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Reentry from a former offender’s perspective

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/10/prison-reentry-from-a-former-offenders-perspective/

Leonard Sipes: From the Nation’s Capitol this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen this is going to be a fun show. Reentry from a former offender’s perspective. We have Randy Kirsch, Randy is a formerly incarcerated person, he is an author, public speaker and a reentry strategist. His website, www.reentrystratigies.com, www.reentrystratigies.com. Randy Kirsch, welcome back to Public Safety.

Randy Kirsch: Thank you very much Leonard, I appreciate being here again, being able to chime in about reentry and hopefully something that his said in this conversation will help somebody, somewhere.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal justice system doesn’t seem to pay a lot of attention to the very people who are caught up in the criminal justice system so that’s the point of this program, and a series of other programs where we interview people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. You and I happen to be Facebook friends, and one of the very few professional Facebook friends that I allow onto my personal Facebook world. I love the posts that you do on Facebook. Let’s get down to your background a little bit Randy. You were caught up in the criminal justice system and can I ask why?

Randy Kirsch: I got caught up in the criminal justice system at a early age. Actually from 17 years old I would find myself involved in getting in trouble for different various reasons and it escalated. I found myself at 26 years old caught up in a drug conspiracy, a Federal drug conspiracy that sent me to prison for 15 years. What I tell people is that I actually … August 10th this August 10th is a very profound date for me because it’s the first time in 33 years that I will be free of any type of criminal justice system supervision or anything like that. August 10th my parole ends, they gave me 10 years supervised release when I got released from the Federal system. From the age of 17 to the age of 50 I’ve been under some type of criminal justice, either I was in jail, in prison or on probation, on parole.

Running from the police, going back to [inaudible 00:02:20] court, so August 10th, next Monday I will be officially free from any type of connection to the criminal justice system.

Leonard Sipes: I know that makes you very happy.

Randy Kirsch: Id does, it does, but it’s also a sober reminder that even though I will be free from that context I will still always have the residue, I might say, the past. I will always have a record, I will always be limited to certain things when it comes to, maybe even a job or things like that. Even though I’ll be free, but it will always be there something to remind me.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal record is going to follow you for the rest of your life.

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah and that has an impact on probably everybody you talk to.

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes.

Leonard Sipes: Does it have an impact on family and friends?

Randy Kirsch: It does, it does, and I was just at a reentry gathering last Saturday and we talked about how reentry and incarceration impacts the family. Because a lot of times the family is not that well prepared for their loved one to reenter society because they have to now adjust their life and their roles and their well-being to bring this person back into the fold of being a part of the family unit. There’s sometimes a lot unrealistic expectations for people that are coming home. I mean you have a family or a parent or a wife or girlfriend who wants that person to immediately go out and get a job. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen and then that puts pressure on the person as they’re living in that situation and not being able to contribute to the household. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for the family and it’s a lot for the individual who is reentering society.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, we have a short amount of time, 30 minutes, I do want to talk about the book that you’ve written. In fact it’s the 4th book that you’ve written. First I want to talk about the strategies that you have for those of us in the criminal justice system. Right now you’re talking to people, mid-level managers, higher-level managers within the criminal justice system. You’re talking to aides to mayors, aides to congress people. You’re talking to the academic community because the colleges and universities take the radio and television programs that we do and run them verbatim in their classrooms and have class discussions afterwards. You’re talking to a fairly wide audience today. What are the key messages you have for those of us in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I would say it’s time to rethink reentry in a way that initiates some bold and innovative type of approaches. What has been the norm or what has been going on in reentry up to this point, a lot of it is good but not enough of it is working. I mean, we see the recidivism rate and it’s pretty much the same from 10 years ago to now. To 20 years ago. Evidently you have to look at it as, what do we need to do to change that. You’ve got to look at it and say, “We’ve got to do some different things.” There are a lot of different good programs out there but they’re not reaching, they’re not impacting enough people to make a dent in the recidivism rate.

What I propose and what I talk about especially to those that are in a position to make some changes and to come up with some new policies is to think about what we can do to reach more of the incarcerated population and in a way that we can have a greater impact on them and a greater success rate for them not to come back. That’s where I come in, in doing the work that I do and coming up with these strategies that I’ve created and I helped create. Because who better to be able to tell someone how not to go back to prison is somebody who didn’t go back to prison. These are the things that I would say, and work with some of the successful people who have come come home from incarceration who are now business owners, who are now entrepreneurs, who are self-sufficient and doing positive things in the community. Work with them, find out what worked for them and then use that, duplicate that all over the system.

Leonard Sipes: You have that opportunity right now. What works? What do we in the criminal justice system, students, aides to congresspeople, aides to mayors. What do we need to understand first of all, about the system of people coming out of the prison system and specifically what can we do to have better outcomes for people who are caught up in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I think everybody understands the challenges that a person faces when they come out. I mean that’s first and foremost when it comes to housing and employment and things like that. I think that where we would do a better service for individuals that are coming out is to prepare them while they’re in to get out. Not just say, “Well this person needs a job, this person needs housing.” This person that’s incarcerated, and I know from personal experience, needed a change in thinking, needed a change in behavior, needed a change in the way he sees the world, the perspective. We need to focus on how do we get those people to do that behavioral, cognitive behavioral transition from the mind set that they had prior to going to prison. The mindset that they had in prison. To get them to shift that mindset for when they get out and prepare them for those challenges for when they get out.

Leonard Sipes: We’re talking about more programs in prison?

Randy Kirsch: We’re talking about more programs that will help connect the person who is in prison to the challenges that they’ll face. Honestly and truthfully. I did my research from being incarcerated, some of the programs that are available in the prison really don’t connect the individual that’s going through the experience with the experience that he’s going to face when he get’s out. A lot the stuff that’s out there and the programs that are out there are being developed and created by people who haven’t actually lived that experience. It’s hard to connect someone to an experience if you haven’t actually been through the experience. In theory it sounds good, it really does, I mean I’m sure it’s meant well in intention but it’s not the same. As far as me going into a situation to talk to a formerly incarcerated individual and tell him, “Listen, this is what you need to do. These are the challenges you’re going to face. This is how I was able to face those challenges. This is how I was able to overcome those challenges.” We have to be able to create those types of programs that actually connect the person who’s incarcerated to the actual reality of the challenges they’re going to face when they get out.

Leonard Sipes: Okay, Randy so your bottom line message is an issue of authenticity then. What you’re saying is that what we should do is to get folks like Randy Kirsch and others, put them in a rum and have them design programs.

Randy Kirsch: Yes.

Leonard Sipes: You guys could come up with better programs then the people in the criminological community and the penal community and the criminal justice system. You guys could come up with more authentic programs that are going to be reaching more people. Is that the bottom line?

Randy Kirsch: Yes, yes, I think that would a be great approach. Again, I mean it’s not, to me, which one is better. I guess it is, which one better connects to the individual experience, that’s the whole thing. Because you’re going to have a person, and I’ve seen it, you have a guy come from the outside and he’s teaching this reentry program and he goes home everyday and he can’t make that connection because he never actually understand what … You can tell a person to be patient, but they have to really connect with, “wow he did that. This person did that. He did 20 years and came home and was able to be successful.” It does add an air of authenticity when it comes to actual practice.

Leonard Sipes: Well, quite frankly randy I don’t disagree with you. It’s something that I’ve bee advocating for years, for there to be a think tank of people like yourself to guide the rest of us within the criminal justice system. Job training programs seem to be rather straight forward, teaching a person how to be a carpenter, teaching a person how to be a electrician. Teaching a person how to lay bricks, that’s all pretty much straight forward, you don’t really need to have a background within the system to teach carpentry.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, understanding people, making that connection with people. Drug treatment, these are all pretty straight forward modalities in terms of helping people. It comes from the psychological literature. It comes from the criminal justice literature. What you’re saying drug treatment from a person whose never been in your shoes lacks the authenticity to reach the individuals?

Randy Kirsch: The thing is to, that’s part of it, but you have to teach a person not only a skill in a job sense, you also have to teach him how to keep a job, how to act on a job. What is the relationship between him and his supervisor and how that he can’t allow certain situations to force him or make him think that he has to react in a kind of way. It’s about teaching people life skills. A lot of people who have been incarcerated haven’t been, haven’t had the teachings of how to navigate through life itself on a basis that will keep them out of prison. We’ve been taught this mindset that we have to be aggressive or we can’t take orders or we can’t do certain things because it hurts our pride. It’s a lot of things that we need to teach people on how to actually live life. Life skills that will make them before they decide to get in an argument with their supervisor or their boss to think about they have a family to fee and what the consequences are versus them speaking up or speaking out. Those are the things that make all of those components that you said, with the drug treatment, with the job training and everything like that. Those are components that have to work together in order for someone to stay out of prison.

Leonard Sipes: Okay I want to go to larger criminal justice policy but final question and if I could get a quick answer. Because I did want to start talking about your book at a certain point. Are you talking about psychologists and social workers and treatment specialists who have degrees and years of training in this sort thing. Are they going to be replaced by people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system or are they going to be supplemented by people caught up in the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: I think they should partnership with people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. That’s what I think.

Leonard Sipes: Larger criminal justice policy, right now there is a huge debate all throughout the United States, the sense that we over incarcerate, the sense that we could release people. Not the people involved in crime and justice issues in the prison system. To cut back significantly on the amount of incarceration that we have. Which means the great bulk of these individuals fall on agencies like mine. I represent the court services and offender supervision agency, a federal parole and probation agency here in the nations capitol. The burden would fall on parole and probation agencies, do you have any thoughts about this larger criminal justice policy discussion that’s been going on throughout the United States?

Randy Kirsch: There’s going to be no quick fix to a problem or situation that has been building for years, and years, and years, until we work with these individuals to show them that there’s a different way to go about living. It’s hard, because we have to be able to show people opportunity, in all facets. Whether incarcerated, or probation or parole. Parole plays a very important role in helping people transition back into society so I think that that is a lot of times impacts a persons decision and causing them to go back sometimes. Because they feel pressurized or pressured from probation or parole. Hiring more supervisors … There’s a compassion issue here too.

Some of the people that work in corrections or parole or probation, they have no real compassion for the people that they’re working for. There’s no feeling of empathy for these people. When you can give a person the sense of dignity I’m going to tell you, a sense of dignity will help build the persons self-esteem to the point that they will really behave in a whole different way. The system has become so cold towards a lot of offenders that sometimes they just give up. They don’t feel like there’s nobody there to help them but if you find someone who has a compassion. For me, the 10 years that I’ve been on parole and probation, I’ve had nothing but support from my parole officers and it helped a lot. It helped a lot. I had nothing but their willingness to work with me and allow me to do the things that I was doing. That made a difference.

Leonard Sipes: We’re half way through the program, more than halfway through the program. Reentry from the offender’s perspective, Randy Kirsch is by our microphones, back at our microphones. Formerly incarcerated person, author, public speaker, reentry strategists, www.reentrystratigies.com, www.reentrystratagies.com. Randy what’s the name of your book?

Randy Kirsch: The name of this book is “Changing your game plan. How to use incarceration as a stepping stone for success.” It’s not a book per se, it’s a workbook. It’s more of a workbook than a novel or any type of nonfiction book. What makes my workbook so unique, it can be done, it can be used in a group setting, it comes with a facilitators manual, or it can be done as an independent study guide where individuals can go with in his own cell or on his own and actually work through this program.

What I’ve created is a what I like to call a rethinking, readiness, prison reentry, rethinking, readiness program where it actually walks you through the steps you need to be doing while you’re incarcerated to prepare you for getting out. This book, honestly it’s an awesome book. It took me over a year and a half to write, to put together. It’s over 50 thought provoking chapters and after each chapter there’s questions that an individual will have to read and answer. Those questions bring you face to face with your own personal truth. It brings you face to face with the questions that really would hopefully make a person really think about their future. Really think about where they are and how they got there. This book has the potential to really make a difference in people’s lives.

What inspired me to write this book to be totally honest with you is my original book is “Changing your game plan. How I used incarceration as a stepping stone for success.” It chronicles my journey of the lifestyle of being in the streets and dealing drugs and eventually dropping out of school and going to prison and all of the things that led me to where I was doing 15 years. How I was able to change that all the way around. I’ve gotten letters from people all over the country, people who are incarcerated as well as councilors and reentry councilors and stuff like that. They tell me how they were using that book, the original book, “Changing your game plan. How I used incarceration as a steppingstone for success.” As a program, as a way to help people to reenter society and prepare themselves. I always thought this would be a better, have a better impact on people and help people better so I went about creating the book.

