up in the criminal justice system where the judge said “Go to jail” or “Go to Job Corps.” It was heartbreaking. I mean, there were those individuals who pulled themselves of the criminal justice system but there were many who didn’t and to see that wasted potential is, not to overuse the word a third time, but heartbreaking.

Maurice: Very true.

Leonard Sipes: Maurice, no, Ellis, this time, this is our Mentee of the Year. How are you doing?

Ellis: I’m doing very fine.

Leonard Sipes: All right, fine. You’re a student at a local high school here in the District of Columbia. How did you come into the criminal justice system, Ellis?

Ellis: Well I came into the criminal justice system at a young age. I was about twelve or eleven, I would say. Growing up wasn’t the best thing for me. I had no father figure, or anybody to look up to so basically it made me result to the street so at a young age I was throwing things I ain’t supposed to be doing. So I was just in and out of the system. I’ve gone from YSC, to Youth Center, to Oak Hill. From Oak Hill I went to DC Jail and from DC Jail I went to the Federal Penitentiary.

So I just look at it now like I’m just tired of doing the things I was doing. I just want to move on with my life.

Leonard Sipes: And you consider yourself a smart guy, you consider yourself an intelligent young man, and you consider yourself not part of that criminal subculture.

Ellis: No… Now… It’s getting old, basically, doing the same thing.. it’s like… a tape recorder that just keeps playing over and over. Like me, I keep going to jail, keep going to jail, it’s not going to be a good thing for me. I’m a young father at the age of twenty-three and I want to just be there for my son and teach him the right ways that I didn’t learn at a young age.

Leonard Sipes: And that’s exactly what it takes to get to break that cycle. But first you’ve got to get out of the criminal justice system entirely. So you ended up with Maurice and how did that start?

Ellis: Well, I was, basically, I had caught another case where I was already on supervised release. And basically, how the judge, my judge, had looked at it is like I didn’t have no structure or nobody that I could look up to in my life at that point in time. So basically my judge had recommended me to get grief counselling and a mentor. So somebody I can hang around with, talk to, talk about my feelings and how I feel at that time, and look for help at times that I need it.

Leonard Sipes: Now when you met Maurice how did… what was the initial interaction like?

Ellis: When I first met Mr. Marshall, I didn’t know how that was going to go because he’s a little older than me, you know, way older than me. He should probably be like my father’s age. So when I first met him, I’m like “I don’t know if I’m going to follow through with this mentor thing.” And I was too much in the streets then to worry about my well-being with my mentor.

So basically as time went past, I looked at it like this is a good thing and he wants to help me. From day to day he’ll call and keep calling me and keep calling me. “Mr Ellis, how you doing? How’s your day going? Have you found jobs?” Or “How’s your work going?” I was working with my father with a mover company.

Leonard Sipes: How did that interaction make you feel?

Ellis: It make me feel happy, in a sense, because it showed me that somebody do care. I didn’t really have that once I was young and still now, but he showed me that he care. He comes and come get me, he takes me out to eat. Things that I know I ain’t been through in my life, he’s showing me the better way. So that’s like my turn, it’s my OG.

Leonard Sipes: I want to ask you this question, if there were more Maurices in the world, more Maurice Marshalls, who were willing to mentor young men like yourself. Would it make a big difference in terms of people going back to the criminal justice system?

Ellis: I think so. I think it would make a big difference for people that don’t have no structure or I would say no guidance in their life. A mentor would be a good thing for them because of the fact they can help with things you can’t make it in life. They can help you with jobs, schooling, you know if you’re hungry maybe if that’s the case they’ll help you get something to help. It’s a lot with that situation it ain’t just eating and having fun all the time. It’s about getting your life together, trying to steer you in the right path and trying to see that you make it through life without getting killed or sent back to jail.

