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~Stigmas, Formerly Incarcerated, will we ever get a real reprieve to live a normal life?~

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“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record of accomplishment that would be remarkable even for someone who had never been locked up. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not best research project by prisoners. Best project. Period.

All of this helped Ms. Jones gain admission to N.Y.U.’s doctoral program in American studies, where she started last week. But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University, as this paper reported on Thursday. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing three books, being admitted to a Ph.D. program and being accepted to all of the nation’s top law schools. Yet as he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.

Cases like that of Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts come at an inflection point in the nation’s history. After 50 years of prison building, more and more Americans are expressing doubts about the harsh policies that have made this country the world’s largest jailer. At the same time, some of the people who have spent serious time in our jails have such impressive resumes that they are penetrating the world of the elite. For so long, the world of “us” never touched the world of “them” in many corners of American society. Because of people like Michelle Jones, that is changing.

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What will the gatekeepers of privilege do when confronted with gold-star applicants who have a criminal record? Harvard’s answer — you can never outlive your crime — is an affront to a first-rate candidate and brings shame on those responsible.

But Harvard’s rejection of Ms. Jones (and my university, Yale, rejected her as well, though the reasons remain unclear) is more than that. It reveals the truth about why mass punishment persists and the lie we are telling ourselves about the possibility of redemption.

Here’s the thing about harsh justice in America. More and more people criticize it, but most eagerly shift the blame for who is responsible. I saw this repeatedly in California, where I just spent a year living and teaching. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with colleagues and friends about criminal justice in which somebody bemoaned the state of affairs in “the Trump states.” I responded by bringing up the fact that California led the prison-building movement in the 1980s and ’90s, and would share stories about a visit to San Quentin prison, located just across the water from San Francisco, where I met dozens of men serving life sentences. Nobody from the Trump states put them there, or is keeping them there, I would say. That’s on California voters and their elected officials. That’s on you.

I suspect that the administrators and professors who helped block Ms. Jones’s admission are a lot like my friends in Connecticut and California. They consider themselves liberal, and they think mass incarceration is a problem. Somebody’s else’s problem. Blame the judges, prosecutors, legislators, police, probation officers, prison guards. Just not us.

But rejecting an overwhelmingly qualified candidate like Michelle Jones for no reason other than her criminal record sends a clear message from the bastion of liberalism on the banks of the Charles: If something is to be done to make America more just and merciful, somebody else is supposed to do it.

It also exposes the way that our unforgiving system of justice has touched all of our institutions. In court, judges tell people that their conviction carries a sentence of years, or probation. The truth is far more terrible. People convicted of crimes often become social outcasts for life, finding it difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a job, adopt children, access public benefits, serve on juries or vote.

As eager as I am to champion Ms. Jones’s cause, I do so with one crucial caveat. Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts capture our attention because of their extraordinary accomplishments. As compelling as their stories are, we cannot let these exceptional people become the standard by which we judge somebody returning from prison. You shouldn’t need to win awards from a state historical society to gain admission to a Ph.D. program, and admission to the bar shouldn’t be reserved for those who write three books and obtain multiple degrees.

Mass incarceration and its never-ending human toll will be with us until we come to see that no crime justifies permanent civic death. N.Y.U.’s acceptance of Michelle Jones is an example of an institution leading the way toward a more forgiving nation. Harvard’s rejection of her shows just how far we still have to go.

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“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him. Put differently, he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving GoffmanStigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

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~Educate to stop Recidivism~

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“We care (about prison education), very simply, because (prisoners) get out. Almost everyone who is locked up now is going to be set free one day. If we treat prisoners like animals the whole time they are locked up, that’s what we’ll get when they’re back on the streets: wild, dangerous animals.” ― Christopher Zoukis, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons

Parole in the United States originated in the Elmira Reformatory in New York State in 1867 as an option for the early release of individuals for good behavior and a means to reduce institutional overcrowding. In the early twentieth century, it came to be viewed as a tool for intermediate sentencing in furtherance of the goal of rehabilitation. However, during the 1970s concerns regarding the integrity of indeterminate sentencing arose due to increasing crime rates, a lack of empirical knowledge regarding effective correctional interventions, insufficient allocation of resources for rehabilitative interventions, and the so-called war on drugs.