It’s a wonderful book, again 50 chapters, there’s also a reading component where in each chapter there are words that are highlighted and there’s a glossary defining the words in the back of the book to help people build their vocabulary. I talk about everything that a person needs to do in order to successfully, not only transition back into society but to stay out here.

Leonard Sipes: Randy what was the key issue that kept you out of prison? You came out of prison, you were under supervision by parole and probation. What was the key issue, the key element where you said to yourself, “No more, I’m going to go straight, I’m going to be using this experience for the better good.” What was your key experience and what do you think is the key experience for most people coming out of the prison system? There are two questions.

Randy Kirsch: My key experience was the fact that I didn’t have ownership pf mu life. That after 15 years people had to tell me what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where I should do it. Having to be powerless, and I felt powerless, when I was incarcerated. I never wanted to ever feel that feeling again, I never wanted that feeling that I couldn’t go somewhere because I was constricted. I didn’t want that feeling ever again. That I think a lot of people who are incarcerated feel, but when they get out they rush, too busy to rush back into life and they don’t pace themselves. Then they wind up finding themselves in the same situation. I’m not going to say since I’ve been out that I’ve made all the right choices. I’ve made some missteps here and there but none have been ever detrimental to send me back and I’ll always tell my elf, “I need to do better, I need to do better, I need to do better.” It’s a constant reminder of where I was at.

I never forget where I came from, I never forget that experience. That experience shaped me, the food alone kept me from going back. Listen the food alone.

Leonard Sipes: [crosstalk 00:22:02] get used to that good food up there in Brooklyn.

Randy Kirsch: Yeah, the food alone was enough to say I’m not going back.

Leonard Sipes: Yeah, all right look. Two thirds are rearrested, a half go back to prison go back within 3 years. Now that figure has been replicated in various studies by the Department of Justice multiple times. There are others that give different figures but the bulk of individuals are rearrested and some where in the ball park or 40 to 50% go back to prison. Failure is a common occurrence of people called up caught up in the criminal justice system. You mentioned a while ago, empathy. I think a lot of people involved in the criminal justice system have seen so much failure and seen so many attempts to help a person get off of drugs. To help a person get the mental health treatment that he or she needs. To help the person reunite with a family. To help a person find jobs and to put a tremendous amount of time and effort, this is the perspective from the other side of the system. Just to see the person fail.

I think there’s a burn out syndrome of those of us that work in the criminal justice system that would be greatly alleviated if so many people caught up in the criminal justice system were not rearrested, did not go back to prison. My first question is, what is the key ingredient, we heard what happened to you. You didn’t like the food, you felt powerless, everybody else, what do you think the key issue is in the fact that so many people do reenter the criminal justice system?

Randy Kirsch: One, a lot of people don’t come home with a plan. That’s is major problem. People don’t actually plan what they’re going to do when they get out. Also they don’t see, all we hear about are those who go back. That’s all of the figure that you just gave me. The 65% and all of these other figures, but nobody is focusing on the other 35% who stay out. That’s where I come in, That’s why I do what I do to show people there are people who actually never go back. Who actually are settled in society. There are people, like I said, they become businessmen, entrepreneurs, people go back to college and they get Master’s degree and they work in these fields and we don’t see enough of those. We don’t hear enough of those stories to resonate with those who are going through that experience, so they feel hopeless. That sense of powerlessness is a constant reminder of where they are.

What I’m doing, and the work that I’m doing is showing not only people giving you a blueprint on what you need to do while you’re there to prepare for your life when you get out, but I’m showing you. We just shot a film series called, “Beyond prison, probation and parole.” I went and talked to various people who have been incarcerated, came home and are doing phenomenal things. We plan to hopefully get that inside the prison system so people can see and hear and be motivated and inspired by other people. That other 35% who don’t go back, and I think that this is the time, especially when we have access to the media avenues, through videos, through books, these innovative, interactive programs on being able to shift and show people what their full potential is, if they decide to embrace a different lifestyle, a different way of thinking. I think it all starts with the way a person thinks about himself, thinks about where they are and thinks about what they can accomplish in the future.

I know … I’m sorry.

Leonard Sipes: No. Pleas, we’re running out of time, if we had all the programs designed by the people caught up in the criminal justice system. If you had the psychologists and the social workers and the criminologists sitting down with folks with your background, putting together the right programs, I heard two themes out of this, dignity, and programs with input from people like yourself. If we had that what percentage improvement would we have if everybody was afforded programs and with significant input from folks like yourself. If the system really provided the dignity to the individuals who are coming out of the prison system or caught up in probation, how much improvement do you think there would be?

Randy Kirsch: I think that, like I said, that’s just one component. When you put it together with the employment and the housing component, I think we could probably. Oh man, we could make a huge difference in people going back and forth to prison.

Leonard Sipes: We’re talking about 600 to 700,000 people coming out of the prison system, you’re talking about their families, you’re talking about the children. You’re talking about every year at least conservatively 1.5 million people.

Randy Kirsch: Yeah, I think that we can make a huge dent if those type of programs were created that really connect people with the real challenges and the real experiences that they are going to face and make their plans. Make them come up with a plan and have a plan for when they get out, coupled with having some housing available for them and having some job opportunities available to them. Teaching them how to reenter society and stay in society. It’s not enough to teach a person how to reenter, we have to teach people how to stay in society.

Leonard Sipes: That’s also going to require a fairly significant mindset on the part of the people of the United States to provide the tax money to allow all that to happen. To provide that sense of dignity, as you put it, to be more accepting of people coming out of the prison system. Giving them say and opportunity for a job, that’s going to require a fundamental mindset of the part of the American population.

Randy Kirsch: I think society is ready, I think society is ready for people to come back to society. One thing I love about America, and people can say all they want to say about this country or whatever the case may be. There are some issues that we have to deal with a a society, as a country, but this is probably one of the only places in the world that you can get a 2nd, 3rd and sometimes a 4th chance. I mean, come on, it doesn’t get any better than that. I think that society as a whole is willing to give people a chance as long as they’re willing to work for that chance and to be able to put in and be productive citizens in society. We have to teach people how to be productive citizens in society and I think that these programs that we just talked about and having people who have had those experiences have an input. They don’t have to have the total control of creating the programs, just be able to have an input would make a lot of difference. [crosstalk 00:29:17]

Leonard Sipes: Randy we need to close the program, “Changing your game plan”, the new book. What is it subtitled?

Randy Kirsch: “How to use incarceration as a steppingstone for success.” It’s a prison reentry readiness program, again it can be used by an individual on his own or it can be used in a group setting and I’m going to be all over the country trying to promote this program.

Leonard Sipes: Our program, our guest today is Randy Kirsch. Formerly incarcerated person, author, public speaker, reentry strategists, www.reentrystratigies.com, www.reentrystratagies.com. Ladies and Gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasent day.

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Crime victims and offender re-entry

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/05/crime-victims-and-offender-reentry-national-institute-of-corrections-2/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, a topic of extreme importance, crime victims and offender re-entry. We have folks, with us today, from the National Institute of Corrections we have Anne Seymour. She is a national crime victim advocate and has been a national crime victim advocate for over 30 years. She’s helped develop programs and policies for corrections based victims services at the local, state, federal, and tribal levels.

In the studio we have Lori Brisban. She is a correctional program specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections. She has been recognized as an authority in the area of sexual violence in the correctional setting and has expertise in both the offender and victim perspective.

Ladies, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lori: Thank you Leonard.

Anne: Thanks Len.

Leonard: The first question is going to go to, I think it is Anne, talking about what we’re talking about. What do we mean by crime victim and offender re-entry. Correct?

Anne: I think that’s going to go to Lori.

Leonard: All right, Lori. I’m Sorry. Go ahead.

Lori: That’s okay Leonard. We just really appreciate being here today. You know, this is a very important issue that we rarely talk about in corrections. There are a few agencies across the country who are giving this some attention but it’s really an under served area. You know, as we push offenders and justice involved individuals back into our communities, we really need to be thinking about what’s happening with their victims. Victims do have rights and many times we in corrections forget about that or we rely on somebody else to do it and are not sure whether it’s happening.

It’s just a really important thing that we need to be talking about.

Leonard: Anne, why is the topic important?

Anne: Well, I think that we have to first recognize that we wouldn’t even have a criminal justice system if it weren’t for crime victims who were willing them to report crimes and serve as witnesses and give victim impact statements. They are really at the very apex of our justice system and very often we don’t treat them as such.

People think that when offenders go away to prison that everything is fine with their victims but that’s not always true. The trauma of victimization is immediate, short term, and sometimes can last a lifetime. We know from a lot of the work that we’ve done in all 50 states, that when a justice involved person is returning to the community, very often his or her victims will have a really critical concerns about getting information, being notified when the person is returning. Probably the most significant concern is safety for the victim and for the victim’s family. I would be remissent if I did not point out that most victims are known to their offenders and so there are relationships there. When the offender returns, it’s very important that we make sure that the victim feels safe and that the victim feels involved.

Leonard: Now there’s a podcast, a radio program from the National Institute of Corrections, called Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. It comes with a heck of a teaching guide. We’re going to put that in our show notes, put the link to it but I do want to let everybody know who aren’t … who won’t be exposed to the show notes that that document exists. The podcast exists and the instructor’s guide exists. From what I’m told, it’s a great value to people who are looking into this.

All right now that we’ve laid … oh … www.nicic.gov. Www.nicic.gov is the website for the National Institute of Corrections and you can find the document that I just referenced there.

Now, in terms of this concept, I do a series of shows over the course of the year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance and the sense that I get from the people at the National Organization for Victim Assistance is that we, in the criminal justice system, simply do not do enough in terms of taking the victim perspective into consideration whenever we propose any policy. This concept of people coming out of the prison system, we’re talking about having fewer people going to prison, having them coming out earlier, being under the [inaudible 00:04:17] of parole and probation agencies. We in community corrections in particular now have an even greater responsibility to take the victim perspective into consideration. Correct?

Lori: Yes Leonard. We believe that’s true and unfortunately, historically speaking corrections has not made that part of their business. We really believe that it should be. When I say we, I’m speaking for Anne and I specifically. You know, there are just so many things we could be doing better, so many things that would make our communities safe. If we considered the victim as part of this process, many times they feel very disenfranchised by the time an offender leaves the institution. It’s vitally important that they receive their notifications, that they be given a voice and decisions made about the offender, and that probation and parole officers and other community services agents understand that they have a role to play with these folks.

Leonard: I do want to point out that we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, my agency, we do have victim coordinators. They work with victims of crime all the time and the people that we currently have under supervision. The area in corrections has been ignored and I think you’re right Lori, because so many of the victim coordinators that do exist there, exist throughout the country, are in proscetorial offices, they’re in law enforcement offices, but how many correctional agencies have victim service coordinators?

Anne: Well, that …

Leonard: The criminal justice system is very complicated to the average person. We are just a huge maze of unknowns.

Anne: I will tell you because having been in the field for 30 years, when I began there were zero programs in state level institutional corrections. Today 49 states, the only exception being Hawaii and they’re getting on it as we speak, they have victim assistance programs in their state department of corrections. I think that one of the areas that we’re lacking is not having a corrections based victims services, but having them be … you know most of them are under staffed and with re-entry, we’re talking about a very specific juncture.

It’s not when the justice involved folks are actually in prison where the victim would feel a greater degree of safety, it’s when they’re returning back to the community. If you look at re-entry programs, and in particular probation and parole services, that’s where we’re lacking a focus on victim services. Not just with staffing, but Lori would also agree and she’s recently done some work with leaders in this field, we’re lacking in policies and really having people understand the importance of doing a continuum of victim services just as we do a continuum of people who are returning to the community from prison. Their victims need the same level of attention.

Leonard: I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety as their director of public information and to one victim in particular, she would call the institution every night to be sure that this individual remained behind bars. The institution complained. I finally got to the point where I was her go between. I said, “If you get somebody who doesn’t give you that information, call me and I’ll call the institution.” I had to call, I was from the secretary’s office and I’m on the secretary’s personal staff, and I had to call the institution until they finally got the message to cooperate with this individual.

Her sense was that we, on the correctional side, just lacked empathy for victim services. She needed to know that the person was continued to be locked up. If not, she was scared for her own safety. I mean, we need to understand that this really does have meaning for people in the community and could build real positive public relations and also guide that individual coming out of the prison system, guide them to probably a more meaningful experience if we work the victim into the process. Correct?

Lori: Well that’s exactly right Leonard. You know, we’re not here to say that people aren’t doing their jobs because I think most people in positions and corrections agencies and community corrections are very interested in doing the right thing for their community. I just think we need to do it better. By collaborating, by considering the victim’s needs and rights that are statutorily provided, we can actually do that. We see that happening in some pockets around the country. I think Anne can speak to that because she’s worked directly with some jurisdictions on those collaborations and how to do this work better.

