If You Saw Us As People

In response to an article titled, “Re-entry Council Gets $150K from the State to Keep the Ex in Ex-Con,” published on December 7th, 2017 by the Rhino Times in Greensboro, NC:

At noon on March 8, 2018, the Greensboro Re-entry Council meeting begins. The room is full of folks who have gathered in hopes of offering transition services to previously incarcerated individuals. Major Chuck Williamson oversees the program, and opens the meeting by debunking “rumors” floating around that the newly formed council is “stealing clients and opportunities” from other local organizations. Williamson makes it clear the Re-entry Council is being formed to help newly released individuals navigate a variety of needed services, in a one stop shop located at the NCWorks Career Center in Greensboro.

As a “felon” myself, I wonder why this clarification is the foremost pressing matter of the hour. Major Williamson quickly moves through the agenda, heavily focused on the required “MOA” form organizations must complete to have on file with the state in order to be reimbursed for services rendered. There is much chatter and commotion on this note. We move through the meeting with little focus on what the population in question actually needs, what our struggles look like, and where the gaps in addressing those struggles lie. Organizations present do not share what they are doing, or how they can collaborate with one another for the common good. The concern seems to lie with who is “stealing” from whom, and how to get paid going forward. From one industry to the next, we are not people. We are commodities funneled through one capitalist system after another.

In an article published by your newspaper on December 7, 2017, you highlight the $150,000 grant awarded to Guilford County for commissioning the Re-entry Council, in efforts to reduce recidivism. The grant was part of a $1.75 million federal grant, received by the Department of Public Safety in October 2015 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. These monies were invested towards support of ongoing reforms begun under the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011.

In the aforementioned article, former inmates are referred to as “cons” and “convicts” a number of times, from the title to the end, enunciating the stigma associated with our struggle. Sheriff BJ Barnes is quoted using this language, and states, “I do not want them back at my jail.” However, Sherriff BJ Barnes is not present at a meeting set up to collaborate on ways to keep recidivism down and alleviate some of our struggles post incarceration.

Envision the use of humanizing words to connote people affected by mass incarceration; “individuals”, “persons”, “formerly incarcerated”. None of these references further dehumanize or stigmatize us. The language used to reference us places miles between us, and those who purport to help. As long as you see yourself distant from us, there is nothing you can do to help. All things considered, I am most concerned with how the state thinks $150,000 is going to reduce recidivism, let alone improve upon our struggle.

According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center website, in 2011 when the Justice Reinvestment Act was proposed, outcomes for community based treatments and services were projected to save the state more than $45 million in Corrections by 2017. The prison population was projected to decrease between 2011 and 2017 (and has), saving $267 million in state spending. The Department of Public Safety estimates they will be short 2900 prison beds by 2020. Expansion to cover the increase and operation is approximated to cost more than $378 million between 2013 and 2020, with construction alone costing up to $214 million.

After reviewing the numbers, it seems a token in the water to appropriate a mere $150,000 towards “efforts at reducing recidivism” when it is quite clear how much is expended in the other direction. Why is so little afforded towards a massive problem? Do they really want to keep us out of jails? Is there any real intention to lighten the struggle of re-entry? Who profits in either direction? Do folks really care what a day in the life of a felon in the U.S. looks like, or are we just one more means of profiting under the guise of “non-profit” work in the community? Who loses when capitalism is the motivation? Who falls between the cracks when the steam runs out?

Imagine what would happen if you saw us as people, as humans worthy of care and dignity. Imagine if we were not commodities in your capitalist system, whether active prisoners, or released persons struggling in the face of never-ending stigma and discrimination. Maybe then, we would stay out of your jails.

See the article here–> http://www.rhinotimes.com/news/reentry-council-gets-150k-state-keep-ex-ex-con/



1 Comment

  1. Thank you for your voice! Please keep speaking and writing as your voice moves us closer to the day all persons are treated as humans worthy of care and dignity.

    Liked by 1 person

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