Leonard Sipes: I want to remind everybody that Maurice and Ellis are the Mentor and Mentee of the Year. We’re doing an event called the Citywide Reentry Assembly focusing on our faith-based programs at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. It will be held at Gaullaudet University in the Kellogg Conference Center, 800 Florida Ave, Thursday February 19th from 6:30-8:30pm. Anybody who has the slightest interest in mentoring, community leaders, that sort of thing, religious leaders, we encourage you to come.

Www.CSOSA is the website. Www.CSOSA and also (202) 220-5300 is our main number. 202-220-5300. If you have an interest just say that you have an interest in the event coming up on mentors and mentees.

Maurice Marshall, how did you feel when you were first introduced to Ellis? I mean was there skepticism, was there concern? You are a veteran of the criminal justice system, so how did you feel about it?

Maurice: Well as far as being skeptical, not at all. Concern? Wanted to know what I can do to help this young man to better himself. And to bring consistency, that’s very important to be a mentor. You have to be sincere and you have to be consistent with whatever plan that you may have in mind. See it also helps me because I am a member of my high school alumni. One of the things that I’m working on doing eventually, haven’t got to that point yet, is to put a student-alumni mentoring program in full effect.

Leonard Sipes: That’s wonderful!

Maurice: I’m a graduate of Anacostia High School and I see young men going through what they’re going through, and women, and the best way to reach them is to catch them in their early years. And you can do mentoring several ways, you can do it face to face, you can do it by phone, you can do it even through email, texting, whatever it takes for you to reach that individual. You must be consistent with it.

And as long as you’re consistent and it’s sincere and have a plan, a plan that works and sometimes you and your mentee can work a plan, figure a plan. It’s not just up to you to do it all, it’s up to him or her, because what you’re doing is guiding and sometimes you both have to figure it out yourself.

Leonard Sipes: Now we have a mentoring program. It’s pretty structured where you go through a day of training. So we do provide training but one of the conversations we were having the other day was that we want people to work through our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we want people to become mentors. But you can do as you’ve just said, Maurice, all sorts of mentoring. It could be done through a fraternity, it could be done through a community organization, it could be done through your church, mosque, or synagogue. I mean there’s all sorts of ways of mentoring. We want you to come on board with us, but what we want are authority figures such as yourself, caring individuals, in a position of reaching out to people like Ellis because Ellis is obviously worth saving. Right?

Maurice: Of course, and to take mentoring one step further. Years ago, when I was a kid, even before, before that time, mentors were police officers. Community policing was big. I wish that our police force would use that same tactic in dealing with young men and young women in today’s city. You know beat walking is very, very important. Nor in the community, not being in fear of the community. But unfortunately, with police officers, a very small, minute few of them who may not have that same type of courage or consistency in the way they do their daily work. You know, it takes them away from the realm of what they could do.

As a former correctional officer, especially working at the hardcore penitentiaries, [inaudible 00:11:58] being one, we used to walk and talk within the population regularly, it was very important to do it because they knew and they learned by your consistency. Being firm but being fair. That’s always guided me and always will. And the same thing can apply to police. You must know your environment, you must know who you’re talking to. Because that same individual one day will recognize consistency in what you’re doing in the firmness and fairness and might save your life.

Leonard Sipes: The questions can go to either one of you, I was talking to some folks in preparation for this program and the term “throwaway kids” came up in the conversation. That we within our society treat too many of our younger people as throwaways, we don’t really care that much about them. We seem as a society pretty easy, pretty willing to throw their lives away. That we don’t have mentors, we don’t have authority figures, we don’t have fathers in many cases. We don’t have the structure to guide young men and young women in terms of what is right, what is wrong. And the same time to love them, to hold them, to read to them, to play with them, to take them out to get something to eat together, to be their buddy. We have a problem within our society where we believe that too many kids, especially in our urban areas, are throwaways. Now we all find that disgusting but I wanted to ask your opinion about it.