Leonard: Anne talk to us.

Anne: Well, Lori’s right. There are so many innovative programs occurring now in particular with re-entry. We see increasingly a focus on safety planning for victims who feel that their personal security could possibly be at risk. We’re seeing a lot more, as Lori said earlier, just providing victims with basic information about what’s going on. You say re-entry probation parole, victims don’t know the difference. We need to explain that process to them and as Lori also said, notify them when the person is getting out.

Victims need to be aware that they have rights. They can attend the parole release hearing in most states and talk to the parole board about their concerns about the person being release or if they want the person being released. It’s just important that they have the opportunity to have that input. I also want to add, if you look at the mission statement of most correctional agencies at the state level, I think about half of them have the word victim in it and the other half don’t. To me, your mission statement is the direction that your agency is going in. I’m not going to stop my work until all 50 state level correctional agencies … you know, when they talk about public safety, that they include the words “victim safety” along with it. Victims are an integral part of the public and as I said earlier, we would not have criminal justice or correction systems without victims.

Leonard: We have innovative programs throughout the country that are doing this correct?

Anne: Absolutely. Lori and I are attending a conference in Baton Rouge coming up where the first half of the week is talking just about victim-offender dialogue in serious crime cases. These are murders and rapes where the victims actually ask to meet with the person who caused them or their loved one harm through a very very structured process where the victim is allowed to ask questions. The offender is given opportunities to be responsible, to be held accountable with no expectations from the offender that he or she will gain anything from being involved in the process. It’s an incredibly powerful process that … that’s one of the innovations that I think we’re starting to see, really I don’t want to be exaggerating, but kind of sweeping corrections. It’s a very very popular program with a strong evidence base of effectiveness for both justice involved folks as well as for their victims.

Leonard: One of you mentioned a fact that often times the offender knows the victim. The victim knows the offender. I want to explore that a little bit because in most violent crimes there is prior knowledge. They aren’t strangers. These are non-stranger crimes. The person coming out of the prison system, the violent crime that he committed, or the crime the he committed, is in all probability was committed against somebody who he knows, who is still in that community, who is a relative with a family member, who was an acquaintance. He’s probably coming back to the same neighborhood he or she lives in. Talk to me about the complexity of that.

Anne: Well, it’s not just the same neighborhood. Very often it’s the same home. I’m thinking particularly in cases of domestic violence and cases of child abuse. We have to be very cognizant of the victims need for safety.  We have to recognize that some victims want the perpetrator to come back but they also want to feel safe. Every single victim in every single situation is unique and just as we want people returning to the community from prison to be successful, to be employed, to not commit additional crimes, we want them to not commit additional crimes against their original victim. If that’s someone known to them, you know there’s a lot of things we can do with wrap around services for victims who are considered high risk where they really feel that their security is at risk. We can absolutely provide them with supportive services from partnerships between corrections and community based advocates that empower them to feel safe.

Also, I think there are a lot of things we can do to make sure that we’re keeping a close eye on offenders that may be at higher risk to re-offend. We have great risk assessment instruments now that tell us pretty clearly who might be at higher risk and those are the folks that we want to keep an extra special eye on.

Leonard: The bottom line in this process is communicating. Communicating with the victim, communicating with the family, communicating with everybody in this case to be sure that; A, the victims are protected. That victims are informed and at the same time the possibility of a healing process as you mentioned Anne, in terms of the victim actually confronting or getting together with the person who calls that damage. These are very very intricate very detailed oriented encounters that you’re describing. A lot rides on these interactions between people coming out of the prison system and victims in the community.

Lori: Well, I believe that’s true but again, I think this needs to be looked at as a whole. I mean, it can’t just be a siloed affect where we’re only talking about the offender, we’re only talking about their re-entry process and whether they got any programming and whether their substance abuse issues have been resolved or addressed. You know, there’s a lot more going on there and we’ve never had a mechanism for that or we rarely have thought about the victim as part of that process.

Now, there will be victims who want nothing to do with their offender and that needs to be respected.

Leonard: Sure.

Lori: In many cases, it is an inter familial situation and we need to start looking at that more constructively and collaboratively.

Leonard: What I want to do right after the break and right after I re-introduce both of you is to talk about the enormous work load that community corrections has and how we fit this in. Not just fitting it in bureaucratically but fitting it in meaningfully. We’ll pick that up when we come back. I want to re-introduce both of my guests today. Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate. Again, Anna has been a National Victim’s Service Advocate for over 30 years. Lori Brisban is a correctional program specialist in the Community Services Division for the National Institute of Corrections. The program today was produced by the National Institute of Corrections Donna Ledbetter. There is a podcast, a piece of audio, video, what is it, Offender Re-entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There is a learning guide to go along with that. I think it was a webinar put on by the National Institute of Corrections. www.nicic.gov. www.nicic.gov. A direct link will be in the show notes to the document that I’m talking about.

What was this Lori? Was it a webinar?

Lori: No, this is actually a professionally produced television program.

Leonard: Really?

Lori: Yes and it’s broadcast live and streaming. You can still stream it off of our website. It is in a format now where you can choose the chapters that you’re most interested in which you can view in the participant guide and in the directory. Ahead of time, it is a three hour program. We also produce a six hour program. I do have plans to do another victims broadcast in the coming year which will be targeted at domestic violence and how those offenders and victims can be better addressed in the community.

Leonard: The National Institute of Corrections bottom line is making a major effort to make everybody in the criminal justice system focused on this issue of victim services?

Lori: I wouldn’t say we’re trying to get everybody, but we are trying to make people aware of something that’s a missing piece.

Leonard: It’s a very important topic. Again, the gentleman who I have on from the National Organization for Victim Assistance his stance again is that we need to do much more particularly in terms of corrections. My question before the break, this falls on the shoulders of parole and probation agencies throughout the country, they ordinarily have huge case loads. We do not. We at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agencies have less than 50 to 1 ratios and most organizations out there are carrying caseloads of 150 per parole and probation agent and more.

Considering the lack of resources and the demands on the time parole and probation agents in parole and probation agencies throughout the country, how realistic is this that we’re going to not just provide services to victims but provide meaningful services to victims.

Anne: CSOSA, you’re own agency is probably one of the best examples and a shout out to Bonnie Andrews and her amazing staff because when you have designated victim advocates on staff it means that the probation officers collaborate with them and they’re able to really focus their time on working with the offenders under their supervision while concurrently the victim’s services staff are working with the victims so it ends up saving probation officers I think a whole lot of time. The other thing is that designated victim advocates, you gave the example when you were in Maryland, you know, they’re going to be happy to get the call from the victim who wants information. That’s their job and that’s their level of dedication.

Unfortunately, back in the 90’s we saw an increase in probation based victim services. We ran into budget cuts in the early part of the century. The first thing that went was what? Victim services. Unfortunately it’s one of the things that gets cut but I will tell you that, especially the larger probation and parole agencies that have dedicated victim services, they will tell you it is the best investment of their money. As you said earlier, it’s also really good for public relations and relations with the community because victims are a huge part of the community.

If you think about it, everyone in the community is or knows a victim of crime. It’s not like this thing that happens to someone else. We’re all affected by crime. Paying attention to victim’s needs with dedicated staff and with PO’s who are trained to understand victim’s needs, that’s just … it’s part of the mission of corrections be it institutional or community corrections.

Leonard: The debate I had the other day with an individual was this, that we were talking about crime and the impact of crime on individuals and what we in the criminal justice system could do, should do. We were talking about hierarchies and he was talking about well, “I could see the services for the violent crimes but I fail to see the services for the non-violent crimes. We’re only capable of doing so much.”

I tell the story of a news producer in Baltimore who came in from out of state and moved into the Charles Village area because he wanted to be apart of the fabric of the city. He wanted his family to be apart of the fabric of the city. To make a long story short, three burglaries later … and this was bikes being stolen from a garage, they were out of Baltimore City. It took about two and a half months for them to move and two and a half months for them to move in. Here is a family who really wanted to dedicate themselves to the very fabric of the city of Baltimore and to experience that. They picked up and they moved and they took that economic value to the city of Baltimore with them. What we’re talking about is bikes being stolen from the garage but there’s a certain point where the wife said, and the children said, “We’re leaving. You can stay but we’re going.”

Even non-violent crimes have a way of affecting people’s perspectives and their sense of safety forever. This is a big task is it not?

Lori: It is a big task but one of the reasons why we’re talking about this issue now is because we are seeing some money that we didn’t have available to us before and when you said, “where are the resources going to come from? We have all these people on supervision. We don’t have enough officers.” Well, the reality is that across the country, states that are investing in justice reinvestment funds and that program, some of those states have chosen to use part of their pot of money for victim services.

Leonard: That’s great.

Lori: I personally would like to challenge everybody to just think about that. Think about those resources that might be available to you in a way that you haven’t had them before and where you need to put those. The reality is, involving the victim in this process of offender re-entry increases and enhances community safety. It works for everybody.

Leonard: It does work for everybody. It works in terms of people coming out of the prison system. It works for the victims who are directly involved in it. It works from the standpoint of what’s good for the community. What’s good for the community is for everybody to stay and be involved and not run away. The whole idea is to serve people caught up in the criminal justice caught up on both sides of the aisle and taking care of their needs. Everybody wants us in the criminal justice system to be sensitive to their needs across the board and we sort of forget victims along the way. I think that’s unfortunate but I really think, and what I see us doing, is laudable.

Where do we go to from here? We talked to everybody throughout the country and to try to bring them on board, try to get them to understand that this is something that they need to do and needs to be done in your words Lori, comprehensively.

Lori: Well, Anne, can you describe just a little bit of the work that you’ve done in one of the JRA sites?

Anne: Yeah. I think, and Len this is another whole podcast, but there is a giant focus on justice reinvestment initiative that use really good data to tell us who can be effectively supervised at lower costs in the community instead of in prison. The cost savings, as Lori said, go into things such as offender treatment programs and yes indeed victim services. I think we’re also seeing, I just saw an article today that there’s a new book out with every presidential candidate so far has a strong position on justice reform. We are starting universally to question whether we need to be. The incarceration generation as I heard the other day which I thought was a really good term for sort of where we’re at. I think it’s just using the limited corrections dollars we have I think better and more effectively.

For me, when I got involved with justice reinvestment, I remember hearing four words; Less crime, fewer victims. Less crime, fewer victims. We’re starting to see research that shows now that we can have less prison beds and still less crime and still fewer victims. It’s possible to supervise people in the community while making sure that we tend to the victims needs. Lori’s talking sort of about a … to see change from the early 1990’s, and I was very involved in the Tough on Crime, Build More Prisons Movement. I was a proud leader of that but those were different times. Crime rates were much higher, people were much more fearful.

I think we’re looking at now, as we’ve discussed today, is the dynamics of crime and victimization and the fact that I think everyone is committed to having safer communities and that’s sort of the bottom lines of what we’re talking about.

Leonard: We say that re-entry begins in prison. Does victim’s planning, victim services begin in prison as well?

Anne: Well I would hope that victim services begins at the time the crime occurs. Lori said it very well earlier that we tend to operate in silos. You have your law enforcement and then you have your courts, then you have your community corrections and your corrections. It should be, I always say the criminal justice system should be designed to protect victims and yet victims often fall through the cracks in that system and we need to, as Lori said, get rid of the silos and be a little bit more seamless in our service delivery so that we’re giving victim services from the time the crime occurs to when a justice involved person is released and if they’re re-incarcerated, the same thing. To be able to provide the victim with supportive services across the continuum.

Len you said earlier, you know, it’s a forever thing. The impact of crime doesn’t often end. I mean, some people are able to recover and get on with their life but for many people it is a life long trauma that occurs as a result of victimization. They will need services along that continuum.

Leonard: It’s a lifelong process. Nobody ever forgets that victimization and again, as my friends from the National Organization for Victim Assistance would say, “They certainly do not want to be re-victimized one more time by the criminal justice system.”

Anne: That’s right.

Leonard: This has huge implications not just for us, it doesn’t have huge … it also has huge implications in terms of victim services, but it has huge implications for our own reputations as being equitable individuals who understand the damage done to victims of crime and the fact that we’re sensitive to that and the fact that we’re responding to it. That’s a public relations win win win if I’ve ever heard of one.

Anne: Absolutely. I always, when I talk to correctional administrators, I always tell them that good PR isn’t the reason to do victim services but it certainly is one of the positive outcomes. Lori and I, and I really want to thank the National Institute of Corrections on which I serve on their advisory board, they have taken a huge leadership role and Lori in particular, really focusing attention on policy and programs that help victims but also recognize the victim offender dynamics that we talked about earlier with an ultimate goal that we want individuals to be safe and communities to be safe.

