SECOND CHANCE ALLIANCE: Restoring Dignity + Locked in Solidarity Prayer Vigil + Legislative Updates

March 7, 2017
 

Restoring Dignity: Listening to the voices from the margins
By Miea A. Walker, MSW

In an era of resistance and racial division, the voices from the margins are often silent and suffer the brunt of a distorted narrative that paints them as "the villain." While there have been numerous conversations around criminal justice reform, we now find ourselves shifting from the spectrum of compassion to “law and order,” which bears a striking resemblance to the "glory" days of Nixon and Reagan. So how do we fight repression in the face of mass criminalization?

In December, the Second Chance Alliance hosted a listening session in Wake County geared towards creating a safe environment where directly-impacted individuals communicated their shared experiences of barriers to reentry and its influence on their families and communities. We had 43 participants. Several service providers and community stakeholders lend their expertise about their organization’s resources and other opportunities to alleviate the consequences produced by a criminal record.

In 2017, we plan to host six additional listening sessions throughout the state. Our next listening session will be held in Charlotte on Friday, March 10th, at Goodwill Industries. If you live in Mecklenburg County and are interested in attending, please contact me at miea@ncjustice.org.

Locked in Solidarity Prayer Vigil

On February 9th, Christian Community Development Association hosted their annual Locked in Solidarity Prayer Vigil.

Locked in Solidarity began in 2014 as an effort to bring awareness to the issue of mass criminalization which destroys poor communities of color. Our goal is to address the policies which perpetuate the pain and shame of having a criminal record by making mass incarceration a discipleship issue.

To learn more about CCDA, visit their website www.ccda.org.
 

 

 

ADVOCACY TOOLS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY
  • Learn about the challenges/issues around incarceration and reentry.
  • Create a job bank. You have employers in your church and community.
  • Make addressing mass incarceration an organizational and church commitment.
  • Incorporate advocacy resources into bible studies and sermons.
  • Advocate for “Ban the Box.”
  • Work to eliminate all barriers including housing and education.
  • Help your congregation and leadership identify blind spots.
  • Create a prayer circle.

Mobilizing Christians to Resist Mass Incarceration
By Rev. Dr. Shawn Casselberry

Mass incarceration is a troubling trend that is inconsistent with Christian belief and practice, yet many Christians do not see ending mass incarceration as an urgent discipleship issue. Even among churches that are active around the prison system, a bifurcation exists between prison ministry and prison advocacy that makes mobilizing churches to resist mass incarceration much more difficult.

Part of the problem is our ideological and political leanings shape the way Christians view prisoners and approach prison reform, creating unique blind spots for conservative and liberal Christians. According to a survey by Lifeway Research, only 46% of pastors see “the rapid growth of the inmate population in recent decades as unjust.” In Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith argue that white evangelicals struggle to see racial structures of inequality or systems of injustice. This systemic blind spot leads many Christians with a heart for justice to focus on personal forms of prison ministry, sometimes to the exclusion of prison advocacy.

While liberals tend to emphasize systemic change, they have blind spots of their own. A chaplain friend of mine made this observation: “Conservatives love to visit the prison but they aren’t as involved in addressing systemic injustice. And liberals are involved in addressing systemic change but don’t visit the prison.” The liberal focus on systemic change can prevent activists from building actual relationships with prisoners and/or the formerly incarcerated. This is a solidarity blind spot. In The Irresistible Revolution, author and death penalty activist Shane Claiborne sums up the liberal blind spot: “It’s not that we don’t care about the poor, it’s that we don’t know them.” What is needed is a holistic approach that includes solidarity with our brothers and sisters in prison (and commitment to walking with them when they return) and advocacy around systemic change. Identifying our ideological blind spots, helps us engage in prison advocacy from a place of humility, and better work across political and denominational lines with others.

The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), a network of Christian churches and organizations committed to holistic change in under-resourced communities, is one example of how Christians are being mobilized to resist mass incarceration. CCDA has made addressing mass incarceration an organizational priority and provides churches with resources to help them gain awareness and take action. Earlier this month, they organized over 50 “Locked in Solidarity” events nationwide to educate Christians about mass incarceration and what their responsibility is to resist it. They had those most directly impacted by mass incarceration share personal stories to illuminate the systemic injustices and helped participants see how their sacred texts might be leading them to “be merciful,” “to do justly,” and to “remember those in prison as if they were there themselves.”