Maurice: My opinion, I think with that, it has a lot with sometimes the court system itself. And what the court system has done is that if you chastise your child, if you spank your child, dependent upon where it happens at, then you yourself can be charged for a brutality to your child. And what happened years ago, the community could actually talk to your child, chastise your child, then come back and talk to you in front of your child about what just took place. So we have gotten away from the basics that in other areas and other cultures are still being used. Are still being used to not have a throwaway child, they are being used to correct a child. Children like to have structure. Children like to be corrected when they’re wrong because now they know what is the right and what is wrong. You don’t ever want to get away from the basics, unfortunately we we have.

And it’s not about being a single parent or even a parent with a family. It’s communication and hopefully that child will eventually buy into what you’re saying.

Leonard Sipes: Maurice, once in growing up in Baltimore City, I was dragged down to my mother by the scuff of my neck by another neighbor who caught me doing the wrong thing. And the only thing my mother ever said to this person was “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I’ll take care of it from here.”

So in any event I want to reintroduce our guests today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a program on Faith-Based Offender Mentoring. It’s in reference to a citywide reentry assembly at Gaullaudet University at the Kellogg Conference Center coming up on Thursday February 19th from 6:30 to 8:30pm. You can find information about it at or call (202) 220-5300 which is our main number and express interest in becoming a mentor.

Our guests today are Maurice Marshall and Ellis, is what we’re referring to the young gentleman who is being mentored. They are going to be the Mentor and Mentee of the Year at the Citywide Reentry Assembly on February 19th.

So gentlemen, where do we go to from here. You’re talking to an awful lot of people within the criminal justice system, you’re talking to aides to mayors, you’re talking to college students. What do they need to know about the mentoring process? What do they need to understand?

Ellis: What they need to understand is that you gotta live day by day. Take step by step. And with your mentor you can find out a lot of things, you can learn a lot of things for something that you don’t know. Because in this world everybody don’t know everything, and can’t go on without somebody helping them. How I look at it, everybody needs help, everybody needs somebody to be there on their shoulder, or somebody need a push from somebody.

In my opinion with this, a mentor would be the best thing for you right now, if you’re young whatever, middle ages whatever. It ain’t never too old to have a mentor, somebody that can help you. If you want the help then seek for the help. If you don’t want the help then there’s a lot of things that can happen. You can lose your life or you can be into somewhere, in jail for a long time.

I would try to tell you to choose the right way and not the bad way and get a mentor, somebody that you can relate to, talk to about your problems, whatever, see where it goes from there. But everybody’s not the same so that would just be my goal to see if everybody can just see and get into a program that’s going to help them instead of being in jail and being caged up like an animal.

Leonard Sipes: You know we have a huge discussion within this country about the criminal justice system and what to do and how to do it. But, again, I asked this question before but I want to reemphasize it now, if every young man and every young woman, they could be eleven, they could be nine, they could be eight, they could be twenty-three. If every young man and every young woman had a Maurice Marshall in their lives what do you think would happen with the crime problem? What do you think would happen with the prison problem? Because we say that we put too many people in prison, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, what do you think would happen if everyone had that caring individual guiding him or her through life?

Ellis: Well, it’s not a lot to say about that because of the fact that you could have somebody that cares about you, that shows you that they love you or even show that they can help you in any type of way. It’s how you take it in. It’s not that if you have a Maurice Marshall your life will do this or go this way, it’s up to you how your life want to go.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Ellis: And Maurice Marshall is… I say the stepping stone for you to try to get there and to better your life and try to make your life better and show your kids after you that there is a better way than going the wrong way.

Leonard Sipes: It’s not a piece of magic. I mean it’s not just because you have a mentor your life is going to instantaneously turn around, Ellis, you put it very well. It really is up to you. But just having that person there, would it be a dramatic decrease in crime? Would it be a dramatic decrease in people being caught up in the system?