I certainly want people who are re-entering the community to do so successfully. The victim having a successful transition when his or her offender’s return in the community after that person who is returning. That’s sort of my bottom line.

Leonard: Maybe, just maybe, the fact that on those instances where the offender does have the oppprtunity to confront the person coming out of the prison system, maybe but maybe it could positively effect that individual coming out of the prison system as well. Maybe it can give him or her, but in the vast majority of instances him, a better understanding as to the damage, as to the implications. Maybe that prompts change.

Anne: Yeah, I think that anytime we can give people who have committed crimes the opportunity to be held accountable, I really feel that that’s where we’ve been remiss over the past couple of decades. We have not provided opportunities. That’s what we’re seeing now with victim offender dialogue, with the very popular impact of crime on victim’s classes where survivors actually talk to inmates, talk to parolees and probationers about what happens when a crime occurs. When we take restitution seriously and when offenders are given the opportunity to pay back the victim for the financial damages that they caused that person, these are all things that to me are part of helping offenders become better people.

Again, it’s having the courage to provide them, recognize that it’s important to provide them with the opportunities for those types of programs and services that very often involve their victims.

Leonard: Okay, I’m going to close because I’ll tell you, this an extraordinarily meaningful program to me and I think a real plus for the criminal justice system especially the correctional system in terms of them getting involved in this. Again, it’s done through the leadership of the National Institute of Corrections ladies and gentlemen. We’ve done a show on crime victims and offender re-entry with the National Institute of Corrections by your microphones today has been Anne Seymour, National Crime Victim Advocate and Lori Brisban. She’s a Correctional Programs Specialist in the community services division for the National Institute of Corrections.

They both made reference to a television show called Offender Re-Entry: The Value of Victim Involvement. There’s an instructional guide that goes along with that so if you’re looking for quick access to information on this topic, go to www.nicic.gov. Www.nicic.gov.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Offender Reentry and the Arts

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/prisoner-reentry-and-the-arts-woolly-mammoth-theatre-company-2/

Leonard Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sikes. The topic today, ladies and gentlemen, prison re-entry and the arts. We try to bring all perspectives to this issue of offender re-entry, this will be our third program with the arts community. By our microphones is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company here in Washington DC. Also before our microphones, Teresa Hodge, she is the founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and we also have Justin McCarthy. He is the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth, and to Kristin and Theresa and Justin, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Justin McCarthy: Thanks Leonard.

Leonard Sipes: What is Woolly Mammoth, Justin?

Justin McCarthy: So Woolly Mammoth is a non-profit theater company in Washington DC. We’re currently in our 35th full season of operation.

Leonard Sipes: You guys have been around forever.

Justin McCarthy: Yep, that’s right.

Leonard Sipes: You have a great reputation.

Justin McCarthy: Well, thanks very much, and, you know, a lot has changed in those 35 years but one thing that’s sorta remained constant, and I guess this is the easiest way to sort of [inaudible 00:01:08] what we do that separates us from most theater companies out there, is to say that all of our plays have a sort of civic conversation around them

Leonard Sipes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: They all address social, cultural, or political issues, and …

Leonard Sikes: Why Woolly Mammoth?

Justin McCarthy: That’s a great question.

Leonard Sikes: Yes, it is a great question.

Justin McCarthy: Well, there’s a story behind that. Our founding artistic director and the partner with him who founded the company, they were up late one night brainstorming potential, you know, theater names and in the morning they found “Woolly Mammoth Theater Company” written on a cocktail napkin.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, the hand of God!

Justin McCarthy: So, it was a sign, but I guess you could say that the inspiration there is that we, the idea is that we are sort of nomadic, like the woolly mammoths of the ore, traveling from place to place and telling our stories, like, you know, like any paleontologist would tell you a woolly mammoth did.

Leonard Sikes: There you go, all right. Lights Rise On Grace is the name of the play that is currently running which is the idea behind the radio show today. It’s running now through April 26th at Woolly Mammoth, www. See if I get this right, w-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h?

Justin McCarthy: Almost. Two O’s.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-l-l-y-m …

Justin McCarthy: So it’d be w-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-mo-t-h.

Leonard Sikes: W-o-o-l-l-y-m-a-m-m-o-t-h.

Justin McCarthy: Why didn’t you tell me this was going to be a spelling test?

Leonard Sikes: .net. Okay, cool, but I do want people to connect to the theater company because again, it’s a large, rather established theater company and this is an amazing play: Lights Rise On Grace, Kristin you’re going to tell me a little bit about that?

Kristin Jackson: I sure will. So Lights Rise On Grace is a play written by Chad Beckham, and it is actually part of a rolling world premiere, our production, and this is through the new play network, the national new play network, and so if you don’t catch it here at Woolly you can also check it out at Stageworks in Tampa, Florida and the Azuka Theater in Philadelphia.

Leonard Sikes: So this is gonna travel from city to city that’s great.

Kristin Jackson: The play will. This particular production is unique to Woolly

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Kristin Jackson: But essentially what the play is about is three young people, from sort of the inner city and they are trying to sort of grapple with these questions of race, and sexuality, family, and you know, what are the families that you’re born into versus the families that you create, and one of the sort of big inciting events in this play is that Large, one of the characters, ends up incarcerated, and when he returns home, he’s sort of having to deal with these challenges of, you know, how he’s changed following his incarceration and how to sort of reintegrate back into the life he had before.

Leonard Sikes: Which is always difficult, and that’s one of the reasons that we have Teresa here, Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for mission launch. Teresa, you’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system before.

Teresa Hodge: I have. I actually served a 70-month federal prison sentence.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: I was at Alder’s in West Virginia, little bit different than the character, because based upon how the story looks, I previewed it, it appears that he probably went to state prison and I went to federal prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: And there is a difference between the two.

Leonard Sikes: Well, we should clarify for everybody throughout the country that’s listening to this that since the reorganization act in 2000 in Washington DC, you can violate DC code here in the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, but you are sent to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: Right.

Leonard Sikes: So most people, you’re right, the vast majority of people who are incarcerated in the country go to state prison, so you went to a federal prison.

Teresa Hodge: I went to a federal prison, I’m actually a Maryland resident and so my case was a Maryland case but it was also a federal case.

Leonard Sikes: Okay, and so what is your connection to this play, Lights Rise On Grace?

Teresa Hodge: On tomorrow evening, I will be moderating a panel discussion. We will have, with me, there will be four other people who’ve been to prison, and after the play we’re going to discuss the realities of going to prison, and just maybe answer some of the questions that the audience might have as it relates to, was this, you know some of the scenarios that came forth on stage, how real is that?

Leonard Sikes: Why is it important that the arts community address the issue of people coming out of the prison system? Everybody has their own perspective, I bet. I could talk to cops, I could talk to people at corrections, I could talk to politicians, I could talk to community members, I could talk to people caught up in the criminal justice system themselves, and everybody’s going to bring a different perspective to the issue of people coming out of the prison system. What does the arts community bring to this discussion that’s new and unique?

Kristin Jackson: Well, part of what I think the arts community brings to this discussion, and part of what I know Woolly Mammoth tries to bring to this discussion is ensuring that there are folks coming to see the show, for whom these issues and these stories are either personally, or professionally, meaningful.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: And, we use our stories to really sort of open the hearts of folks, and I think that through the work that we do both on stage and also in fostering dialogue, what we hope, what we call sort of “explosive engagement,” that we are able to create understanding, we are able to foster community, and we’re able to change people’s hearts in a way that may not otherwise be possible.

Leonard Sikes: One of the interesting things about doing this show is I talk to lots of people who were once caught up in the criminal justice system, and these are people who step out of the norm. They create their own businesses, they create their own podcasts, they create their own manuals, they do community/public speaking, and I have to remind myself from time to time that’s one-tenth of one percent of the seven-hundred thousand people coming out of the prison system. The overwhelming majority of the people coming out of the prison systems every year throughout the United States have no voice. So, I would imagine, this brings an issue that most people feel uncomfortable about talking about, correct?

Justin McCarthy: Right.

Teresa Hodge: I definitely … one of the reasons why I do what I do, I am a person who advocates and I speak because I wanna show what prison looks like, and it doesn’t always look like what we think. So, I think that’s very important that we began to humanize who’s going into prison and who’s coming home. It is a very tough topic, people, it makes you uncomfortable, and it’s a complicated and complex topic, and there’s many paths that take people to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: So it’s important that we understand all the various paths that are going to be necessary for people when they come home from prison as well.

Leonard Sikes: But you, and the arts community ends up through either photography or video, or in terms of this particular play, Lights Rise On Grace, you provide a voice to people who essentially see themselves as voiceless. You provide a conduit to have a discussion that most people don’t really care about. The only thing that they hear about people caught up in the criminal justice system is what they hear on the evening news, what they see on local television, what they read about in the newspaper that ex-offender does something horrendous and goes back to prison for another 20-25 years. That’s their impression of people caught up in the criminal justice system. You’re trying to humanize what that process is and who these people are, correct?

Teresa Hodge: Yes, well, that’s probably …

Justin McCarthy: No that’s great, that’s very eloquently put. I think the important thing about art is addressing these issues, that, you know, I mean it certainly works the way that Kristin and Teresa put it. It certainly is wonderful for people who deal everyday with these issues.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Justin McCarthy: But, on the other side of the coin for people that are just interested in seeing a play, they’ll find that they’ll be engaging with these issues too. So we always say the most important part of our work, it doesn’t happen on stage, it happens before the show and after the show, when audience members are talking about the issues that we’re addressing on stage.

Leonard Sikes: It’s one of the reasons why Teresa, you’re going to be leading that larger discussion with people who are caught up in the criminal justice system, so they have the context of the play and they have the context of the people actually being caught up in the system.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. The individuals that will be coming to speak with us have been home for as little as six months, to six years, and so many of them are still facing some of the challenges of employment, of housing, a lot of them have been successful in getting back on their feet. But they’re going to be able to share what it’s like being in prison, but then also the challenges of coming home. Most people who come home from prison say coming home from prison is much harder than being in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: One thing I also wanted to add, that Teresa and mission launch were very, sort of vital in helping us develop. It was part of our lobby experience for the show.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, tell me about that.

Kristin Jackson: Woolly does something pretty unique in that we have these interactive lobby experiences that help, sort of illuminate either the content, or the form, or the issues that are embedded in our plays. One of the things we did for Lights Rise On Grace was a sort of life-sized re-entry game board, where our audience members are able to go through some the, sort of, challenges and some of the, I guess you could say victories that we see that returning citizens are experiencing. So they are literally in this sort of fun and playful way, both learning about these experiences in a very personal way, and helping them to make those connections.

Leonard Sikes: But do you see the interesting aspect here in terms of the arts community, Comedy Central and Jon Stewart, so many millennials use that as their news source.

Justin McCarthy: Sure.

Leonard Sikes: I mean, they bring comedy, they use comedy as a conduit to talk about endless types of topics, and comedy brings a different perspective to it. Comedy brings a perspective that the average person, discussing whatever it is, simply wouldn’t bring up, they wouldn’t look at it that way, so you’re looking at it through new eyes, a fresh perspective. So I’m gonna go back to that question. What does the arts community, and what can the arts community, what do they do and what can they say to really drive home this point in a truly unique way? What is truly unique about this particular play and the arts community in terms of re-entry?

Justin McCarthy: What I will say is that, for Woolly in general, it’s really important to our artistic team that our shows be funny, and, you know, what that does is when you have sort of comedic elements, you know, in combination, in tandem with issues that are sort of difficult to discuss, it makes it easier to engage with, it provides a sort of humanizing element in a kind of … it makes it easier to connect.

Leonard Sikes: And you can get away with much more than you can in a straight discussion …

Justin McCarthy: That’s right.

Leonard Sikes: On the issue. I mean, I’ve been interviewed by dozens and dozens of radio talk shows, and so I have to represent a particular point of view, but with the arts community you’re free to say whatever it is that you want. So what is it that you wanna say that is not being said by those of us in the criminal justice system? Teresa, I’m gonna put that in your lap.

Teresa Hodge: Well I think, after watching this play, I think that the audience will walk away feeling like, this could’ve happened to me. It was just a very relatable moment.

Leonard Sikes: A shared experience.

Teresa Hodge: Extremely shared experience.

Leonard Sikes: Okay.

Teresa Hodge: So, I think that makes it a little bit easier for people to understand prison, prison re-entry, when you understand that, what took place, and I don’t wanna give a whole spoiler alert on the play itself, but when you actually consider the path that led this person to prison, it was a relatively easy path, and the court system didn’t take into consideration the history of his family and some other circumstances that kind of led him there. I think people will walk away thinking about this long after they’ve viewed the play itself.