In addition, concerns were raised about inconsistent decision-making by paroling authorities that resulted in apparent unfairness and inequity in release decisions deemed arbitrary, capricious, racially biased, and resulted in unjustifiably disparate sentences. Also, studies in the 1970s (conducted by Martinson and Brody) found a paucity of convincing evidence that rehabilitation reduces recidivism.

During the 1980s incarceration came to be conceptualized as punishment (i.e., just deserts), and by the late 1980s and 1990s as a means of incapacitation and deterrence with far less concern for equity and proportionality in sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and mandatory sex offender registration laws were enacted.
Rehabilitation was discarded, often coupled with the reduction or elimination of discretionary parole release. This gets tough on crime stance resulted in an explosive growth in prison populations, rates of incarceration, and costs of construction and operation of prisons.Ironically, as sentencing models focused more and more on punishment and incapacitation, research was providing evidence of effective interventions for reducing recidivism along with the ineffectiveness of incarceration.

Along with the shift from rehabilitation to punishment, the mission of parole to support reintegration shifted to reflect the get tough on crime stance resulting in fewer releases prior to the expiration of sentences, holding individuals who were released for greater portions of their maximum sentences, and increasing rates of parole revocation and re-incarceration.

By the 1990s the United States incarcerated more persons per capita than any other country with over two million adults behind bars, amounting to an incarceration rate of about one in one hundred. At the onset of the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system faced a rising prison population serving longer terms along with significantly diminished resources for prison-based programming, increased parole and probation caseloads, and scarce resources for returning citizens. Corrections costs (nearly ninety percent of which are allocated to prisons) soared creating serious budgetary pressures and accounting for significant amounts of states’ general fund discretionary dollars. Growing numbers of returning citizens and serious fiscal crises facing many states gave rise to a burgeoning interest in reentry.

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During the 1980s and 1990s, parole release and supervision focused primarily on enforcement and surveillance, using monitoring to stress compliance with conditions of release. Increasing rates of incarceration and release have resulted in increasing numbers of persons under community supervision posing significant challenges to parole/probation agencies as resources have not kept pace with these increases. By the turn of the century, parole revocation practices came under increasing scrutiny and efforts designed to reduce the rate of parole revocations, especially for technical violations, and promote the more effective reintegration of returning citizens have become a major focus. Studies show that individuals released on parole at the discretion of a releasing authority are more likely to successfully complete their parole term without re-incarceration than individuals released through a mandatory system.

The majority of returning citizens have not experienced successful community reentry.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), two-thirds (67.5%) of individuals released from prison are rearrested within three years more than half of whom are reincarcerated. Studies have shown that returning citizens are at highest risk for recidivism during the first six months after release when almost one-third (29.9%) are rearrested. Despite public perception that people on parole are more likely to commit crimes, the vast majority do not return to prison for a new offense. Seventy percent are re-incarcerated4 due to technical parole violations (e.g., missing appointments and not maintaining employment) rather than for the commission of new crimes.

Returning citizens are faced with significant challenges to successful reentry including reuniting with family and significant others, finding jobs and housing, and remaining substance-free while avoiding high-risk situations that can trigger relapse and recidivism. More individuals are released from longer terms of incarceration and are more are likely to have health or substance abuse problems which exacerbate these challenges. In addition, limited availability of jobs, housing, and social services in a community can adversely impact successful reintegration.

Fifty-five percent of adults involved in the criminal justice system have minor children and parents who are incarcerated can owe an average of more than $20,000.00 in child support debt at the time of release. There is now a substantive and growing research base of effective correctional practices that
promote successful reentry. Strategies that can significantly reduce recidivism have been identified, including prison and community-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), substance abuse treatment, relationship enhancement skills (e.g., motivational interviewing), vocational and educational programming, and community supervision that includes a case management focus along with rewards and sanctions and linkages with appropriate treatment and service
and support providers.

In sum, the large numbers of returning citizens, a significant proportion of whom are reincarcerated, concerns regarding community safety, state fiscal crises, and increasing correctional costs, as well as research on evidence-based correctional interventions, are now driving contemporary correctional practice. These have led to a shift in focus in correctional institutions from custody and control to preparing individuals for their release starting from admission and continuing throughout community supervision and beyond. Parole’s traditional emphasis on surveillance and enforcement of conditions (i.e., identifying violations and quickly revoking parole for noncompliance) is being replaced by a focus on transition and successful reintegration.

