PHASING UP [news]

Agencies, Businesses, Churches to Improve Collaboration on Re-entry Issues
Jan 2009

For the individual re-entering society from prison or jail, there is currently good news. A contingent of volunteers, state officials, churches, and businesses are joining together in 2009 to help facilitate job hiring, employment training, and college admission for formerly incarcerated persons.

At a major forum on November 12, 2008, at the Vineyard Community Church (VCC), over 30 representatives of prison and jail re-entry programs, agencies, and National College discussed plans for bolstering ex-inmate re-entry needs. The roundtable discussion, co-coordinated by VCC and National College, was held in the church’s new Healing Center, a holistic-oriented, innovative facility that offers a variety of services and counseling, ranging from personal assessment, employment counseling, and health and food accessories, to prayer, spiritual restoration, computer training, and life skills classes.

One remark calling for the inevitable joining of businesses and social services to assist individuals re-entering seemed to permeate the discussion. Many echoed the fact that re-entry needs are at an extremely critical – possibly crisis – level now, especially with the dire economic conditions that now exist.

It’s important, several said, for businesses and social service agencies to “break down any walls” that will prevent a unified effort to help the formerly incarcerated person.

Several representatives commented that employers’ “often negative attitudes” toward ex-felons, especially, still need to be changed to become more positive and encouraging, before a real change occurs in hiring procedures of those individuals and before more businesses open their doors to individuals re-entering. “Some [employers] have really opened up,” said Angela Walker, Workforce Development Supervisor of the Urban League. “But, there is still a lot of work to do to convince employers to take a chance.”

Stephen Johnsongrove, an attorney at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, echoed the urgency for more employers and businesses to realize there are many formerly incarcerated individuals ready to work and that they could make a valuable contribution to a business. “We need to keep collaborating here and with other business leaders,” he said. “It’s important to unify this wealth of knowledge. We should share notes, figure out the best way to consolidate our efforts. We can definitely synchronize our job readiness plans or programs. No one program can afford, today, to go at it completely alone.”

Stan Ross, Director of Cincinnati Works, has observed “a trend where what I’m seeing is ex-inmates re-entering who are younger and younger.” He explained that the challenge before businesses and re-entry specialists is to influence that individual to go back and educated himself or herself.

“They get caught up in the system. They’re coming out of prison at 25, 26-years old not knowing a skill,” he said. “They get lost. They’ll be likely to commit a crime again.

“It’s important to change the conversation now,” Johnsongrove added. “Once you have the label of ‘felon’ it’s tough. The community’s attitude, in fact, has to be changed. And, still, a job alone won’t just save the formerly incarcerated person.”

According to Johnsongrove, Ohio House Bill 130 is crucial and needs to be passed by the Ohio legislature. It would stipulate changes in the ways employers might hire ex-offenders. It will reduce restrictions on ex-offenders seeking a job.

Jamie Gee, of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), cited Montgomery County, Ohio as a prime example of a municipality that is pro-actively working to develop new and more innovative ways of addressing the hiring of ex-felons. A judge in Montgomery County, for instance, is collaborating with businesses and other agencies in an effort to more effectively break down barriers

In Hamilton County, the county’s Justice Commission, as well as the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, is trying to put together new, concrete methods dealing with issues of employment for the ex-felon.

In addition, Ohio Jobs and Family Services is currently working with ODRC to formulate a proposal that would target child support issues, in an effort to change to way child support operates for the incarcerated person.

 

Panel Addresses Youth Violence
Jan 2009

During the taping of the community television program, “After the Fact,” creator and moderator of the panel discussion, author Brennan Pearl Jr. started the show by referring to a 2008 Cincinnati Enquirer news story that depicted an occasion when a child clearly experienced emotional and physical abuse. He followed with the question, “How can a young person even have a chance, when facing an environment like this?”

It’s a testament to Pearl’s serious desire to meet the issues of violence, crime, incarceration, and re-entry head on, with such passion, that “After the Fact” has arguably become the most important television show in this region of the country to explores, in depth, the impact society and environments are having on individuals seemingly within very close proximity to violence, those vulnerable to committing crimes, or those already in prison or jail, and those recently released from incarceration.

Pearl cleverly galvanizes his show by assembling guests with varied and significant backgrounds, reflecting much consideration and energy on his part to get the most out of his guests.

The formerly incarcerated individuals on this particular show – Kevin Malone, Ronald Hummons, Andre Ridley, Sherise Morris, Maria Eubanks, and Corina Evans – have shown tremendous resolve in their healthy and pro-active transformation. Each of these individuals has made it a personal mission to help others succeed, especially those facing re-entry issues similar to those they faced.

The author of two novels and many poems and articles, Pearl’s “After the Fact” is his brainchild and his way of working vigorously in this region to champion issues surrounding incarceration and former incarceration that he knows very well. A former prison inmate, Pearl is focused on having his show make a difference. He intends to illuminate the discussion and topics of prison, jail, crime, youths, and hope for the ex-inmate as much as he can in the coming months.

The recent topic of “After the Fact,” “Addressing Youth Violence,” is currently airing on public access stations in the vicinity of Hamilton County, Ohio.  The roundtable discussion involved of a mix of specialists, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals.

John Ridley, a staff member at Lighthouse Youth Services, praised Pearl’s efforts at showcasing such a program and indicated that he “nearly raised Brennan when he was a youth.” Ridley, a veteran worker among and advocate of youth, today sees “parents not willing to sacrifice for their children.,” he said. “I worked with a young man in the juvenile justice system, for example, and eventually learned that all these years no one diagnosed him as mentally ill. That’s a problem. In fact, it took his mother 35 years to say, ‘I love you.’”