Leonard Sikes: So it’s something that’s gonna stick around, it’s something that’s going to create a cathartic moment for them possibly

Teresa Hodge: Possibly.

Leonard Sikes: Something that they’re willing to discuss with their friends and neighbors, so it transcends just the audience, it goes way beyond that.

Teresa Hodge: Right and I think the next time you pick up the newspaper, or you look at the news, you’ll think about it.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and it may be, that’s the most important thing. If our only reference is what we’re seeing on television, if that’s our only reference to quote on quote “criminals,” people caught up in the criminal justice system, this is a new and fresh perspective.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. What I often talk to people, and I tell them what I do with Mission Launch, I’m amazed that they talk about ‘those people.’ They don’t think I’m one of those people when they’re talking to me.

Leonard Sikes: Right.

Teresa Hodge: Then after, I let them go on and then I’ll say well, I’m actually one of the people I’m talking about, and so I think it’s just really important. I’m excited that we were invited to be able to bring five people who’ve been to prison so that the audience will not only get to see the actors, but they will actually be able to interact with five individuals who, I’m confident, if they walked down the street they wouldn’t have known.

Leonard Sikes: We’re halfway through the program, a really interesting discussion on prison re-entry and the arts community. Before our microphones today is Kristin Jackson, she is the connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. We have Teresa Hodge, she is founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, the communications coordinator for Woolly Mammoth. We’re talking about the play Lights Rise On Grace, running now at Woolly Mammoth to April 26th, and let’s see if I can stumble through the website without screwing this up: www.woolymammoth.net, you’re shaking your heads?

Justin McCarthy: It’s almost … the two O’s and the to L’s is, it’s tough.

Leonard Sikes: Oh! Goodness gracious, www.woollymammoth.net.

Justin McCarthy: I work there and I mess it up every day.

Leonard Sikes: Just search for Woolly Mammoth, ladies and gentlemen, Woolly Mammoth and Washington DC. How many Woolly Mammoth’s can there be?

Justin McCarthy: Right. We’re the only one.

Leonard Sikes: I have this group in New York that said Leonard, you can’t pronounce a name to save your life. Now they’re gonna say you can’t give out a website address to save your life.

Justin McCarthy: This is hard, you know, those to O’s and those two L’s …

Leonard Sikes: Oh, Lord. Okay, I don’t think I’m getting, I think I’m getting very controlled answers from the three of you in terms of what the arts community can provide to this. When I sit down and talk with people caught up in the criminal justice system before these microphones, as I said before hitting the record button, the best shows are always after I stop it, and then they let loose with all of this emotion about how people just don’t get it when it comes to people coming out of the prison system, what it means for them, what it means for their kids. You take a look at some stats, and one out of every thirty people is currently, you’re gonna come into contact with, is currently involved in the criminal justice system and if you expound upon that people who have been arrested and people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system before, certainly criminologists have said one out of twenty.

So, you’re interacting every single day with people caught up in the criminal justice system. So what does that mean to the arts community to have so many people caught up in the criminal justice system interacting with us, our family, our kids, every single day? What does the arts community have to say to that?

Teresa Hodge: Well I think this is a right-now topic. Prison is an important topic, it’s a very expensive topic to our communities, and I think it’s one of those, people suffer in silence. Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to say, “I have a family member in prison, I have a son in prison, I have a daughter in prison.” But what I’ve discovered is, when I reveal that I’ve been to prison, everybody lets me know about their secrets to.

Leonard Sikes: There we go. So many of us know people in our family, in our friends, that have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s not all that unusual.

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely. I said, in the theater last week, and so there was a hundred plus people there, if the statistics were right, five people had probably been to prison.

Leonard Sikes: Oh, probably more than that out of the hundred, caught up in the criminal justice system. The theater has led the discussion in terms of gay rights, the theater has led the discussion and the arts community has led the discussion in terms of rights for women, rights for African Americans, rights for just about every group that has marginalized within the country, so the theater community has had that powerful voice over the sense of decades and has contributed mightily to the discussion of issues that people find a hard time discussing. So, as you said, Justin, you bring a sense of humor to it and that allows you to talk about things that are ordinarily uncomfortable.

Justin McCarthy: I think so. It sort of lets people have these moments where they say, “Okay, it’s not just me and criminals,” you know, it allows for this space of connection that you don’t see, and especially with an issue like this where it’s sort of socially, I mean it’s not something that you discuss if you’re someone who’s affected by it. We’re kind of opening the door to that discussion, and it’s something that we try to do in our shows, which we don’t just produce to entertain people, we’re trying to sort of model a form of civic discourse with what we do, and particularly with our plays that address issues like this, like incarceration and re-entry.

Leonard Sikes: One of the things that Kristin said is that it is a topic that is emerging as a point of discussion, it is a topic that more people are feeling more comfortable talking about, simply because governor’s in every state in this country have taken a look at their overall budgets and said what percentage goes into corrections, and can we have an impact on that? People from both the right and left end of the spectrum are now supporting a discussion and alternatives to incarceration, and a different way of doing things. So this is a discussion that’s building momentum, but yet the average person out there is not like, “Well, gee how did the national’s do last night, what do you think the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, by the way how’s your son in prison?”

Teresa Hodge: Yeah, that’s not usually what follows how the nationals were doing that’s for sure.

Leonard Sikes: Yes. But I mean, do you understand?

Teresa Hodge: Absolutely.

Leonard Sikes: As you just said, Kristin, a little while ago, this is a conversation that a lot of people feel uncomfortable with because they’re not quite sure who those people in prison are. They see, the average person sees themselves as completely separate from those people locked up. They don’t see any connection at all to those individuals, and we’re talking about 1.5 million people it prison, another 500,000 in jail, so we’re talking about two million people who are behind bars today, and we’re also talking about another five million who are under community supervision today, so we’re talking about seven million human beings today. A snapshot in time, with about 600-700 thousand coming out of prison every year, many more than that coming our of the jail system. So, you’re talking about just an enormous amount of human beings.

Justin McCarthy: That’s correct.

Leonard Sikes: Now, it seems like it’s an appropriate time for the arts community to get involved in this and lead this discussion as the arts community has led discussions in other difficult topics throughout the years, correct?

Kristin Jackson: Absolutely. I mean, we believe in theater as a tool for social change, theater as a site for examining and understanding everyday life. We, you know, we believe that the theater can serve as a model for the sort of participatory, creative, democratic society that we want, and that we aspire to.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Kristin Jackson: So, I certainly believe that, as arts leaders, as arts makers, it is our responsibility to, you know, use the platforms that we have and work with our partners who are, you know, carrying, who are engaged in the fight already, and find ways to use these different sites that we have access to in order to, you know, bring folks together and change their way of thinking. I mean, being here in Washington DC, like that is an incredible opportunity, because, you know, Woolly Mammoth, we welcome folks from all sides of the political spectrum.

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Kristin Jackson: And, I think that by providing the opportunity for these really diverse audiences to get together, and to hear from folks who are passionate about these issues and really think about their own positions, it’s a phenomenal opportunity and it’s what drives us, I think, as a theater company to do the work that we do.

Leonard Sikes: You know who I think does a wonderful job in terms of social change in the arts?

Kristin Jackson: Hm?

Leonard Sikes: Chris Rock.

Teresa Hodge: Yes.

Justin McCarthy: I agree.

Leonard Sikes: I love watching his concerts because he’ll get involved in issues all over the spectrum, issues that make you laugh and issues that make you feel terribly uncomfortable, but issues that make you think: “Wait a minute,” he may have a point here, and so I think that’s what the arts community does. You all have leverage that the rest of us, in government and, we have to be so careful and we have to be so diplomatic, and the arts community is just out there saying, “Look, this is something that you need to look at.” Lights Rise On Grace, I would imagine, would be that sort of play. Something that people really need to look at but at the same time enjoy themselves in terms of the experience.

Justin McCarthy: It is. It is, and you’ll see these, sort of, humorous relatable elements happening alongside these really kind of dangerous and scary moments in the play. I’m thinking of one in particular, when the character who becomes incarcerated, the first person who becomes incarcerated that the audience encounters, he meets someone in his first few days in prison who’s been in the prison for long time, and their first interaction is so very funny and comic, because it’s just the awkwardness of two people meeting for the first time, but of course it’s prison so there’s also like the threat of violence and this awful kind of context hanging over it. So you can look at it in sort of one of two ways, you know, but of course the audience ends up laughing along because it’s something that’s relatable and …

Leonard Sikes: Sure.

Justin McCarthy: Something you can kind of understand, but all of a sudden these two people aren’t just like criminals that have no connection to you, they’re people just like you and so it’s this incredible moment and the play is full of moments just like that.

Leonard Sikes: Teresa, as somebody who’s been caught up in the criminal justice system, what is it that people need to understand about people caught up in the criminal justice system that they just need to understand, it’s something that they don’t think of on a day-to-day basis, they need to understand it, what do they need to understand?

Teresa Hodge: I think that first, we just need to understand that they’re people, and I think that right across the board that’s just an important piece. There are individuals who maybe made a mistake and their worst moment was put on trial, and going to prison is very scary for the person, it’s often traumatizing for the person to be in prison, to be away from their family, to be kept away from society, to be kept away from technology.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It is incredibly difficult to come home from prison when we live in such a technology-savvy age, and every three months, technology is doing something new and different. I think that we have to be patient, and we have to try to find creative ways to engage people because it’s very expensive for people to come home and get back on their feet. I’ve found very few people who were sitting in prison wondering when they were gonna come back to prison, but yet I’m always baffled by the number of, for me, women who I engaged and encountered while I was in prison who had real strong dreams and hopes for their future, and six months later I find out that they’re back in prison.

Leonard Sikes: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Teresa Hodge: It makes me stop and wonder what happened. Where did a system break down? Where were they unable to latch to a community, and how were they unable to kind of attach to that last good thought that they had, which was in prison?

Leonard Sikes: I can’t imagine a more complex set of human emotions, when you do come out of the prison system because women have kids that they wanna reunite with, you have a drug habit that you’ve got to conquer, many people caught up in the criminal justice system have mental health problems, they have to come out and find work and yet people turn them down because of their criminal histories. You have the stereotype, I mean if a person comes back and says, “Hi, I’ve spent the last five years in prison,” you know, what does that mean to the social circle and, does that repulse does that intrigue people? I mean, these are just incredible human dimensions that just crash out of these six or seven hundred thousand people on a year-to-year basis when they come out of that prison system. The emotions are raw, the issues are real.

Justin McCarthy: Oh, absolutely, and you’re seeing, what you’re talking about, Len, is all of these, just this incredible, you know, laundry list of difficulties and challenges that are facing re-entering citizens.

Leonard Sikes: And I sometimes wonder, with all of the things that people have to deal with when they come out of the prison system, I mean, I have a women offender sitting by these microphones basically saying it is almost impossible to do what everybody wants me to do, it is almost impossible to succeed, and sometimes they get the sense that we stack the cards tremendously, which is one of the reasons why Lights On Grace that is running now, through Woolly Mammoth here at Washington DC, running now through April 26th, become such an important point and I’m glad we’ve had this possibility, this opportunity to discuss the play, and discuss Woolly Mammoth, and discuss re-entry. By our microphones today has been Kristin Jackson, she is connectivity director for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Teresa Hodge, founder and director of innovation and strategy for Mission Launch, and Justin McCarthy, he is communications coordinator for, again, for Woolly Mammoth, I wanna try this one more time: ww – Just, go ahead and Google Woolly Mammoth and DC. www.woollymammoth.net. I got it right for the first time at the end of the program.

Justin McCarthy: Nailed it.

Leonard Sikes: Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments, we even appreciate you criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Prison Reentry From A Former Offender’s Perspective

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main page at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/10/prison-reentry-from-a-former-offenders-perspective/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, Lamont Carey, LamontCarey.com. Lamont is one of the most interesting spokespeople for offender reentry, people coming out of prison. We’re titling today’s program Views on Prison Reentry: A Former Offender’s Perspective. Lamont Carey, welcome back to DC Pubic Safety.

Lamont: Thank you for having me.

Leonard: All right. The best programs we do are with Lamont. Now when you go to an event and Lamont is speaking at events, because Lamont is an author, he’s a trainer, Lamont is everything. He’s a filmmaker. There’s nothing that Lamont does not do, but the most interesting thing that Lamont does is he gets up and he gives these monologues on our understanding of crime in the criminal justice system. Lamont, I want you to start off the program with a one to two minute monologue so that people have an idea as to what it is that you do.