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~I am solely Rich In Christ~

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“An exceptional future can only be built on the transformation of the mess I’ve made out of my past, not the elimination of that mess.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I am writing this to express my richness in Christ, not the world. I am more than a billionaire because I am attached to heaven resources. My God owns all and is willing to share that of what I have need of to accomplish His will for my life.

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It is generally accepted that there has been substantial progress for black Americans over the last 60 years, yet by almost any measure, the status of African-Americans is bleak: Black-on-black violence all too often leads to the local news; over 70 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock; the education achievement gap continues to be a persistent feature of black education; many African-American children are educated in virtually segregated, underserved and underperforming schools, despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling; and African-American poverty and unemployment rates continue to be higher than their majority counterparts. Additionally, despite the preponderance of world-class black American athletes, hypertension, obesity, substance abuse, AIDS and diabetes plague the black community more than others.

Many high-profile, contemporary African-American leaders came out of the 1950-1980 civil rights movement. Much has changed since that time. Afro-Americans are no longer the nation’s largest minority group. The black-white paradigm that was 1950-2000 America no longer exists. American society is no longer racially bipolar, and the profile of other ethnic groups is rising. Newly arriving and growing ethnic communities do not feel a moral obligation or the onus for past grievances against blacks.

Since the 1950s, the nation has fought the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and wars in places many had never heard of before our soldiers fought and died there. The nation is war-weary and skeptical that trillions more similarly channeled dollars would yield better results. Additionally, the country seems to be moving toward addressing the long-neglected needs of women, Hispanic-Americans, and peoples long considered on the margins of society (homosexuals, transgenders, undocumented people and the incarcerated).

Question: “What does the Bible say about being poor?”

Answer: The Bible has a lot to say about being poor, and we have many examples of poor people in Scripture. Since material wealth is not a sure indication of God’s blessing, being poor is not necessarily a sign of God’s disapproval. In fact, it is possible to be poor in material things but rich in spiritual things (see Revelation 2:9).

Of course, sometimes being poor is the result of bad choices. The Bible warns that laziness will lead to being poor: “A little sleep, a little slumber, / a little folding of the hands to rest— / and poverty will come on you like a thief / and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 27:33–34; cf. 6:11). Following wild dreams will likewise lead to poverty: “Those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19), as will failing to heed wise advice: “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction” (Proverbs 13:18, ESV).

In other places, the Bible portrays poor people as having been blessed, and many who are rich are seen in a negative light. Jesus Himself was poor, not having a home or a “place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). The disciples and most of Jesus’ followers were poor, at least in worldly terms, but rich in spiritual wealth. The disciples even left all they had to follow Him, giving up all they owned, placing their full trust in Him to provide what they needed. Jesus said the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26:11). There is no shame in being poor. Our attitude should be that of the writer in Proverbs who said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches but give me only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8).

The rich are generally portrayed negatively in the Bible. Wealth itself is seen as a hindrance to those who desire to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus declared, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23), and He repeated this statement in the very next verse. Why did He make such a shocking statement? Because the rich tend to trust in their riches more than in God. Wealth tends to pull us away from God.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) displays the temporary nature of riches. The rich man enjoyed great luxury in life but spent eternity in hell because of his greed and covetousness. Lazarus suffered the indignities of extreme poverty but was comforted in heaven forever. Jesus Himself left His throne in heaven in order to take on the lowly form of a poor man. Paul said of Him, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

At some point, as Christians, we must ask ourselves: What are we really doing here in this temporary place? Where is our heart (Luke 12:34)? Are we really denying ourselves? Are we really giving sacrificially as did the poor widow (Luke 21:1–4)? To follow Jesus is to take up our cross (Luke 9:23). This means to literally give our total lives to Him, unencumbered by the things of this world. In the parable of the sower, riches are like “thorns”: “The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke [the Word], making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

It is those thorns, “the worries of this life” and the “deceitfulness of wealth,” the not-so-subtle tools of Satan, that lure us away from God and His Word. The Bible paints for us a contrast between those who are poor yet rich in Christ and those who are rich yet without God.

“In your goals to go the extra mile, prepare to pay an extra cost. Excellence is to be exceptional, surpassing, more competent and a step ahead with what is in your hands.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

~I once was a Taker, Now I desire to be a Giver~

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Spirituality and Community Building

Being charitable towards others is a spiritual asset—one that can contribute to community building. Some might even maintain that it is impossible to build a sense of belonging and community without some form of charitable practice.

