social justice

..Is My Being, Really In Christ or Myself?

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“Money is really worth no more than as it can be used to accomplish the Lord’s work. Life is worth as much as it is spent for the Lord’s service.”
― George Müller, The Autobiography of George Muller

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“By this we believe….” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?” —John 16:30-31

Now we believe….” But Jesus asks, “Do you…? Indeed the hour is coming…that you…will leave Me alone” (John 16:31-32). Many Christian workers have left Jesus Christ alone and yet tried to serve Him out of a sense of duty, or because they sense a need as a result of their own discernment. The reason for this is actually the absence of the resurrection life of Jesus. Our soul has gotten out of intimate contact with God by leaning on our own religious understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6). This is not deliberate sin and there is no punishment attached to it. But once a person realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and caused uncertainties, sorrows, and difficulties for himself, it is with shame and remorse that he has to return.

We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus on a much deeper level than we do now. We should get in the habit of continually seeking His counsel on everything, instead of making our own common sense decisions and then asking Him to bless them. He cannot bless them; it is not in His realm to do so, and those decisions are severed from reality. If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light…” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation— just obedience. That is why a saint can be so easily ridiculed and misunderstood.

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“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.” ― George Müller

~It’s all overcome “By Faith”~

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Acts 14:9-10The Message (MSG)

Gods or Men?

8-10 There was a man in Lystra who couldn’t walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth. He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God’s work, ready to believe. So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Up on your feet!” The man was up in a flash—jumped up and walked around as if he’d been walking all his life.

Hebrews 11:1-2The Message (MSG)

Faith in What We Don’t See

11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

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The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.” ― George Mueller, Answers To Prayer

By faith Betsy Devos, won’t hurt our children, by faith #45 ideologies will work out for our good, by faith our leaders will come together as God ordains, by faith we as citizens will embrace one another while the storm is raging, by faith our communities will have enough for everyone to share when the billows of hate come against us a people, by faith we all will see “It getting better” and not faint or get weary in well doing, by faith Christians, Hindus, Muslims, together with Catholics and anyone else that’s of the human race with beliefs, we, will come together to ease the pain of others.

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WHAT DOES FAITH LOOK LIKE?

Acts 14:9 “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, Stand up on your feet!. At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.”

Faith is perhaps one, if not the, most important element necessary to grow in the Christian walk.

Goerge Muller once said: the beginning of anxiety is the end of faith and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without it we can never make God happy.

AW Tozer said, faith is the vitamin that makes all we take from the bible digestible

We are saved by faith We walk by faith We are of the household of faith

Faith is the key that unlocks the supernatural realm of our natural existence. Where we stand this morning in our walk with Christ is a direct result of the location and depth of our faith. It’s a journey-I feel sorry for Moses..he spent 40 yrs wandering in the desert eating nothing but bread off the ground and an occasional bird and every day a million people would come up to him and ask, are we there yet?

Romans 12:3 tells us that each of us has been given a measure of faith…..what we do with it and how we use it is up to us.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God and you and I won’t be happy either. We cannot compare ourselves and our faith with that of our brother or sister. Comparing will only lead to division.

3 little kids were talking….one said my brother takes horseback riding lessons. Another said well my sister takes gymnastics. The 3rd one, not wanting to be outdone said, well that’s nothing, my sister takes antibiotics!

2 things are true about faith people…

People with faith feel good about themselves…they know that they are the way they are because God made them that way and God doesn’t make mistakes (fearfully & wonderfully made) For most people, it’s not what they are that holds them back. It’s what they think their not.

2 cows were grazing in the pasture when they saw a milk truck pass. On the side of the truck were the words, “Pasteurized, homogenized, standardized, vitamin A added” One cow sighed to the other,”Makes you feel sort of inadequate, doesn’t it?”

People with faith feel like good things are going to happen!

A man took a cruise and after the 2nd day, he noticed this woman staring at him. Finally, he went over to her and said, Maam, do I know you? She said I’m just taken back by how much you look like my 3rd husband. He said, “your 3rd husband?” Yes, she said. He said, How many times have you been married? She said twice!

Cheer up tomorrow is another day and it’s going to be different!