Lamont: All right. See when I walked out that gate, I looked straight, leaving prison behind me, leaving the streets behind me. But my mother always told me that my past would always find me. See I had been looking for a job for almost a year and wasn’t nobody hiring. I’m glad that they done banned the box, but it’s that empty block on my resume that seems to be whispering, “He done been to the penitentiary.” They told me to forget my past and change people, places and things if I really want to change. Now I’m in this new job interview not knowing what to say or what to do, so I say what I’ve been taught, that I’m a hard worker, that I’m a fast learner, that I’m a dependable. She leaned over and said, “Sir what does that mean because that ain’t what we’re looking for? We’re looking for somebody with expertise in sales.”

I smiled on the outside because on the inside I was screaming, “That’s the reason that I went to jail.” Once I was able to tell her what I knew about sales without actually telling her what I knew about sales, I got the job. See they say when things go wrong we revert back to what we know, but there’s some skills from my criminal past that are indeed transferable. iTunes. All that stuff you can get that, the whole copy.

Leonard: I do love that. I heard that live a couple weeks ago and i was just absolutely fascinated with it. You understand, after listening to that monologue how convincing Lamont is. A very eloquent spokesperson, and a very forthright and forceful spokesperson for the issue of reentry because we’ve done radio programs before where we’ve argued, we’ve yelled at each other. People just need to understand what it is about people caught up in the criminal justice system and what it is that we should be doing. Crime is rising in some cities throughout the United States. People are starting to get angry at the criminal justice system again, and what we’re saying is that if you supply the programs both in prison and outside of prison, and if you supply community support, we can dramatically reduce the amount of people who are going back to prison, dramatically reduce the amount of criminality that people get involved in and we have been saying that, I have been saying that for a quarter of a century.

Lamont: Preach.

Leonard: I’m not quite sure people get it. I’m not quite sure people listen to what I have to say. Maybe Lamont Carey, they listen to what you have to say. What is the message?

Lamont: You said it. When I hear criminal justice system, let me just be straight up, I hear the system. From my personal perspective, my community reflects all the images that I see of the criminal justice system.

Leonard: What does that mean?

Lamont: That means on the news when there’s a crime committed and the picture is flashed, ninety-nine percent of the times it’s an individual that looks like me, that comes from the community that I come from. Actually on my way here, I saw a video of a young black girl, African American girl in the classroom. I don’t know what the whole story is, but this police officer forced, she was sitting in the chair holding onto the chair as tight as she could, slammed the chair back, snatched her out of the chair and tossed her. This is a grown man. This is a young girl in school, and I can’t think where’s the justification in her being treated so harshly.

She didn’t have a weapon in her hand that she was brandishing at anybody. She was holding onto the desk. Those images are what I saw growing up on a consistent and constant basis, every time I saw the police they were taking somebody that I know, somebody that I love. For me, that created that gap, that divide between me and the police because I saw the police as a threat to my well being, and that is how I saw the criminal justice system and also I saw the criminal justice system, because again, I say the system, is when I was in school and I stayed back in Kindergarten. I don’t know how you stay back in Kindergarten when all you do is color and sleep, but I stayed back in Kindergarten and I stayed back in the first grade.

When I got passed on to these other grades, I knew that I wasn’t ready. Now I’m seeing statistics and hearing people say that they’re basing third grade test scores on how many prison beds that they will need in the future. The criminal justice system for me begins in my community, and if those statistics are what they’re using as fact, that mean that there is an opportunity for there to be an intervention in third grade if that is what’s leading to defining where they will end up with the rest of their life. Why aren’t we being proactive and putting money into programs? Not only money into programs, why aren’t we getting rid of teachers and curriculum that aren’t preparing out children to go to the next grade where they will be producing test scores that say they are going to prison?

Leonard: Okay, you’re bouncing all over the place. Number one, there’s a basic mistrust either in the poor African American community or other communities, white communities, Hispanic communities towards the criminal justice system. You’re probably going to suggest that it’s more pronounced within the African American community.

Lamont: No, I’m just speaking of from my perspective.

Leonard: From your perspective, that’s what I’m looking for. Number one, what I’m hearing is there’s mistrust of those of us within the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: In your mind there’s probably a pretty good reason for that mistrust.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: From the very beginning in terms of the schools, the schools are improperly prepared to lift people up even those people who want to be lifted up?

Lamont: Right. To you it might seem that I’m bouncing all over the place but to me it says it’s connected. It’s based off those test scores and it defines who goes to prison and nobody is trying to stop that, so all of that is connected. It’s saying these young people will end up in the criminal justice system. If nobody is not interrupting that, then they’re embracing it.

Leonard: What you’re saying it’s preordained and it’s embraced by the large society?

Lamont: Yeah. How else could I read into that?

Leonard: Why would it be embraced by the larger society?

Lamont: If this is the truth and they’re not putting money there, they’re not switching out the curriculum or the teachers, then this has been accepted as the norm?

Leonard: Why?

Lamont: Why?

Leonard: Yeah.

Lamont: Why was it accepted as the norm? Well it may be I know I’ve been hearing, I haven’t actually seen them so it may not even be true that there are contracts with prison systems that’s guaranteed that a certain amount of bed space will be filled, so maybe this is a part of that process of making sure that the states meet those quotas so they won’t end up in court because they have guaranteed that these bed spaces will be filled.

Leonard: Your sense is that it’s all preordained for whatever reason, whether it be race, whether it be class, whether it be for whatever the reason is, it is preordained for young men and young women coming up in our society throughout the United States that they’re not going to do well in school and they’re going to end up in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Right. My thinking is if it’s not embraced as this is the norm, then it must be embraced that there is something truly wrong with African Americans, right? That we’re going to commit crimes, that we’re going violate the law in some form or fashion that’s going to put us behind bars. That’s saying that we are born criminals and that’s impossible for it to be true. I know we come from situations, in my community I grew up that my father wasn’t allowed to live in my household for my mother to receive the Section 8 housing.

Leonard: Is it because he was caught up in the system?

Lamont: No. What I’m speaking of, again, when I hear criminal justice I hear the system. Internally that’s what it says to me. I’m just stating from my view as a young person growing up to now as an adult trying to understand all of my experiences as a young folk. If my father was hiding under the bed and jumping in the closet so he wouldn’t be found that he was in my mother’s home so she wouldn’t lose where she was living. One, it seemed like my father, for whatever reason, that he wasn’t able to have a job that he was able to pay the rent for the housing for us, whatever that reason was that he couldn’t do that, but now my mother has housing and apparently she was under an agreement that says, “If we provide housing for you and your kids, the man can’t be living here.”

Leonard: For what reason? Was he caught up in the criminal justice system?

Lamont: No, it was just public housing.

Leonard: It was just public housing?

Lamont: It was just public housing.

Leonard: It excluded your father because they didn’t want men?

Lamont: They didn’t want men.

Leonard: Oh wow.

Lamont: He could not live in a house with us. I know in D.C., because it wasn’t HUD. HUD said it wasn’t their policy, it was the policy of the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority in D.C. is re-looking at that and trying to bring families back together.

Leonard: The bottom line, what I’m hearing you say Lamont is that there is institutional bias towards people, towards themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, caught up in failing schools. They grow up a certain way viewing the criminal justice system a certain way, viewing society a certain way.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: what does that mean? You grow up in tough schools, you grow up in tough communities, you grow up mistrusting the criminal justice system and all that means what?

Lamont: All that means, for me I felt isolated. I felt like that there wasn’t options for me, that I felt limited. Because I heard things like the school system isn’t preparing you for a future, the textbooks are old or the white man is not going to let you be nothing. This is what I heard verbally. Now I see on TV every year, every couple of months about how bad the inner city or the public school system is. Now it’s not something that I’m hearing verbally from people who have given up on life, but now it’s being broadcast and so it’s the same messages that’s being fed to our kids.

As a kid, growing up, I’m like, “All right, why should I go that route if they’re saying that route is a dead end.” I chose the streets.

Leonard: You’re not going to succeed anyway, so why not choose the streets?

Lamont: Right. How the streets seemed like an option, because those who chose the streets lived better than I did. I wanted to get out of this despair. People in my neighborhood, you can look in their eyes and see that they have given up, that they are completely hopeless. I didn’t want to be a drug addict. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic living on the corner. The drug dealers because the difference in my community. They had the cars, they had the money, they moved out of the community and it was accessible to me. I learned how to sell drugs playing in the yard.

Leonard: You understand that what you are describing, I’ll name the following five groups and there’s going to be somebody who will object because I have [inaudible 14:13]. You’re talking about Italian street corner gangs, you’re talking about Jewish street corner gangs, you’re talking about Greek street corner gangs.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: You’re talking about just about any other group out there. Everything that you’re describing describes exactly all the other folks who got involved in the criminal justice system.

Lamont: Guess where I learned that out.

Leonard: Where?

Lamont: I learned that in prison.

Leonard: Tell me about that.

Lamont: I learned that each group has the same or similar issues as the African American communities deal with. Italians kill, rob, sell drugs to Italians. Asians do the same and vice versa. I’m only speaking from a perspective that I grew up in. I can’t talk about an Italian kid, how they grew up.

Leonard: I want to get back to that and I want to get around the criminal justice policy, but I still think that our program should be two hours long, not thirty minutes. It’s impossible. The discussion about all of this, Lamont Carey’s at our microphone. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, views on prison reentry from a former offender’s perspective. LamontCarey.com, L-A-M-O-N-T-C-A-R-E-Y dot com. It’s impossible to describe Lamont in terms of his public appearance, in terms of writing books, in terms of video, in terms of other projects that Lamont is involved in. It’s just a fascinating, fascinating person. LamontCarey.com, go to his website.

We have fifteen minutes left. In terms of criminal justice property, in terms of something that everybody else listening to this program right now needs to understand about the reentry process is what? Everything that you experienced as a child, put that off to the side for a second.

Lamont: And go to as an adult?

Leonard: What does the larger society need to understand, what does the larger society need to do to reduce crime, to reduce the amount of people going back to the prison system? Then reduce of our tax burden?

Lamont: Okay, so starting from inside of the criminal institution, starting inside of prisons. One of the things that was life changing for me is that I had access to education. With me saying that, the Pell grants are so important because …

Leonard: Federal funding for college programs.

Lamont: Federal funding for college, right. Having access to education broadened my worldview. As I said in the poem that I was reciting earlier, that people told us to change people, places and things if we really want to change. If I didn’t have access to education while in prison I would have came out worse than I went in. I wouldn’t have only grown as a criminal. Education combated that. Education when I was in business management, it taught me that I was a businessman, but I just had illegal product. All I had to do was change my product and the services that I offered. Without access to education, I wouldn’t have learned it. That is how I’m in front of you now with books out, with films and plays. Education helps change the way a man or a woman sees themselves, sees the world and it shows them what exists out there.

Leonard: Before prison, you said you viewed yourself in a certain way and you saw your future as hopeless. How did that change in terms of college programs in prison?

Lamont: I didn’t see myself as hopeless, I saw myself as finding a way out and that’s why I chose turn to selling drugs, even though it was the wrong choice. How did that help me in prison? It made sense of my life. It made me see that black people wasn’t the only people that existed in the world. There are black people that are successful, and if you figure out what you want out of life and you be determined enough to achieve it, having access to college in prison helped me create a roadmap to success. It taught me that I can take my life, package my life, which I have done because I don’t have a product or service. My business is created of me, of my experiences that I was able to turn into books and CDs to motivational speaking. That’s what college did for me. If not having access to college, I wouldn’t have know that I could do that.

The other thing that we need, having a job, having housing is phenomenal, but more than that we need goals. We need to be able to set life goals for ourselves. We need to be able to think, be able to make decisions that’s going to benefit our life. We need life skills that’s going to help us to confront and overcome those obstacles we’re going to face.

Leonard: You’re talking about fundamentally rearranging how people see themselves through education.

Lamont: Yes, and education somehow, whether that’s a trade or whether that’s just through education, because we work. What society doesn’t understand is that in prison you have two choices. You either work or you go to school. It’s not like we have never worked before. We get up every morning, probably depending on what your job is, and work just about seven days a week. We are accustomed to working. We are accustomed to being on time. I think we just need the opportunities and that the community as a whole, employers understand that there is some value. One, we have skills. We’re used to working, and that we have skills that we’re not even utilizing. One of the skills that have that I learned from the streets is that I learned I know marketing. I know customer service. I know branding. Those were skills that I learned from a criminal lifestyle. I figured out through college programs how to see that in a different light, see that in a positive light, and repackage that and turn it into a positive product or service.

Leonard: We cut the prison programs, we cut most of the prison college programs. President Obama is trying to re-institute them on a limited basis, on a trial basis, but we cut most of the programs that you find near and dear. Most prison systems throughout this country lack career programs, lack vocational training for all offenders. They have them but only a small percentage of the prison population can take advantage of them. Vocational training is not there as necessary. Educational training, substance abuse, mental health, all these programmatic activities, they exist in every prison in the United States but they only serve small numbers. Why is that? If you’re saying that that is the key, then why do so few prison inmates actually get to be involved in these sorts of efforts.