An illustration is the South African view of community referred to as “Ubuntu,” which is usually translated as, “I am because of who we are.” Retired Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu believes that Ubuntu is the very essence of what it is to be human:

“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality—Ubuntu—you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

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This value, or way of life—Ubuntu—suggests a way of thinking, seeing, and acting in the world that we live in now.

Tutu refers to being charitable as being someone with “generosity.” Whether you call it charity or generosity, each word translates to giving of one’s self for another, for the greater good of the community. This can be the giving of one’s time or finances, or something as simple as offering nonjudgmental and kind words.

Through charity or generosity of self, we create a deeper sense of community with each other. We begin to see ourselves as one—one community—connected with each other through Ubuntu. We begin to understand and to acknowledge, that we are interdependent in a respectful and supportive way.

As human beings, as a social clan, we have a need to live within supportive environments where we are nurtured and can thrive together, where there is a strong commitment to the well-being of the community as a whole. We are fundamentally designed to live this way. Being charitable towards one another is not just “a nice thing to do”; it is an imperative for our survival as humans, and for our well-being as a local and global community.

A WORKING DEFINITION OF “BEING CHARITABLE”

Based on your individual experiences, you may have your own meaning of the word charity or charitable behavior. The definition that we shall use for this post is that charitable behavior creates a feeling, which leads one to act voluntarily with kindness or goodwill towards another.

There are a number of synonyms or similar words to describe charity or charitable behavior that may be more comfortable for you; perhaps they resonate more with your values and beliefs. Here are a few based on Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions:

  • Altruism: “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of other’s feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness”
  • Benevolence: “disposition to do good: (a): an act of kindness, (b): a generous gift”
  • Compassion: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.; sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”
  • Generosity: “the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish: the quality of being generous; especially: willingness to give money and other valuable things to others”

That said, what words or phrases you use to define charity are not as important as taking some form of action to support those who are in need.

In your community, one person may volunteer six hours a month of his time to a homeless shelter, serving meals cheerfully and making everyone smile. Another person may donate money to the same shelter, yet never enter its doors. Another may offer her knowledge and skills by teaching a class on literacy once a month to the shelter’s clientele. All of these are examples of charity and of charitable behavior.

There are many ways one can be charitable to others. There is no one right way, only your way—the way that feels right for you.

Four Aspects of Charity

More specifically, some ways to be charitable include:

Time: Giving of one’s time, however long or short that may be. Giving time is not so much about quantity, as it is about quality—about being present with another to support them in a “hands on” way. This might mean serving meals in that shelter, helping out during disaster relief, volunteering to drive seniors to appointments, baking dinner for a sick neighbor, or any number of activities that help you get to know those you are serving.

Essence: Giving of one’s personal energy and vitality. You may have some personal qualities in abundance and want to share them with others – enthusiasm, hope, grace, gratitude, patience, love – or you may want to increase these qualities in your own life. Each of these qualities brings energy to the space you share with someone when you are truly present with them. Examples: Hearing an exhausted young mother laugh; listening patiently while a man struggles to share his story of being out of work; offering encouragement to someone who feels disheartened. Your own energy and vitality shifts to being more positive and optimistic when you share your authentic self with another.

Talent: Giving of one’s skills and knowledge, such as teaching, gardening, cooking, knitting, or singing; or sharing wisdom from life experience. Everyone has gifts and talents that they are passionate about. These talents come easily and give you joy when you have a chance to express and share them.

Money: Giving of one’s financial resources to provide aid, food, shelter, or clothing; or making a donation to a local or global cause. The sum of money given is not as important as the spirit of the gift. You could start off by giving what you can afford, knowing that even spare change is helpful, and then increase the amount when you are ready, willing, and able to do so.

You may want to take the time to think about these four aspects of being charitable and evaluate which ones have the most meaning for you and where to begin. You may also want to reflect on these questions:

  • Do you have time, but limited funds to give; or do you have money, but limited time? What can do you for others with your time or money?
  • Is taking a more personal approach, one where you would work side by side with others, more appealing to you; or do you prefer a more hands-off approach—where you give openhandedly, but don’t need or want to meet the recipients of your generosity?

There is no right or wrong answer—your answer is your personal choice. Once you determine what is most important to you, then you may want to begin by writing down some thoughts and ideas that come to mind on how you want to express your unique way of giving. Include names of people or organizations you may wish to support.   Being charitable doesn’t need to be complicated; a simple gesture can be meaningful to the receiver. Now you may be more ready to share yourself with others.

THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF BEING CHARITABLE

Being Charitable Enriches the Giver and the Receiver

There are rewards to being charitable, both for the giver and the receiver. Not only are you being helpful to those in need, you are developing positive character traits and behaviors in yourself. Charitable work allows you to see life from someone else’s perspective—their struggles and hardships, their triumphs and strengths. It is a privilege to be a witness to another’s life. And in being one, you gain appreciation and gratitude for your own life.

Martha is a manager whose young husband developed an aggressive, terminal cancer. She had her hands and heart full nursing him at home and caring for their two small children. Her co-workers organized themselves, and together they provided dinner every day, not for a month, but every day for six months. Martha’s co-workers were witness to her hardship and struggle, and they responded. They appreciated a need greater than their own. They were inspired to draw on the positive character traits and qualities that live within us all—caring, generosity, selflessness.

Martha’s story showcases how the act of charity in a workplace makes it a community. Because of her co-workers, Martha was able to concentrate on what was important during those precious few months before her husband’s passing.

Many nonprofit community organizations devote themselves to helping those who are suffering from hardship. They seek compassionate volunteers; they offer them the privilege of witnessing someone else’s life by lending a helping hand. By sharing what gifts they have to offer, volunteers receive a gift—they discover and nurture the best within themselves.

On its website, the U.S.-based nonprofit Share the Care states, “Whether you are a burned out caregiver or a novice caregiver, or a friend who wants to help, you can benefit from a system that lets everyone share responsibilities, creates a strong support network among the individual caregivers, and leads to making a profound difference in someone’s life.”

Similar to other website resources like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands, Share the Care’s mission is connecting caring citizens with citizens going through difficult times in their lives. They are creating small temporary communities of giving within the larger community.

When you give yourself the privilege of being a kind presence in someone else’s life, you will make a difference in theirs and learn a quiet appreciation and gratitude for your own.

Charitable Behavior and the Golden Rule

We all wish to be treated with respect and dignity, and to feel valued and listened to. In the spirit of charity, we would strive to do the same for others. One way to look at this principle is through the lens of reciprocity, known to many as the “Golden Rule,” which states, “Do to others as you wish done to you.” Here is an ethical code that instructs us to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

Although different cultures and faith traditions might have different words and language, all human cultures have a version of the Golden Rule. It advises us to treat our neighbors, families, and colleagues as we would wish to be treated and shows how we can all apply empathy, understanding, and right action as our moral guideposts.

Depending upon your age or upbringing, you might remember the Golden Rule (or something similar) being introduced into your school, as part of your family values, or as a faith-based principle. It is a universal ethic, with the power to cut across gender, culture, age, beliefs, and social-economic status.

Wisdom traditions, such as the Golden Rule, date far back in our collective history and are expressed in a multitude of societies – both as lay philosophies and as the vital cornerstone of the vast majority of faith traditions.

The Golden Rule in Different Faith Traditions

In alphabetical order, each reads:

  • Baha’i Faith: “Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.” Baha’u’llah Gleanings
  • Buddhism: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Christianity: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12
  • Confucianism:” One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct ~ loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” Confucius Analects 15:23
  • Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
  • Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
  • Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest in commentary.” Hillel, Talmud; Shabbat 31a
  • Native Spirituality: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.” Chief Dan George
  • Sikhism: “I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.” Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299
  • Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
  • Unitarianism: “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Unitarian principle
  • Zoroastrianism: “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

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~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.

Pressed, but Not Crushed

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2 Corinthians 12:10

The Message (MSG)

7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
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Bathyspheres are amazing inventions. Operating like miniature submarines, they have been used to explore the ocean in places so deep the water pressure would crush a conventional submarine as easily as if it were an aluminum can, Bathyspheres compensate for the intense water pressure with plates of steel several inches thick. The steel keeps the water out, but it also makes a bathysphere heavy and difficult to maneuver. The space inside is cramped, allowing for only one or two people to survey the ocean floor by looking through a tiny plate-glass window.

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What divers invariably find at every depth of the ocean are fish and other sea creatures. Some of these creatures are quite small and appear to have fairly normal skin. They look flexible and supple as they swim through the inky waters. How can they live at these depths without steel plating? They compensate for the outside pressure through equal and opposite pressure on the inside.

Spiritual fortitude works in the same way. The more negative the circumstances around us, the more we need to allow God’s power to work within us to exert an equal and opposite pressure from the inside. With God on the inside, no pressure on earth can crush us!