Fear is the exact opposite of faith…it believes the worst

Faith believes that the absolute best will happen in every situation

So what does faith look like?

In our text we see a man crippled in his feet since birth. He had never taken a step forward, never ran barefoot through the grass, never felt the heat from the hot beach sand running through his toes. He was just sitting where he had been placed.

Many times the reason that we have no faith is because we are still sitting in the place where God put us long ago. God requires legs on your faith, legs on your praise, legs on your prayer life so that you move on and on to higher levels. As Pastor Bron Jacobs once said, we need to get up on our feet, move out of our seat and into the street!

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Many folks are afraid to share the Gospel. One man said, Our preacher tells us to go out and witness to others weekly. Nothing strikes fear in me more than sharing my faith with a complete stranger. Why it’s gotten so bad, I’ve enrolled in a Witness Relocation program!

In NY City its gotten so bad that if you want to talk to a Jehovahs Witness you need to go knock on their door!

This man listened to Paul as he spoke and when Paul fastened his eyes upon this crippled man, everything else went out of focus except for what he perceived in this man’s eyes. Faith gets your attention!

Paul saw expectancy and enthusiasm.

Paul saw the man running in his spirit

Paul saw a man that was leaping up and down on the inside

Faith looks like unbridled enthusiasm.

Peter, in Luke 5 was asked by Jesus to “launch out into the deep for a catch”. In other words, go out beyond the boundaries that you have accepted for yourself and experience mine. Expand your perimeter, your comfort zone, and start to think and live out of the box. When we limit ourselves, we limit God. Faith knows that what we see is not all there is. What we are is not all we will be. Where we are is not where we will end up.

Faith looks like unlimited potential.

A little further on in Luke 5, the Lord was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law from all over Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. The bible says that “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” Some men had gathered with their paralyzed friend and they were trying to get him to Jesus but the crowd was simply overwhelming. Many would give up here and catch him next time he comes to town….but not these guys. They looked for another opening and decided to go up on the roof and drop him into the Lords lap. The scripture says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he looked at the paralytic and said your sins are forgiven.

It appears to me that this man was in such bondage about his past that he couldn’t receive his present and therefore the faith of his friends brought about a miracle for him.

Faith looks like unwavering resourcefulness.

In Mark 5 there was a woman who had been ill for 12 years and exhausted every human resource available to get well. All she received back was a negative report. In fact, instead of getting better, she got worse! When she heard about Jesus, she went after him(though it was against Jewish law for her to be seen in public) because she thought, if I can get close enough to touch him, I will be better. She was willing to risk it all!

Faithfulness is the willingness to take risks that require faith in order to produce fruit.

Faith looks like unquenchable desire

You might say that faith looks a lot like a “hail Mary” pass with no time remaining

on the clock.

Faith is dead to doubt, dumb to discouragement, and blind to impossibilities.

It knows nothing but success in God

Faith is not believing that God can, it is knowing that God will!

Hebrews 11:1 says that:

Faith is the substance(that which stands by you/alongside) the committed, unrelenting, unflinching confidence or companion of things hoped for, And the evidence(revelation, illumination) of things that are not visible to the natural eye.

The size of the man is more important than the size of the problem.

Greater is He that is in me than the problem that is coming against me.

Faith takes action….

Hebrews 11:33 tells us that faith subdued, faith worked, faith obtained and faith even stopped the mouth of lions

What does faith look like?

When you find Jesus, you find the author(creator) and the finisher(completer) of your faith. Christ in you…the hope of glory!