Lamont: In some institutions it depends on how much time you’re serving.

Leonard: Correct.

Lamont: Right?

Leonard: Right, if you’re a lifer you’re not going to get it. If you’re there for nine months, you’re not going to get it. But for the eighty percent left?

Lamont: My thinking is that everybody should have access to some form of program. It shouldn’t be voluntary, it should be mandatory. If you don’t have a high school diploma, like when I went to prison because I was a juvenile, because of federal laws or what have you, I had to go to school and get a GED. That was the eye opener for me. That’s what led to college. Because at first I didn’t think I was smart enough to be able to take tests to pass grades, but once I got the GED I was like, “Okay.”

Leonard: I want two quick answers from you. Why is there a lack of programs, and B, if we had the programs, what would be the impact? Would we reduce recidivism by fifty percent, sixty percent, twenty percent? Why don’t we have these programs?

Lamont: I think the institutions focuses on warehousing for the most part. It’s on warehousing and maybe the impression is that we don’t want to learn. I’ve went to a prison in North Carolina, they have no program. They don’t even have a law library. In my opinion, I believe that it will have a great impact on the recidivism rate if you have those kind of programs. Most of us don’t even know that we have mental issues. Today I know that I’m affected by my incarceration because if my wife open a door in the bedroom, I still pop up or my eyes pop open because it was a safety measure in there. Those are some things that could have been addressed beforehand. Me, you know me, man I’m writing a book on.

Leonard: Yes you are.

Lamont: How to identify institutional behavior and possible ways you can help them overcome it. I think having education and access to programming, it’s cool if they give us the programming and education, but society has to be willing to accept that we have this training and if they’re going to offer us programming in the institution, let us be certified in it.

Leonard: That’s the other part of it, the larger society has got to care about people coming out of the prison system. They’ve got to be personally invested for their own protection. I mean just in terms of …

Lamont: Of safety.

Leonard: … crime, just in terms of their own tax paid dollars. It is in our collective best interest to give a break, to have some degree of understanding the people coming out of the prison system.

Lamont: Let me tell you, when I felt like I was a part of the American dream, when I cast my first ballot. I think it’s important that individuals that return home from prison should be given their voting rights back because I had never paid attention to politics until I was in prison because it was on TV.

Leonard: how much of all of this is the individual person’s responsibility? Because people listening to this program are going to go, “Okay Lamont, fine. Programs fine, I’ll give you that. Acceptance, fine, I’ll give you that. How much of it is the responsibility of Lamont Carey and everybody else coming out of the prison system?”

Lamont: It as a huge responsibility of Lamont Carey, but you also got to look at in a lot of institutions it’s controlled by gang activity. Either you’re in a gang or you pray. I just always stood on my own, was willing to deal with whatever and learn how to navigate those systems. An individual who doesn’t have the same outlook on life and confidence in themselves going to end up in those gangs, but if you give them opportunities like education and job training, that’ll help combat some of that stuff that’s dealing with the gang and all of that, because if we don’t put programs and I’m trained as a gang member. Quickly, I ended up in the federal prison when they closed D.C. Prison Lawton down. Now I’m in there with cartel leaders that could easily say in conversations say, “Lamont, when you get home I’m going to make sure you’re all right. I’m going to supply you with a hundred kilos or a thousand kilos.”

Leonard: I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry about it.

Lamont: Right.

Leonard: Nobody else cares about you, we do.

Lamont: Right. Before I came to the federal prison, I didn’t have access to cartel leaders, but because I had access to education while I had access to cartel leaders, I chose to use the education that I got versus the opportunities that the cartel leaders were presenting me. That’s what’s important when you’re talking about reentry. Either we’re getting a good education or we’re getting an education that’s going to help teach us how to prey on the community. The majority of the individuals that I was incarcerated with, they want to come home and they want to be upstanding citizens. They don’t want to do wrong, but they come home and we hear all of these no’s. No to job, no to voting. We don’t have access to so much stuff.

Leonard, out of all the amazing things that I’ve done since I’ve been home, I still can’t go on a field trip with my son. That’s not allowing me to be a hundred percent father. I can’t go on a field trip, and I go in schools and I talk to kids about being at risk, ending up in a prison incarcerated, but I still can’t go and volunteer.

Leonard: Regardless of your success and your success has been profound, you are still an ex-con.

Lamont: Yes. I’m still an ex-con. I still can’t even get in the White House. I’ve been on programs and I can’t get in.

Leonard: There’s a bit of a contradiction there.

Lamont: Out of all the success that I’ve had, imagine somebody with no success. Can’t even participate in a field trip with their kid.

Leonard: I think the larger issue, I mean there are the Lamont Carey’s of the world that do extraordinary things. I’ve had dozens of them before these microphones, the other people like Lamont Carey, and there’s ninety-seven percent who are still struggling with the basics. You’re laying out the issues for all of them. It applies to everybody.

Lamont: My goal is to use myself and any other individual that came home and successfully transitioned to change the face of reentry. Because I think when people hear ex-con, they still see the image of who I used to be. They don’t see this individual that’s sitting across from you or this individual that was the lead in a production at the Kennedy Center last month. They don’t see that individual that can go into a company and teach companies employees on professional development.

Leonard: They just see your past.

Lamont: Right. As long as you see my past, you’re going to miss how extraordinary I am today, because that’s what I am Leonard.

Leonard: But it applies to other people as well.

Lamont: Right, because there are thousands of us.

Leonard: That’s your point. Is it the majority, is it twenty-five percent, is it fifty percent, is it seventy percent? What is it?

Lamont: I think depending on what community that you’re in, it’s a minimum of fifteen percent of the individuals come home and successfully transition. Then again, there are those of us who have jobs, that the employer told us, “Don’t let nobody know that you ever been to prison.” If you out there listening, I need for you to get on board to abandon the box, removing “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” from the job applications. Support getting the Pell grants back into the institutions.

Leonard: Always a very fascinating conversation Lamont Carey. Thank you very much for being here. LamontCarey.com. Ladies and gentlemen, DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Successful Reentry Through Employment-Transcript

DC Public Safety Television

See the main site at  http://media.csosa.gov.

See the television show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/video/2016/03/successful-reentry-through-employment/

Hi and welcome to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Nancy Ware. Today’s show focuses on successful reentry through employment. Criminologists recognize that employment is crucial to successful reentry.

CSOSA understands that we have to do everything in our power to prompt employers to hire those we supervise. If you have questions or suggestions about CSOSA as a source for hiring, please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. We will post this number throughout the program.

To discuss this important issue, joining us today is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Deborah Carroll.

Director Carroll, welcome to Public Safety.

Thank you for having me.

First, I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Department of Employment Services and the implications it has for those that we supervise, folks who are coming back from prison or who are under community supervision.

So my vision actually is to really build a system. Right now, the programs within the District of Columbia work within our silos and we do that fairly well, but in order for us to really an effective work force system we have to work closer together. That means reducing some of the duplication that happens across some of the agencies, making certain that businesses are aware of the services and the talent that we have in the District and communicating that better to the public. Then third, of course, making sure that folks have access to our services and systems. So what the means for CSOSA and the clients that you serve as well other returning citizens in the District is that being more accessible is going to be key to any success and ensuring that we have quality programs and services that can serve that.

One of the programs that we really found to be extremely helpful for our folks under supervision is Project Empowerment, but I know you have several other programs that you’re about to put in place that you’d like to share with our audience. I’d certainly like to hear more about them and the implications for the opportunities for those that we serve.

I’ll start with Project Empowerment. Project Empowerment is a program that’s been in place since 2002. The District has served more than 10,000 returning citizens and other hard-to-hire residents in the District. Typically these are individuals that have historically cycled on and off jobs and had difficulty retaining their jobs or because of their characteristics have had difficulty accessing employment.

What’s really important about this program is there’s a three week intensive that happens prior to putting anyone on a worksite. That three week intensive really focuses in on what those barriers are to the person being successful in employment. It helps them to deal with workplace related stress and how to handle that better. It focuses in on career pathways and understanding what their career goals are and really helps them to establish a roadmap to success.

It’s then followed by up to six months of work-related subsidized employment. We have a number of businesses that support returning citizens and others in the workplace. During that time period, that resident has an opportunity to demonstrate their skills while earning a wage at the same time.

What we have found historically is that programs like subsidized employment or programs that provide some kind of stipend tend to have better results in terms of longevity and completion rates in the program. I think what’s really critically important is that for residents that have trouble retaining jobs having a period of steady work experience that they can put on their resume is critically important and at the same time learning a skill in the work place.

So we’ve taken the successes of Project Empowerment and then tried to replicate certain other programs maybe from other populations or maybe even the same population but different variations of the same theme. My history is, of course, working with families and in analyzing the successes and the challenges around individuals that have children in particular is the problem with having steady work histories. When a business is trying to make a decision about a candidate, if they see someone with sporadic employment then a person that has good employment, obviously they’re going to pick the person that has a steady employment.

So during the time that I was working in that space, we really realized that  work experience is really critical. Also earning and learning at the same time is also critical because we found through our data analysis that residents sometimes will stop a program, whether it be educational program or other type of training program, because they need to support their families or they need to support their household.

We don’t want residents to have to be put in a decision of making a choice between getting their GED or a credential that can propel them to the middle class to having to find employment. So Project Empowerment and programs like that are the direction that we’re heading in.

One of the new programs that we’re working on is the Career Connections program. That program, in particular, is critically important because it’s part of our Safer Stronger D.C. initiative with the mayor. We’re doing that in particular. We’re targeting justice-involved youth aged 20 to 24 and specifically in the priority police service areas in the District. That’s going to be our priority group that we’re going to be focused on.

Through this investment, about $4.5 million was invested by the city, we are going to be working very closely with CSOSA as well as other organizations that serve justice-involved youth to really both identify youth and provide them with a suite of professional development services including programs similar to what Project Empowerment offers along with a period of work experience. Within that program, we will be providing incentives for those residents to also pursue their education. So we’re combining, again, some of the good things we know coming out of the Project Empowerment program and then marrying it up with a younger population that oftentimes needs education to help support them through their career path.

That population is, as you know, one of the areas that we really want to focus much more attention on in the District of Columbia because we have a number of programs. Some are youth employment, but they really need steady income so I think that those are real innovations that will help our city substantially, in particularly with this population.

I’m really excited about it because there are also other initiatives that we’re going to fold in to both Project Empowerment and the Career Connections program. That’s, of course, the Tech-Hire Initiative.

The Tech-Hire Initiative is an initiative through partnership, again, with CSOSA and other organizations we’ll be working with youth and teaching them the skills that will help them to build a pathway in the IT industry. Many youth now are very tech savvy. They oftentimes have cell phones. They use the internet. Those are skills that they already have. We want to be able to introduce the concepts of A+ certification and network administration along with maybe cyber security and ethical hacking. All of those programs have certifications where a person can complete them, demonstrate their work experience, and have the potential to earn a living wage and definitely move into a pathway of the middle class.

That’s great because I know that the whole field of IT and technology is an open field. If we can get some of our folks involved in that and learning at a young age and building on the skills that they already have and the knowledge that they already have, that would be substantial.

Yeah, I think that the work force development industry is changing. It’s changing in a good way, in the sense that it’s now understanding better what businesses need. It’s also projecting what we need for the future and of course, IT is one area that the United States as a whole needs better expertise in and there’s no reason why our friends coming out of CSOSA’s program or any of our other programs shouldn’t be a part of that.

The other thing is that people usually learn better when they’re doing. There’s been this myth, I think, that long-term unemployed residents don’t have the skills to be successful in the work place. I can tell you now just from my short experience with DOES and some of the youth that I’ve seen coming through the programs and the people that I’ve encountered that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s our job to make sure that we profile them to the public and to businesses in a way that shows that they can actually be successful and build better relationships with business and have different support mechanisms in place that allow for businesses to thrive while they’re working with residents and helping them to be successful in the work place.

Again, these earn-and-learn opportunities I think is one way to do that. The other is expanding our on the job training resources, being able to provide support to businesses that hire residents, making sure that they’re aware of the work opportunity tax credits and other incentive programs that the IRS have provided to businesses that hire the harder to employ citizens in this country.

Are you finding that a lot of the businesses are taking advantage of those incentives?