While our country remains deeply divided over many social issues, there is growing consensus that something needs to change in our prison system. I hope that prison advocates can see Christian churches and organizations as potential allies in the struggle for prison reform and build bridges between ideological and faith divides so we can work together for change.

Rev. Dr. Shawn Casselberry is a passionate advocate for God’s justice, author of God is in the City and Executive Director for Mission Year, a leading national Christian ministry that invites 18-29 to love God, love people, and be a force for justice in the world. Dr. Casselberry has a passion for mentoring young adults and mobilizing the church around issues of racial and economic justice, particularly mass incarceration and youth violence. He has a Master’s degree in World Missions and Evangelism from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Building Beloved Community from McCormick Theological Seminary.

Legislative Updates

State legislators are back in Raleigh and the 2017-2018 legislative session is well under way at the North Carolina General Assembly.

During the last few years, our Alliance has called on our state’s elected leaders to lower barriers to reentry and increase access to resources for individuals with criminal records. We have achieved significant progress through our advocacy and expect to build on our progress during this legislative session.

Essential to our past successes and future ambitions is the willingness of each member of the NC Second Chance Alliance—especially those with criminal records directly impacted by these barriers— to share your reentry story, your concerns, and your support for specific reforms directly to our elected leaders. We are optimistic significant progress is achievable during this session as long as our members—you!—continue to call, email, and visit with legislators.

We will focus our advocacy efforts during this session on expanding access to expunctions and certificates of relief. Based on our collaboration with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys and meetings with several key legislators, we believe there is an opportunity during this session to:

  1. Reduce the wait time for expunction of a first-time nonviolent conviction from 15 years to 10 years for a felony offense and five years for a misdemeanor offense;
  2. Expand eligibility for certificates of relief from a first-time conviction to multiple convictions.

Click here for factsheets on these reform proposals: Reduce wait time for and expand expunctions and expand Certificates of Relief

In addition to these legislative efforts, Alliance members will also urge Governor Roy Cooper to increase the resources and opportunities available to citizens with criminal records and develop a comprehensive 5-year reentry and recidivism reduction plan for our state.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for the 2017 Second Chance Lobby Day on Tuesday, April 25, 9:30 AM- 2:00 PM                
In 2015, we had more than 200 Alliance members attend Second Chance Lobby Day from all over the state, including representatives from each of our state’s local reentry councils. We expect our 4th biannual visit to the NC General Assembly to be even better and focus legislators’ attention on the human costs of inaction and urgent need to restore employment, housing, and educational opportunities to men and women striving to lead productive, law-abiding lives.

Please click here for details. If you have questions or to RSVP, please contact Miea Walker at (919) 861-2211 or miea@ncjustice.org.  

Reentry Resources: Local Reentry Councils

The Second Chance Alliance partnered with the NC Department of Public Safety to establish a pilot network of five local reentry councils in order to facilitate the delivery of community-based reentry services and address gaps in these services. We are excited to see this network grow and will continue to promote statewide coverage. If you are a member of a local reentry council not listed here, please send us your council’s contact information and we will share it in future newsletters.

Buncombe County Reentry Council
Coordinator: Brent Bailey, 828-250-5089

Carteret Reentry Council
Chair: John Smith, smithjohn@cartaret.edu

Craven-Pamlico Re-Entry Council
Chair: Greg Singleton, singletong@cravencc.edu

Durham County Local Reentry Council
Contact: Roshanna Parker, 919-560-0550

Southeast Regional Reentry Council (Hoke, Robeson, Scotland)
Coordinator: Angelina Phillips, 910-272-6610

Re-Entry Partners of Mecklenburg
Coordinator: Marcus Reddrick, 980-307-1453

McDowell County Local Reentry Council
Coordinator: Danny Hampton, 828-559-2224

NEW Reentry Council (Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson)
Coordinator: Sheneathia Hanson, 252-442-8081

New Hanover County Local Reentry Council
Contact: Michelle Gunn, 910-431-8962

Onslow/Jones Reentry Resources Council
Chair: Karol Davis, 910-939-5173

Pitt County Reentry Council
Coordinator: Selma Whitaker, 252-752-9774

Capital Area Reentry Council (Wake)
Contact: Family Resource Center, 919-834-9300

 

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