“God’s way leads always into a trial, so far as sight and sense are concerned. Nature always will be tried in God’s ways.” ― George Mueller, Answers To Prayer

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~Maymie Chandler-Pratt Graduation Invite~

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Well, the time has come. On September 22nd 2011 I started attending Argosy University to obtain my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/Substance Abuse Counseling and on January 6th 2016 I graduated with that degree. This is an invite to all who supported me during my academic journey to come and share this momentous occasion with me. Attached below is the announcement complete with the location, date and time. December 11th, 2016 1 p.m. It is best to arrive early in order to get a good seat, and no tickets are needed to get in. I hope to see you there, and thank you so much for your support…May Pratt

 

Location: Citizens Business Bank Arena

4000 Ontario Center, Ca. 91764

 

 

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~America’s Choice~

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“Many confuse the United States with the Church or the Constitution with the Bible. They feel that the good of the United States is the same as the good of the Kingdom of God. Some feel that the Constitution of the United States is as infallible as the Bible. However, one with wisdom notice that some things are Kingdom principles and some are not.”
Gayle D. Erwin, Spirit Style

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Titus 2

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

As Christians we were chosen by God to be recipients of God’s amazing grace. The blessings of having been chosen are unfathomable. Being chosen there are also responsibilities to be fulfilled and choices to be made.

I. Our great privilege – we have been chosen by God.
A. John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
B. 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
C. Ephesians 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
D. Isaiah 43:21 ” This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.”
E. We were not chosen because we deserved to be chosen.
F. Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7 The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;”
G. God didn’t choose you because of something you’ve done. It’s all because of who He is. You weren’t good enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough for him to save you. He saved you because He loves you. – Rick Warren

II. Our great blessings and duty of having been chosen
A. The privilege of sonship
1. We are the children of God because of His amazing grace. It is grace alone that gives us the right or the privilege to call God Father.
2. John 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power (the authority, the right, the privilege) to become the sons of God, that is to those who believe in His name.”
3. Too many have believed the lie of the universal Fatherhood of God. The Scriptures clearly teach “the universal Creatorship of God” not the universal Fatherhood of God. Those who are unsaved are not the children of God.
4. Ephesians 1:4-5 “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will”
5. 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

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6. The small sons of both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln were able to walk into the oval office at anytime! Others would have to wait for their precisely scheduled moment or two. But little John or little Tad could walk in anytime they pleased. Why? Because the man who was “president” to everyone else was “daddy” to them.
7. Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
8. Matthew West has written a song which expresses the transformation of becoming a child of God entitled “Hello My Name Is”. The lyrics are:
“Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
Oh, these are the voices. Oh, these are the lies
And I have believed them for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be
called His children
I am a child of the one true King
What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called His children” – Matthew West, © 2012 Songs of Southside Independent Music Publishing
8. Permit me to relate the story behind those words as told by Matthew West on his website MatthewWest. com:

Out of the Darkness of addiction and into the light of recovery….
“Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a drug addict.” That was the first sentence of this young man’s story that he sent to me. He went on to tell me how for years that was how he identified himself. A two sport all star athlete in high school, Jordan received a college scholarship to run track and play football at a university in Kentucky. But during his sophomore season, Jordan broke his ankle. That is when he received his first prescription to Oxycontin. He wrote about how addiction quickly took a hold of his life and sent him spinning out of control. After two failed drug tests, the university kicked him out and removed his sports scholarships. Jordan had lost everything he had worked for. He landed at a place called Teen Challenge in North Carolina. Teen Challenge is a Christian rehabilitation center in the business of restoring lives with the hope of Jesus Christ.
Jordan said it was during his time in Teen Challenge that he began to realize that God wasn’t done with him yet, and that all of those defeating titles like “addict,”

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didn’t have to be attached to his name the rest of his life. His story is far from over. He told me that in the years since his recovery, he went back and got his master’s degree from the very college that kicked him out. Now, he is a teacher and a coach and a newlywed. And he has recently felt God calling him into full time ministry.
He closed his story by saying, “These days I introduce myself a little differently than I used to. Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a child of the one true king!”
What a powerful example of God at work in someone’s story. I read Jordan’s story and couldn’t help but wonder how many people in the world are walking around defined by the defeat and the regret of past mistakes, believing the lie that they will never be able to kick an old habit or move on from yesterday’s mistakes. Jordan’s story is powerful proof that we are not defined by our past. God can restore, redeem, and renew our hearts and lives. He can set our feet on a new path that will lead our lives to a destination far greater than where we used to call home.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come!” Jordan is standing in the light of a new beginning, forgetting what is behind and taking hold of his new name.