There is a growing interest, I think, in the subsidized employment space. Borrowing what we’ve learned from summer youth employment this year and the success we’ve had in getting residents that are in that 22 to 24 year old range placed in jobs. We’re finding really a growing interest in that. In particular because that’s an age group where you have a certain level of maturity that allows them to be open to learning. What we’re finding is that they’re not squandering those opportunities. They’re coming to work on time. They’re doing the things that are necessary for them to be successful in the work place.

I think it’s exciting that you’re dispelling some of those myths about our young people and their interest in employment and their willingness to do what they need to do to maintain those jobs. A lot of times they do need a lot of help and coaching and those kinds of things. Are there any plans within DOES in terms of working with young people to make sure that they stay in those jobs?

So we’re making sure that we provide the supportive services in the program. I think what’s going to be unique about Career Connections and what we’re also changing in our Project Empowerment program is that follow-up after they’ve been employed. Our goal is to have them retain those jobs at least for a year because if they do that then typically they’re on their way to being able to really be successful in that job. So we’ve heard definitely from businesses that sometimes those first few months are the most difficult.

Then also looking at any gaps that are available in the system that we can add support. A good example is transportation. There are some areas of the city where transportation is more difficult depending on where you have to go to go to work or what time you have to be at work. A good example is construction and they start at five in the morning. If you have children, there’s no child care available or not as many child care slots available in places that open at five a.m. so what do you do in order to make sure that your children are taken care of. That’s just one example.

Those are important aspects of maintaining a job. Certainly our partnership with the Department of Employment Services offers another resource through CSOSA to support some of the work that you’re doing. We’re very excited to have you here in the city. Are there any other initiatives for older individuals in the District that you want to discuss?

One area that we are focusing on is looking at ways that we can expand the subsidized employment to older residents and really building the similar model that we have in both the Project Empowerment program as well as the youth program for our seniors and those 35 and up range. Those are things that we’re looking to leverage right now.

We have the LEAP Academy which again is focused on younger people but in our work that we see in the District we have a lot of talented residents that want to either get back into the work force or are looking to increase their employment. They may be underemployed. So we’re really being mindful of that as one of our areas of focus.

The other is our professionals that are looking for employment and having a different suite of services available for them. Most times they don’t stay unemployed for very long. We do have some though that have been maybe caring for family members that have been sick and have been out of the work force for a while and need to get back into the work force. Others that are looking for different career paths as they transition out of unemployment. We’re trying to develop a whole suite of services connected to them.

We’re excited about all of those opportunities. Surprisingly, we have every single one of those types of individuals so we’ll be taking advantage of everything that you have to offer. We look forward to working with you and letting us know how we can support the work that you’re doing here in the District of Columbia.

On that note, I’m going to wrap up our first segment. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Deborah Carroll, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Stay with us for the next segment as we continue our discussion on employment and successful reentry with two new guests.

Thank you so much Director.

Hi and welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Nancy Ware. We’re continuing our conversation on successful reentry through employment in the second segment with two employers who have hired people under the supervision the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.

My guests for this segment are Marianne Ali, director of training D.C. Central Kitchen, and Omar McIntosh, CEO of Perennial Construction.

Marianne and Omar, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I’d like to start this segment off just asking you to tell us a little bit about what you do and then we’ll talk a little bit about the work that you do with our clients. So why don’t I start off with you Marianne?

Sure, Nancy. Thank you. My name’s Marianne Ali, and I’m the Director of Culinary Job Training for D.C. Central Kitchen. We run four culinary job training programs at the Kitchen, three at another location working with a local partner. We work with a lot of returning citizens, and we have a longstanding relationship with CSOSA that I’m really excited to talk about.

I can’t wait because you all have done an outstanding job in working with some of our clients.

Mr. McIntosh?

Thank you. Perennial Construction is a Washington D.C.-based commercial general contractor. We also have self-performed capabilities in structure repair and restoration and commercial demolition. We have had a great relationship with CSOSA and hired up to about 50 individuals over the last year and a half in our self-performed crews.

Excellent. I think it’s really important to talk a little bit about how long you’ve been hiring men and women under supervision and what your experiences have been. I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and some of the success stories. I’ll start of this time with you Leo.

Certainly. I think that we started in early ’14, we had a labor need on a project. I went to my community resources and I met Mr. Tony Lewis with Project Empowerment. Through Tony we had a table of about 12 eager individuals, and I think that we hired every one of them for a specific project. Of that crew, I think four are still with us to this day. One has risen to the ranks for foreman. He’s a crew leader right now on a project in Washington D.C. So we’ve had great success. Our crew is led by three individuals who we all found through CSOSA and Project Empowerment. We also have a great network now to go back to CSOSA and vet and train new employees.

Excellent. And Marianne?

D.C. Central Kitchens has been in existence for 25 years. Since its inception, we have always worked with returning citizens. I think that our relationship with CSOSA has been at least 15 years of my tenure that we’ve worked closely with you all.

The organization itself has about 140 employees and 42% of those employees are graduates of our culinary job training program. About 50% of those folks are directly from CSOSA so we are excited about that.

Great. We are excited too obviously.

Some of the challenges that you’ve faced, if any, that you can share with our audience?

You know Nancy, when you think about culinary job training or culinary you think about food but our approach is we can teach folks how to cook but we really understand the challenges that our folks come in to us with. So we address each and every, well the majority of those challenges. We start off every morning with a self-empowerment group that has absolutely nothing to do with cooking at all but everything to do with changing your thinking and your behavior. That group is really, really helpful. At our graduations, folks are always talking about cooking was fine but this is what really helped me.

We also offer a transition group that’s specifically for folks that have just come home in the last year and a half and have those challenges, having to balance their time, reunifying with their family, child support, to really sort of help them navigate through those challenges successfully. Because those are the kind of things that people get tripped up on and we want to make sure that we help them manage that in a way that they don’t go back, that they don’t recidivate.

We also have a women’s group, gender specific that talks about challenges with being under supervision, sometimes it’s getting your children back and those kind of things. So we look for every area that there may be a need for that support and we just infuse it into what we do on a normal everyday.

That’s so important too because you know how hard it is a lot of times for the folks that come under supervision, particularly if they’ve been incarcerated for a period of time, to reintegrate successfully and to navigate, quite frankly, the community again.

Leo, can you talk a little bit about challenges that you might have seen? The folks that you’ve worked with?

Sure. I think in construction a lot of our success is based on our ability to react. When a client calls or has a need, we have to respond in a timely manner, we have to perform in a timely manner. So when it comes to our CSOSA hires it’s been about getting to work. That’s the first challenge. So employees who haven’t been working gainfully for years or weeks at a time, the cost. There’s a Metro card that has to be purchased and it has to take about two weeks before they get their first paycheck.

We have gone above and beyond our requirements by providing Metro cards. I keep smartcards. I keep them reloaded at all times in my office. We hand them out to new employees and they give them back to me on their first payday. I shake their hand and we exchange the paycheck for the card. It sounds simple but it’s necessary. We’ve had instances where individuals couldn’t get to work and you can imagine if you’ve been away from society for ten years, the concept of the metro, the taxi cab, or the bus is a little far out of reach. We’ve stepped in where there weren’t answers to provide those solutions. Yes it causes us to have a little higher margin on our work but hopefully our clients respect our work and will pay for those services.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredible that both of you all have taken the time to consider those issues and to try to address them like you have. Are there any incentives to hiring men and women who’ve been under supervision or who are coming back to society from incarceration?

Absolutely. We’re aware of many federal and local programs, even the tax abatement programs are available to us, but more importantly there’s a labor need in the city. There’s lots and lots of work in construction, infrastructure, industrial side, and we’re focusing very sharply on those areas. Where there’s a need, we’re trying to fill it. We’re trying to get our folks to work as soon as possible. There are programs. There are benefits. But more importantly there’s a need and a need to develop these individuals, all individuals with a positive attitude that want to work hard.

Excellent. Marianne?

Sure. Our approach is to work with our employers on the tax incentives. We have a huge employer base that we try to get involved into working with our students, our graduates.

One of the things that really is a consideration I suppose when you’re working with folks under our supervision are their criminal history and how difficult it is for them actually to get opportunities. What advice could you give to someone who’s reentering Washington D.C. or who is under supervision but has a criminal history in terms of seeking employment?

We advise our graduates to be honest but we also advise them to talk about what they are doing now, what they have done since they’ve come home, that they’re honest, that they’re eager to work, they have a great attitude. Nancy, we’ve had chefs come into the kitchen on a regular basis and the number one question and answer that we ask those chefs, “What do you look for?” And they’re looking for somebody, they’re not looking for somebody with a bunch of skills, they’re looking for somebody who is eager and has a great attitude.

That’s the critical piece right there.

I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve hired pretty much every individual on our crew directly. I’ve spoken to them at length about what our expectations are, expectations of our clients, and expectations of their peers. I’ll tell you that we’ve had tremendous success because they respect their peers and they work together. Now that we’ve had two years working together as a field performance crew, there is a natural pecking order, and it’s seeming to work out for us at this point. So the attitude is a tremendous part of the hiring requirement. Not so much in your past but where you’re headed and how hard you’re willing to work getting there.

So critical. One of the things that we’d like to encourage more employers to do is consider this population. As an employer looking for someone, how would you encourage other employers like yourselves to consider this population? What kinds of things would you ask them to make consideration of for this hiring process as an employer?

I would say expectations need to change. I say that because a lot of employers expect you to walk in learning how to use the full suite of Microsoft tools and you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got money in the pocket to get to work and get home. Those are not real expectations. I think that there’s a very, very large capable workforce that is serving time or under supervision right now. I would tell you that if your expectation is you’re going to help people be gainfully employed, build careers not just jobs, and have a long term sustainable career whether it’s with me or someone else that is what the expectation needs to be. From there, the rest is pretty easy.

That’s fabulous.

The way we do it at the Kitchen, Nancy, it’s a 14-week program. Our students are with for seven weeks and then they go on four weeks into an internship, then they come back to us for the last three weeks. We engage our potential employers to come to the Kitchen and be a part of the actual process, the training process. We hand pick our internship sites. We want to know that those chefs have been to the Kitchen, who understand our population, who want to give back, and want to work to help develop our students into great employees.

Both of you are extremely successful. I’ve been to your graduation Marianne and it’s so exciting to see the chefs come in, all the people that support the D.C. Central Kitchen. To just expose our folks who are under supervision to that is just incredible for their self esteem.

For you Leo, you’ve just got a number of projects in this city that you’re already involved in that you can tell our audience a little bit about if you’d like.

Out of respect for my clients, we don’t disclose most of our project sites but we do have several commercial sites under demolition and construction. Some in the Dupont Circle area and the downtown central business district as well. Our crews have traveled as far as Rock Hills, South Carolina working for public utility clients and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland on infrastructure projects. So we are very busy. We look to stay very busy and hopefully look to find a home for people in the communities we work in.

Excellent. Marianne, for you you’re working with many of the chefs, very important chefs, all around the city and the country quite frankly. You want to talk a little bit about some of those networks?

Of course there’s Jose Andres who’s a very good friend of the Kitchen, who also supports us on multiple levels. The students are exposed, for example, we just had our annual fundraiser and there were chefs there who are battling chefs competing and the students get to meet those chefs and work with, for example, Tyson’s came in. They came down to the kitchen, and the chef worked with the students. So they’re exposed on a regular basis. It’s really to get them comfortable in talking and understanding that those folks give their time because they want for you to end up working alongside them.

It has to be very encouraging and really an opportunity for you to feel that you’re giving back to the city when you’re hiring these men and women and also to watch their self esteem grow. Do you want to comment a little bit on some of the things that you’ve seen with the folks that you’ve worked with?

At the end of the program, we have a brunch that graduation morning. It’s a more intimate setting with the graduates and the staff. I’ve heard some incredible things. I’ve heard people say that they never have finished anything but a prison and now, “I’m graduating and I have a job. I’ll be able to give back to my community and come back to D.C. Central Kitchen and give back to D.C. Central Kitchen.” Women who have been able to get their children back doing the training program. It’s just incredible stories when you see folks the first day that come in and they’re sort of slouched over like this, and at the end of the program, their head is high, their eyes are open, and their shoulders are back. I can’t tell you the feeling that we get.

I’ve watched them. Omar, you’re going to end us.

I’ll tell you these stories are a labor of love but watching the progress and the levels of progress from earning your first paycheck to training a work crew to learning how to use tools and skills has been excellent.

I appreciate both of you joining us and sharing your experience and most importantly, being willing to open your heart and your businesses to this population who are very much in need of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my pleasure to talk to Marianne Ali and Omar McIntosh. Again, if you have questions or suggestions about using CSOSA as a source for hiring please call 202-220-5721 to talk to our employment specialists. Thank you for watching today’s show. Please watch us next time. We explore another important topic in today’s criminal justice system. Have a great day.

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