Ellis: I wouldn’t say no, not really. Because you can have a mentor or having somebody helping you or pushing to you everyday about things that you’re supposed to do or trying to help you. And it’s just in some people’s mind frames that they look at it like they don’t care for it, it goes in one ear out the other. So I’m not sure it would increase the crime rate, I would say it would help it but it wouldn’t increase it. Because some people just ain’t the type that you could talk to or try to get to them in certain ways or points.

Leonard Sipes: I think Ellis brings up an extraordinarily important point, Maurice. And again you know this better than anybody else, twenty-three years in the correctional system did you say?

Maurice: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: You know this better than anybody else, you’re not going to be able to reach everybody and sometimes people are going to have chips on their shoulders. Sometimes people have histories that don’t allow themselves to be mentored. It can be a tough relationship.

Maurice: It can be. And one of the things about mentoring is that you have to look at it like this. Sometimes people don’t get the information the first time out. Sometimes when you mentor to a person you cannot want their success more than what they want it for themselves. You might feel that way, you may keep wondering why you keep doing this, why you keep winding up getting the same thing over and over again. You start looking at yourself, “Am I missing it or are they missing it?” Point being is sometimes people have to go through to get to where they really need to be. No matter you as a mentor or a person as a mentee. It’s just a process and sometimes that process is actually going through by maybe getting set back, getting step back, for them to realize, “This ain’t working, I got to try something else.”

Leonard Sipes: But you and I are old enough to know that we had times throughout our history where we acted out and somebody tried to reach out to us and we brushed them off. And yet went back to them six months later, eight months later, a year and a half later, because they showed that they cared. So sometimes I think what you’re saying Maurice is that sometimes you have to plant a seed.

Maurice: Sometimes you have to plant a seed and water it, nourish it and step back and let it grow. Just like when you look at a tree and when you look at the roots of a tree they go in different directions. Same thing about mentoring, same thing about the learning process itself. It goes in different directions. Because the more knowledge you get, the more you want to test the knowledge that you have. You want to see whether or not I try this over here is it going to work? Or I’ll try something else, someone else. But you have to have your basics… and your foundation. That’s the key right there to being a recipient of mentoring as well as mentoring itself. You have to know what my basics is. Things that you’re not going to get away from. Because that anchors you, that’s your foundation.

Leonard Sipes: And Ellis, let me ask… your foundation, I mean a lot of young men caught up in the criminal justice system, a lot of young women in the criminal justice system don’t really understand who they are and where they’re going. In normal cases any young man, young woman struggles with “Who am I? Where am I going? How am I going to get there?” There’s a lot of uncertainty and I sometimes get the sense that what Maurice Marshall brings to the game is a guide post, is a person who can help you through that period of uncertainty, am I right or wrong?

Ellis: You’re right. You’re right. With that question, I’m saying it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen a day later, or maybe three days later. It takes time for you to find yourself and find what you want to do with your life, period. This is like you said, a time process. Everything don’t work as fast as you want it to. So like they say, you go through life you live, you listen, and you learn. So with that, that’s the stuff I’m trying to take.

Leonard Sipes: Now what are your goals today? And how are they different than before you met Maurice? Do you feel that you have a sense as of where you you want to go, what you want to do, who you want to be? You’re completing high school, you want to take care of your child. You’ve said that much. What’s changed for you in the time that you’ve been with Maurice Marshall?

Ellis: What’s changed? A lot’s changed, I would say. Like you just said, currently I’m in Ballou STAY High trying to get my high school diploma. And I have certifications, I got my food handling license, I got my custodian maintenance. After I finish school, my plan is to get a job. You know, get a good working job, take care of my family that I want, particularly in the future. Live on my on, have my own period. So I just want to move on and let everybody know that I can do it and I am going to do has been a grown man that I am now.

Leonard Sipes: But you can see that future. A lot of men your age and younger have a hard time seeing that future. You can clearly see that future now.

Ellis: Yes, I can see my future now. I can’t tell it, but I can see it. If I put myself to it I know I can make my future what I want it to be.