B. The privilege of joint-heirship with Christ.
1. Romans 8:16 -17 “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
2. As joint heirs with Christ we inherit the privilege of full sonship and become:
a. Heirs of salvation – Hebrews 1:14
b. Heir of the grace of life eternal – 1 Peter 3:7
c. Heirs of God’s kingdom – James 2:5
3. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills,
The wealth in ev’ry mine;
He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills,
The sun and stars that shine.
Wonderful riches, more than tongue can tell –
He is my Father so they’re mine as well;
God owns the cattle on a thousand hills –
I know that He will care for me. -Peterson©Singspiration/ASCAP
C. The privilege of being Ambassadors for Christ
1. 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2. 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”
3. Proclaim – exaggello – means to tell forth, to tell something not otherwise known, to make widely know, to report widely, to proclaim throughout and to tell everywhere. It can also even

translated “to advertise”. Each child of God ought to be a living “advertisement” for the excellencies or virtues of God and the promises and blessings He bestows on believers now and throughout eternity.
4. We have been given the privilege of serving God with good works, which He performs through us as we allow Him to do so.
5. Ephesians 2:8-10 ” For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
III. Our great choice as a Chosen Child of God.
A. AW Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy likens the Christian life to traveling on an ocean liner. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. On board there are scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port. The degree of enjoyment during the voyage will be determined by the choices they make. Understand that choice determines character. The choices you make as a chosen child of God will determine the direction, happiness, and success of your spiritual life.
B. John 7:16-17 ” Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”
C. Joshua 24:14-15 ” “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
D. Choose to live as a child of God; to walk as an heir of God, and to serve as an ambassador of God.
E. Christ saved you with the intent that your desire would be to honor and glorify Him in all you do.
F. Titus 2:14 “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
G. Zealous – Totally committed. Sold out. Abandoned. Dedicated. “Possessed”. “On fire”. Burning. Ablaze, Afire. Impassioned. Fanatical. Ardent. Fervent. Fervently devoted. Passionate. Passionate ardor in pursuit of something. Single heart. Single minded allegiance. Enthusiastically devoted. Eager desire to accomplish some goal or end. – copied
H. Sadly more professed Christians rust out rather than burn out.
I. Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf

said “I have one passion only: It is he! It is he!”
J. Philippians1:21(HCSB) “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
K. My life, my love, I give to Thee,
Thou Lamb of God who died for me;
Oh, may I ever faithful be,
My Savior and my God!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
How happy then my life shall be!
I’ll live for Him who died for me,
My Savior and my God!
I now believe Thou dost receive,
For Thou hast died that I might live;
And now henceforth I’ll trust to Thee,
My Savior and my God!
Oh, Thou who died on Calvary,
To save my soul and make me free;
I’ll consecrate my life to Thee,
My Savior and my God! – R. E. Hudson

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“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

Poverty is the largest driving force behind what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” Most of the individuals entering the criminal justice system are at a financial disadvantage; about 60 percent of intakes into the state and federal prison systems report annual incomes under $12,000. These low incomes reflect higher rates of unemployment and the unavailability of decent jobs for people who lack a college education. During the past four decades, most of the growth in lifetime risk of imprisonment was concentrated among men who had not been to college. For many of these men, prison has become a normal part of life. According to the National Research Council, among African American men born in the late 1970s and who dropped out of high school, 70 percent have served time in state or federal prison. For white and Latino men in the same cohort, the rates of imprisonment are 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Incarceration sharply curtails the economic prospects of individuals and the communities to which they return. In 2011, nearly 700,000 people were released from either a state or federal prison, and most faced a multitude of challenges on returning to “free” society. Parents with minor children may have accumulated years’ worth of child-support arrears or had their parental rights rescinded. With few assets besides the “gate money” provided at release (usually between $50 and $200), those who have been disconnected from friends and family face uncertain housing and homelessness.

Upon release from prison, returning citizens have few opportunities for work that will be satisfying and provide a living wage. The National Research Council reports that up to one-half of former prisoners remain jobless for up to a year after their release. Barriers to employment associated with having a criminal record include restrictions on licenses in certain professions and the loss of personal and professional contacts while incarcerated. People of color with a criminal record have a particularly difficult time finding a job, especially one that enables them to invest in their futures, in part because of the stigma that attaches to a record. Blacks without criminal histories experience job callback rates closely matching those of whites with a felony conviction.The National Research Council report suggests that “pervasive contact with the criminal justice system has consequences for racial stratification that extend well beyond individuals behind bars.”

