Tommy came in from the mail box holding a few letters in his hand. One the top of the mail was an envelope with a handwritten address and stamped across the front in bold red letters were the words STATE PRISON. Sheila broke down and started to cry. Tears rolling down her face as she thought to herself, even in our own home she has no privacy. The truth is that like Sheila, there are somewhere between75-90 million other American citizens are serving their prison terms in their own communities. They hide as prisoners in their own homes, for events in which they had no part to play other than having a family relationship. 

Do you or your friends have someone in the criminal justice system? If you do then you know the shame, grief and very real personal pain that many of your neighbors share alone in their homes. Once these matters become public, these family members may find themselves isolated and stigmatized by members of their communities, schools and even fellow church goers. They keep to themselves living in the fear that new revelations will bring new pain and judgment. Where would you go to talk to someone who really understood the reality of your situation?

Most counselors, lawyers, clergy and mental health professionals have no specific training to work with these family members. Yet each prisoner being released will HAVE TO RETURN to family if they are going to be successful in readjusting to the community after prison life. At the present time there is no concerted effort being made to strengthen the family foundation to which many offenders will return. Instead they truth is that they are largely treated like offenders themselves. If there is no place to go when the offender is realized from prison they are highly likely to re-offend.

Does your church or community have any organized support activities or like most towns is the subject politely ignored? Why should I be concerned you might ask, let the numbers reveal the problem, there are currently 10+ million offenders in the American criminal justice system. There are another 30 million + released offenders living in various communities trying to readjust. They are being refused housing, employment, recognition, even the right to vote in some jurisdictions but they are expected to keep all of the laws of the land. In many cases they have no voice regarding matters of governance, taxation, or even representation within the political system.

In some states former offenders receive as little as ten dollars “gate money” up to two hundred dollars and that is what they are expected to survive on until they get their first pay check. Could you do it? I believe that those who break the law should pay for their crimes, but I also believe that we all deserve a fair chance to start over again. If I continue to kick the ex-offender, I am also kicking his or her family members and children. Is this the way we want to administer justice in America? So where do we start to address this issue?

All communities have individuals who are existing at the lowest rungs on the social ladder. If I embrace a spiritual belief system what does their teaching tell me about reaching out to help others? If I am merely a moral individual with no belief in a Supreme Being than I am still encumbered to find solutions to to these problems since the re-incarceration of the newly released is costing each of us exorbitant tax dollars to support a system that is not working.  The system is broken and exists as a self-perpetuating fossil scooping up billions of tax dollars a year to sustain itself.

In America private prisons are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. No government entity is going to voluntarily shrink its own budget. Therefore the business of mass incarceration continues to grow from less than 300,000 in the early 1970’s to over 2.3 million in 2014. Once a cell is emptied it will be quickly refilled by those whose probation or parole conditions are violated for even the most insignificant of violations. Check out the facts for yourself and contact Dismas Project. com to find out what you can do to help. Don’t respond for the sake of the offender, but for the millions of Tommy’s and Sally’s who live in communities across America. 888-545-5128.


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