It is not enough to begin; continuance is necessary. Success depends upon staying power. Abiding in the word and prayer is the way to have strength to deal with the pressures of life.

I am a Man Veteran who know this O’ to Well!!!

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The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.

Confucius

I am going to let this video speak for me. I came home in this condition and “But God” I don’t know where I would be. We as Americans take the sacrifice that soldiers make.

Decorated, educated and experienced in warfare and life, but convicted as a felon and once addicted to cocaine and fabulous living I came home from nine campaigns with an expectation of entitlements because I served under adverse and stressful conditions. Faced with the reality that no one owed me nothing I tried to self diagnose and went self will run riot. I never taped a flag to a shopping cart and got a trusted dog for my companion, but I was sick and the VA said we can not help you. If It were not for praying people and a will to win and be something in life there go I.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50133122n

As the media pays more attention to the invisible scars soldiers can bring home from service, a common picture has emerged: that of the strong, battle-hardened young man who is susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But there is another face of mental illness in the U.S. Armed Forces, and it’s a female one.

Certainly, far fewer women than men join the armed forces. And until very recently, women were formally banned from combat. But plenty of women veterans are dealing with the unexpected aftereffects of military service.

Here are two women veterans’ stories. Each is coping with a different (but related) mental disorder while serving in the military.

After Mary, 40, was sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, the resultant post-traumatic stress symptoms combined to make her life hellish. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the trauma resulted in a psychiatric diagnosis—in her case, post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the National Center for PTSD at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs:

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma. If the reactions don’t go away over time or disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.

A person with PTSD may go into a fight-or-flight reaction in response to seemingly harmless stimuli like the sound of a car starting or the sight of a door opening. Mary is still in the military. She is stationed CONUS (within the continental United States), and she works in the field of health. She’s reticent about details: “I haven’t been terribly quiet about what happened to me, but I do not disclose that I have PTSD. If I did, I fear I would lose my current position within the service and ultimately, be removed from the service.”

She says, “PTSD is insidious; it creeps up on you. First, you may experience a moment of panic when you are in a crowded area. For most of ‘us,’ Wal-Mart is a PTSD nightmare. You may startle easy, way too easily. You’ll never be able to sit with your back to a door or respond in a ‘normal’ manner to someone who catches you off guard. If you don’t relive the experience during the day, your psyche ensures that you work through your issue at night in the form of sheet-tangling, sweat-soaked nightmares that no one should have to endure. These are the nightmares that wake you from the deepest sleep and cast a dark gloom over the whole of the next day.”

She says that for military service members like her (as well as for veterans), the best PTSD support groups are the ones that are closed to civilians. She adds, “Sometimes, there’s things only another service member can understand.”

When asked if she’d still join the military if she had the opportunity to do it all over again, Mary says, “Yes. I’m willing to bet the majority of us would all answer yes.”

What Trina remembers the most about her bout with severe depression was that nobody else in the Navy seemed to notice.

Trina joined up when she was 20 and spent nine years in the Navy. Among other things, she worked on diesel engines as part of her long-term goal to become a professional mechanic. But she tells Take Part that by the end of her service she was “sick of all the ruthless competition just to get promoted. You couldn’t trust anyone.”

She adds, “Also, it was destroying what little mental health I had left.”

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According to the Veterans Administration:

Many symptoms of depression overlap with the symptoms of PTSD. For example, with both depression and PTSD, you may have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind focused. You may not feel pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. You may not want to be with other people as much. Both PTSD and depression may involve greater irritability. It is quite possible to have both depression and PTSD at the same time.

As Trina tells it, the darkness crept up gradually, eventually affecting her military service. She says, “I went from doing my work, and always looking for more, to doing absolutely nothing and finding ways to not be around, including being gone for two afternoons because I couldn’t face anyone. I was a teacher at our tech school at the time and was known for always being there for the students and helping them out. Suddenly, I avoided all of them. When I did end up in the hospital, everyone was shocked. My Chief even told my parents that he had no idea.”

After a hospital stay to treat severe depression, Trina returned to work. She says she tried to educate her fellow troops about the reality of mental illness, but felt they didn’t listen. And at least one higher-up was particularly insensitive.

Trina tells Take Part, “About six months later, I heard someone very high in our chain of command talking loudly about how a student was faking wanting to kill himself so he could get out of the school.”