Mass incarceration also has a significant impact on U.S. poverty rates. Had it not been for the dramatic rise in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004, researchers estimate that the poverty rate would have fallen by about 2.8 percentage points, instead of dropping by only 0.3 percentage points. This translates into several million fewer people living in poverty.

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

Many people affected by the criminal justice system grew up in communities with schools and other public institutions that failed them. As states were dramatically increasing funding for corrections, they were simultaneously cutting or not raising funding for social and government services targeting poverty, such as public assistance, transportation, and education. State spending per prisoner is three times that per public school student, and prison costs exceed spending on higher education in some states. These patterns exemplify the pattern of disinvestment contributing to mass incarceration. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this emphasis on incarceration at the expense of education. Researchers have documented vastly disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of people of color, particularly black men. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60 percent of those imprisoned. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one-third of male African-American children born in 2001 can expect to serve time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites; 5.6 percent of black women born in 2001 are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, but only 0.9 percent of white women and 2.2 percent of Hispanic women.

At the same time, disinvestment in education, particularly in low-income communities of color, has reduced social mobility and limited access to the social capital needed to revitalize those communities. Incarceration’s reach has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful engine of social inequality.

Mass incarceration has, in the words of Todd Clear in Imprisoning Communities, “made disadvantaged communities worse.” Patrick Sharkey, in Stuck in Place, for example, links the high rates of incarceration with concentrated poverty and marginalization, racial stigmatization, and lack of investment and resources that are fundamental both for the positive development of children and the mobility of adults. The Justice Mapping Center has mapped the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities all around the country: millions of dollars per neighborhood are spent to imprison residents of these communities.

We Can Turn This Around: The Transformative Potential of Investing in Individuals, Families, and Communities

The struggles people face when returning home, including returning to the same context that led to prison, increase the chance that they will give up on the struggle to achieve long-term financial stability through lawful means. But a movement to reverse this tide has emerged. Driven largely by directly affected communities and supported by the contributions of the academic community, this movement links the need for fundamental reform of the criminal justice system with the need for change in the public policies that have underinvested in low-income communities of color and over invested in the criminal justice system. These advocacy organizations and networks include the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, and the New York Reentry Education Network. They are joined by a surprising convergence of public figures across the political spectrum, including Tony-winning composers, political conservatives, and President Obama.

Through this work, we have seen the transformative power of investing in people and communities. By investment, we mean both building financial stability and increasing capacity through education, social capital, and meaningful employment so people can provide adequately for themselves and their families. These forms of investment kindle hope among the formerly incarcerated (many of whom did not believe they even had a future) and enable positive contributions to families and communities. Providing resources, support, and capacity enables people affected by incarceration to invest in their futures and to become actively engaged in the effort to rebuild their communities.

Education is a key component of this investment strategy. Just as lack of educational opportunity increases the likelihood of poverty and incarceration, access to high-quality education plays a critical role in facilitating mobility. One study showed that almost all soon-to-be-released prisoners reported needing more education (94 percent) and job training (82 percent), while the need for a driver’s license (83 percent) ranked higher than the need for employment (80 percent). The link between lack of education and recidivism is strong. A bachelor’s degree reduces the likelihood of returning to prison to 5.6 percent, in contrast to 66 percent for those without a BA. For those with a master’s degree, the recidivism rate drops to less than 1 percent.

Programs such as College and Community Fellowship (CCF) have proved successful in supporting the formerly incarcerated as they move along the path to higher education. CCF supports women affected by the criminal justice system in pursuing a college degree by enveloping them and their families in support services while they complete their degree. CCF was the first reentry-based organization to use postsecondary education as its core strategy for moving women out of marginalized subsistence and into mainstream society. In addition to achieving an extremely low recidivism rate, these programs give people a sense of hope, a belief in the future, and a willingness to invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Early in its history, CCF noticed that students needed to build their financial capability to succeed in college and beyond. They found that their students held many misconceptions about financial management and lacked confidence to control their financial lives. These insights triggered a series of efforts to help students address their financial needs.