Leonard Sipes: But do you agree with me that a lot of younger people, their lives have been so chaotic, and I won’t go into all the chaos that so many people go through before they get involve in the criminal justice system but I think you know what I’m talking about. Do they see it and is there a difference between you and them?

Ellis: No, it’s not really no difference.

Leonard Sipes: Okay.

Ellis: Basically what you just said, I would say the people that did bad in their life, and the most ones that did all this crime and all this hurting people, they’re the ones that try to make it in life. The ones that you think “That’s so bad” and need to be locked up, they end up having a (time) that don’t come out until it comes out. A lot of people might say a person that’s been locked up for a long time, they this and they that. No, it’s not that. It took them a long time to realize they had a good heart and they had a good head on their shoulders, they just never used it.

Leonard Sipes: But I guess that was my point in the question before, if you have somebody like a Maurice Marshall to help you figure that all out, that could help.

Ellis: Yeah, he plays a part with that too. Mr. Maurice he plays a good part in it. He has you to look within yourself to see what you want to do. But like you said you got to want to do it yourself. He’s going to be there, but you got to be the one to step in there and say, “Okay, I’m tired, I want to do something with my life.”

Leonard Sipes: Right… Crossing that bridge, getting to that point sometimes takes assistance, Maurice, would you agree? A lot of young people are confused and they need an older individual to step in and help end some of that confusion.

Maurice: Well that’s true, but at the same time, no matter how much effort or help that you give someone they have to be willing to accept it. Like Ellis just said, once the person realizes that they are tired, they have to totally be done with whatever it is that they are doing before they can move on to the next step.

Sometimes in doing something a person… One thing I used to notice about a lot of guys, they were addicted to the game of being involved in the fast life.

Leonard Sipes: The corner.

Maurice: Yeah, they were addicted to it. They had to beat the addiction. They had to realize it was fun, I enjoyed it, but now my run is over, but they look at it like that.

Leonard Sipes: What I’m hearing from Ellis, I often times hear from thirty-five year olds, I often times hear forty year olds, “I’m tired of it. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Is what all the old heroin addicts used to tell me. What I’m hearing from Ellis is stuff that I ordinarily would hear from them. They’re thirty-five and up, he’s twenty-three. Correct.

Ellis: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: Where did he come to that magic moment where he realized that he’s sick and tired of what’s been happening?

Maurice: It could be from a number of things. Right now, see, Ellis is ahead of the game. He’s ahead of the curve.

Leonard Sipes: Right.

Maurice: And I’m proud of him for that. And I want him to know that. Because with him, he’s already saw other people, probably ten, fifteen years older than him, still going through the same thing over and over again. Not realizing “This ain’t working.” Sometimes people in the family structure enable a person to continue doing what they’re doing.

So in order for a person to really turn their life around they have to have folks who are family members who may feel “Look, you got to stop.” Because what they’re doing is enabling that person to continue doing the same thing over and over again. And once they realize that and everybody’s on the same page then that person can really make a change for the better for himself, his family, his kids, and make folks start believing in him.

Leonard Sipes: Well the bottom line is, Ellis, do you feel that you are moving in the right direction?

Ellis: I have feelings that I am.

Leonard Sipes: And one of those reasons that you’re moving in the right direction is because of your mentor Maurice Marshall?

Ellis: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: All right. You gentlemen, that was a profound interview. I really do appreciate both of you telling your story. Ladies and gentlemen, I do want to remind everybody that all of these issues, the mentors and mentees, we’re going to celebrate their work at the Citywide Reentry Assembly at Gaullaudet University at the Kellogg Conference Center, 800 Florida Avenue on Thursday February 19th from 6:30 to 8:30. If you’re interested in mentoring we really want you to be there. If you’re a community leader or religious leader we really want you to be there. Go to our website Court Services and Offender Supervision or call (202) 220-5300. (202) 220-5300.

Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public safety. We want you to know that we appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.