Ridley offered many insights during the taping. He said that, before any serious headway is really made toward reaching many youths, “the community itself needs to be revitalized.”    

Hummons, a local entrepreneur, innovator, and film director, agreed with Ridley. “Lots of these kids have just never seen love,” he said. “That’s number one.” He reflected on his own youth and the gangbanging and hustling he did. “I woke up every morning wanting to die. That’s what I was thinking. When I finally got out of prison, I slept on the street. But, I had that vision. I knew I could put it into place. I felt confident.

Hummons transformation in prison, he said, could be traced to his mother’s visit one day, when she insisted that he read Bible scripture from the book of Proverbs. Hummons began reading. He came across Proverbs’ “characterization of a fool,” he said. “Once that hit me, I was totally enlightened. I was that fool. That was the true beginning of my turnaround.”

Pearl echoed Hummons’ genuine transformation: “The streets will develop into a beast until we have individuals that can constantly plant wisdom, positive information and knowledge, until a difference is made.”

 

For more information on the celebrated series, “After the Fact with Brennan Pearl, Jr.,” write him at his website, www.bpjr.com or visit www.myspace.com/brennanpearljr. These sites will also provide more information on his writing, speaking, and advocacy.

 

New “Hard 2 Hire” Network Brings Innovative Approach toward Employment
Jan 2009

Formerly incarcerated individuals are the current major focus of the new initiative, Hard 2 Hire (H2H), which is aimed at improving and coordinating services that help unemployed, low-skill, or hard-to-employ workers prepare for, enter, advance, and succeed in the labor market.

A variety of service providers in the Greater Cincinnati region make the core of Hard 2 Hire, as the providers seek to help formerly incarcerated individuals prepare for and enter employment. Services could include work readiness preparation, skills training in a number of labor areas, case management, legal services, basic education and GED programs, job placement, and retention services.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, all employment service providers that work with ex-offenders in some capacity are invited to participate, even if it is not the primary focus of their programs.

The H2H Network is modeled after Strive program’s “Student Success Networks,” which are groups of service providers that work together to develop common action plans for improving and coordinating service delivery on a systems level. It’s not merely developing a whole new program, according to the Workforce Network.

The plan calls for creating an action plan that center around job readiness needs of the formerly incarcerated individual, implementing the action plan, measuring achievement – and tracking the action plan’s progress by collecting and reviewing ongoing data in the process.

The Workforce Network plans to provide the investment to support a “Facilitator” to guide the process, and it will provide ongoing oversight of the development and execution of the H2H Network’s action plan and projects.    

 

For information on the Hard 2 Hire Network, visit www.CincinnatiWorkforce.org

 

“Keys to Unlocking the Incarcerated Mind” at Ohio Reformatory for Women
Jan 2009

The Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW), in Marysville, Ohio, is preparing to offer to inmates a new group discussion and series of sessions entitled, “Keys to Unlocking the Incarcerated Mind.” Facilitated by Lucreta Bowman, Director of Having the Courage to Change and a former inmate at ORW, the series is an attempt to given inmates an deeper understanding of how to erase barriers and obstacles associated with destructive behavior and how to free themselves from behavior that led them to a place of mental and physical incarceration.

One level of the series will be to divide inmates into small groups at the prison. Bowman’s group plans to travel to ORW once a month, likely on the third or fourth Saturday of the month. A closing celebration is planned for August, 2009.

Both women and men are encouraged to consider volunteering in the discussion series. All volunteers must pass an initial security screening, and individuals that have a felony or are on probation are still encouraged to participate. Men will be paired with a woman volunteer when counseling or praying with the inmates.

Volunteers will complete a security application that is submitted to the prison, and they will attend a one-hour security training at ORW. This training will be scheduled on the Friday or Saturday of an event weekend. Also, Bowman encourages volunteers to come to a “Keys” bi-monthly meeting that takes place the Tuesday before and after each event. The bi-monthly meetings usually begin at 7:00 p.m. at City Cure, 1947Auburn Avenue, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The phone number for City Cure is 513-621-2873.

For information on signing up for or participating in the “Keys to Unlocking” series, or for travel arrangements, contact 513-345-1094.

Having the Courage to Change is a part of City Gospel Mission (www.citygospelmission.com).

 

Cincinnati Writer Named 2009 Peter Jennings Fellow
Jan 2009

Streetvibes contributing writer and CityBeat news reporter, Margo Pierce, has been named a 2009 Peter Jennings Fellow.

Streetvibes, an alternative newspaper, is part of the international street newspaper movement. Focusing on homelessness and social justice issue, Streetvibes reports the often-invisible story of poverty in our community. As a progressive news source, Streetvibes provides a forum for dialogue for those often left unseen and unheard.

The Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution is an annual event hosted by the National Constitution Center in Philadephia, with support from the Annenberg Foundation. Its mission is to help professional journalists understand constitutional issues more deeply.

Pierce is also among the award-winning professional journalists who contribute their work to Streetvibes, published by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.

The Jennings Fellowship is the latest journalism award Pierce has received for her work. In addition to honors by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, she was a finalist for the 2008 Margolis Award.

 

Related stories:


 

Forum at the Vineyard

See full story and slides with captions.

 


Stephen JohnsongroveA RED! Exclusive:
Stephen Johnsongrove


Read David Higgins' interview attorney Stephen Johnsongrove, one of the country’s foremost legal authorities on social justice and re-entry issues.

Sherise Morris speaks to RED! on video. View it now.