CCF first introduced a student debt and financial aid counseling program and later added credit counseling services. In 2013, CCF joined The Financial Clinic’s New Ground Initiative, a capacity-building initiative that helps New York City reentry programs embed financial development in their services. The New Ground Initiative focuses on improving the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals through a combination of financial development strategies that help build financial security and improve financial mobility. The New Ground Initiative trained all counselors working with students at CCF to integrate “financial development” strategies into their conversations and build financial awareness and training into all services. The Financial Clinic’s approach invites all staff to begin with their own personal financial security as a way to build this capacity.

Financial training provides CCF’s students with the tools they need to make sound financial choices and build assets. In one year of the New Ground Initiative, CCF pulled credit reports for 100 percent of participants and organized debt for more than 150 participants, including student loan debt. CCF staff worked with program participants to address defaulted student loans, pay down credit card debt, and increase credit scores. CCF also sets goals with 100 percent of participants and works with them to open bank accounts and develop spending and savings plans. By embedding financial development into their existing services, CCF is better able to provide their students with the tools they need to succeed and ensure the sustainability of financial development practices as a central part of CCF’s service delivery model.

CCF’s work with students also uncovered an important advocacy issue. For-profit colleges were using predatory practices to target individuals with records. Deterring these practices is now part of The Financial Clinic’s policy agenda.

As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF.

The climate of public policy reform in the criminal justice sphere has taken on new energy in the past few years. An investment-oriented strategy would build postsecondary education and financial capability services into the design of reforms aimed at reducing incarceration and facilitating successful reintegration. Too often, reentry programs and policies aimed at providing a “second chance” have neglected education, particularly post secondary education, as a core component of funding, program design, and accountability measures.

Building financial capability should also be a mainstay of criminal justice and educational initiatives. Promising policy directions include President Obama’s announcement in July 2015 of an Experimental Sites Initiative, restoring Pell grants for groups of incarcerated students around the country. This initiative was spurred, in part, by the leadership of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a national nonpartisan group advocating for access to higher education inside prisons. This kind of investment enables the United States to reduce incarceration and equip individuals, families, and communities with the tool to rebuild their lives and realize their potential.

So many people come out with so many good intentions. And every door is slammed on them… When you’re told no at the employment line, when you’re told no trying to get back to your family, or you’re told no because this community is unaccepting of you — you try to figure out where you belong. And for many, sometimes it becomes rough and you resort to that old stuff.
— College and Community Fellowship student

I can’t tell you how many formerly incarcerated people or poor people or people of color wouldn’t… invest a dollar to get $150 because you have to believe you’re going to be here at 65 to want to put away even a dollar for your future.
— Formerly incarcerated leader

On Quest for Democracy Day at the capitol in Sacramento, April 27, 2015, 250 people split up into 30 teams to visit legislators’ offices to advocate for legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities.

Our Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy (Q4D) Day continues to grow and evolve. This year we had over 250 committed people, many of whom were returning from previous years’ Q4D. We had around 30 teams of people advocating on legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and our communities.

Grassroots co-sponsors got a chance to educate community members about their bills. And Sen. Holly Mitchell as well as Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Autumn Burke addressed participants. See the box below showing all the bills we were there to endorse.

It’s important to recognize the larger context of our quest: It is the drive for greater recognition of a class of people for whom democracy looks a lot different. We don’t have a guaranteed right to vote – if we move to another state we could easily lose it. We’re still struggling for the fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to sit on juries.

~Ebb and Flow of Grace while in The Storms of Life~

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Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.

Ernest Gaines
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There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.

Harriet Ann Jacobs
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Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.
The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

 

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

 

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises usHe’ll provide a path through any trialwe face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us isanawareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

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No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith.

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Martin Luther King, Jr
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~Color Forward In Spite Of Challenges~

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What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:

—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits

—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers

—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues

The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.

In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.

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What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?

Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.

The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.

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The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)

Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)

The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,

These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems