Your Mistakes Do Not Define You...Or, Do They?

by Jodi Hansen

GOOD DAYS Last Friday was one of those fabulous late summer days in the Willamette Valley that beckons all of us to get out of the office. Luckily, for the VISTA’s and me, we had an important meeting offsite—at a winery!

Our meeting was with Erich Berg who works for Day Wines but is getting ready to launch his own label—Ricochet. This English teacher turned winemaker reached out to me a couple of weeks ago via the Remnant Initiatives website to share about his new label and how Ricochet is about social justice and redemption by giving 5% of profits to causes that help people “bounce back” from the adversities of life.

He shared some fabulous wine with us while we all discussed mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, The Scarlet Letter (did I mention he is an ex-English teacher?), and the importance of our local communities investing in the success of our neighbors trying to “bounce back” after paying their debt to society.  It was such a fun and energizing afternoon as we all dreamed of a world where every human being is valued for their potential to contribute to the whole—a world where people would not be labeled with “the scarlet letter” of having a criminal conviction.

IMG-0352.JPG

BAD DAYS Earlier that week, I had been walking in my neighborhood when I stopped to snap a quick picture of one of those encouraging yard-signs we see all over Newberg. In 2017, Amy Wolff decided to do something in response to the suicide rates in our community when she and her young family set out to place just 20 of these signs in yards around town. Little did she know that this 20-yard project would launch a global movement of encouragement!

But, on this particular day, I wasn’t feeling very encouraged as I took my phone out of my pocket to grab a quick pic of a simple sign that boldly stated, YOUR MISTAKES DO NOT DEFINE YOU.  “Oh, Amy,” I sighed to myself, “if only this were true for people with criminal records.” 

The bad days are the ones when I am overwhelmed with frustration from witnessing our neighbors-in-transition (NIT’s) face obstacle after obstacle after obstacle as they do their best to meet the most basic of human needs. Obtaining essentials like a stable place to live, gainful employment, and healthcare are especially challenging when one has a criminal record.  Juggling court mandated appointments makes finding and keeping stable work very difficult. Heck, just getting to appointments or work, with the limited bus service that our rural communities provide, is a job in and of itself!

Our housing crisis is the hardest on those with criminal records. One of our NIT’s lost hundreds of dollars in non-refundable application fees to landlords who said they would not hold his criminal record against him, but then denied him an apartment after the background check was done. (The greedy always seem to prey on the desperate.)

Another NIT is working full-time and living in an old RV, which he has to move every night to comply with city codes, as he looks for a stable apartment, “It’s so discouraging Jodi, I have worked so hard these past nine months. I am staying sober and out of trouble. We have the money to get a place, but no one will rent to us.”

I guess the truth is that some mistakes really do define some of us.

THE BEST DAYS Thankfully, not every day is so discouraging. There are days I get phone calls like the one I got from Joseph, who began selling drugs—when he was only 13 years old—to help his family pay the bills. Now he is in his 40’s, ready to “bounce back” and, just happened to call, only a few hours after we had met with Erich on that fabulous Friday.

He was updating me on some health struggles he’d been having when he blurted out,

“I am so thankful for all you and the volunteers have done for me. In the beginning, I was so depressed and anxious. I didn’t think there was any way I was going to pay all my fines or get a car or a good job. I never believed that I would get to have visits with my son again. But things are moving forward—slowly, I mean I still live in a garage!

But, last week, I was at my cousin’s house and a guy I knew from prison was there and he invited me back into the game (selling drugs). He was telling me that there was so much money to be made right now. Six months ago, when somebody would make an offer to go back, I would actually think about it, like, why should I keep working so hard for $13/hour when I could be making good money?  I would think about it for a few days, but then I would remember my goals and how much I don’t want to go back to prison.

It always ends in death or prison.  

But, when this guy talked to me, I didn’t even think about it for one minute! I was like, ‘thanks for the offer man, but that’s just not where I am at in my life right now.’ Jodi, I have worked too hard.  I have a future!”

Yeah, somedays are better than others, and with a little bit of help, some people can overcome the obstacles to become the neighbors we want them to be—neighbors who pay taxes and raise their kids and stay sober and find healing from the outrageous trauma of the childhoods and addiction that lead them to commit a crime in the first place. But it takes a community who cares and wants to help. It takes changing a criminal justice system that has been proven not to work.

It takes wine makers who want to donate a portion of their profits to help us realize that dream of a world where all people are able to live into their full potential to contribute to the whole—a world where YOUR MISTAKES DO NOT DEFINE YOU is true for everyone.

Join Us!

Ricochet Launch Party/Open House to Benefit Remnant Initiatives

Sunday, September 22, 2019 @ Day Camp, 12-4PM

21160 N. Hwy 99W, Dundee, Oregon 97115

Check out the facebook event here.

Come celebrate the inaugural vintage of Ricochet and learn more about Remnant Initiatives and how we work toward strengthening our community by helping our neighbors bounce back.

(Tasting is free, and discounts for orders of 6 or more bottles will be in force.)  

unnamed.png

The Journey of a Thousand Miles...

by Jodi Hansen

WHAT’S IN A NAME? I am often asked why we named our nonprofit Remnant Initiatives. It’s a great conversation starter and I am fond of explaining that at its core, the name means “small actions.” I usually go on to elaborate that in recovery circles there is a common saying to “just do the next right thing” rather than try and do something big. Setting one’s concerns too high in the midst of a major life transition is often a recipe for failure. However, by taking life one day at a time, the next right things eventually add up, and true transformation happens. At Remnant Initiatives we get to put this truth into action by walking alongside our neighbors transitioning back into mainstream society while they do the same. The first few days and weeks out of prison are incredibly stressful for everyone, but doing the next right thing, and the next right thing, and then the next, eventually, leads to stable employment, independent housing, mending relationships with family and community, and a future filled with hope.

ONE SMALL STEP… Just as taking small steps in the life of someone trying to change habitual and destructive patterns of behavior are critical to gaining systemic health and well-being, small actions in the reform of our criminal justice system also have great power in moving our society toward better economic/social health and well-being.  We can’t keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result when it comes to how we arrest, adjudicate, and sentence drug addicted, poor, and traumatized people who fall into crime. We have learned much in the past 50 years of fear-based War on Drugs and Tough on Crime approaches to justice—specifically, that fear-based and punitive approaches simply don’t work. We have better science about addiction, trauma, poverty, and the human brain’s ability to heal and grow than we did years ago when we passed sweeping and destructive laws designed to punish some of our most vulnerable citizens. As a culture, we are ready to admit we were wrong in our approach to dealing with crime, and we are ready for change.

The First Step Act that was passed in late 2018 proved our desire for change due to its unprecedented bi-partisan support. But, the First Step Act was just that: a first step. There is much more for us to do before we can begin to see the fruit of turning our “remnant initiatives” into healthier neighborhoods. We have learned our lesson and know that we can’t incarcerate our way to public safety. Our criminal legal system is now so big, so complex, so outdated, and so broken, that we find ourselves surveying the wreckage and wondering where to start the clean-up. 

SO, WHAT’S NEXT? Before we advance our efforts and take the next step toward reform, we need to understand that the First Step Act only applies to those in the federal system.  According the most recent Prison Policy Initiative Whole Pie head-count, that’s only 221,000 of the 2.3 million people presently locked up in our jails, prisons, and detention centers.  There is much work to do, and that work is going to happen at the state and local level.  Luckily, popularly-supported, bi-partisan, federal legislation often oils the hinges of the flood gates that swing wide to opportunities for sustainable change on the ground where we live.

Presently, in Oregon, we have multiple pieces of legislation before our elected officials related to justice reform.  There are four bills directed at youth sentencing reform. There is a house bill focused on holding counties accountable for how they spend Justice Reinvestment dollars designated to decrease prison bed utilization while providing supervision and treatment in the community instead. The proposed House Joint Resolution 10 would amend the constitution to require unanimous jury verdicts to convict someone of a crime. Oregon is the only state left in the US holding on to this Jim Crow-era practice, which presently allows for a 10-2 jury conviction. Other bills addressing Opioid Addiction, sexual assault in our women’s prison, use of deadly force by the police, and “good conduct” sentencing reforms are also before our legislators this session.

 

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING! So, we find ourselves in this very exciting period of history, finally addressing Mass Incarceration through policy reforms at the federal, state, and county levels. But, what about all the lives who have been impacted by this punitive and ineffective system so far? What about the people who are still not getting treatment for addiction and trauma because we still spend far too much money on locking too many of these citizens up? What about the millions of our neighbors who struggle to obtain living wage employment because of their criminal records? What about all the children, who since the 1990’s, we have tried and convicted as adults and then sent to adult prison to be shaped by other prisoners and not the juvenile rehabilitative system?  What about the 44,000 women we separate from their children EVERY WEEK to hold in jails while they await trial—innocent until proven guilty?

Over 90% of everyone we incarcerate will be returning to our neighborhoods—600,000 people making the difficult transition from prison back into community each year.  Many of these people have been profoundly shaped by years of institutionalization and don’t have the skills to reintegrate successfully. Yes, legislative reform is the wind of change blowing before us, but, we also need to recognize these people need us to do the next right thing. We all need to accept our collective responsibility for creating this broken system while also working hard to fully integrate these justice-involved families back into our communal life. Our neighbors-in-transition need education, mental health and drug treatment, housing, and other tangible services. They also need prosocial community cheering them on as they do the very difficult work of becoming better neighbors—one day at time. An ancient Chinese proverb says that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. The road trip we’re on to achieve safer communities and more effective ways of dealing with crime begins with just one baby step. Let’s take it together.

THE POWER OF BEING KNOWN

By Jodi Hansen

That Awkward Moment When You Try To Explain Your Work…

I handed my business card over to the nice lady at the community meeting who had just asked me, “So, what do you do?” The card is sort of a mandatory tool of the networking trade, but honestly, it’s not all that helpful in answering this common question. So, I turned it over and showed her our mission printed on the back, 

 Remnant Initiatives exists to INSPIRE and COACH community minded individuals and groups into ACTION that improves our capacity to serve our Yamhill Valley neighbors transitioning from incarceration into mainstream society.

After reading the card, she gazed up with a puzzled look, and with a polite laugh asked, “What does that even mean?” I smiled, acknowledging the confusion as a common response and then explained.  

A Week in the Life

Building our community’s capacity to better receive and serve people releasing from prison is complex work.  It requires lots of networking with government agencies, law enforcement, faith communities, and nonprofits for a start. Then there are the folks transitioning back into mainstream society and all that we do to help build their capacity to be self-sufficient and law abiding citizens. The work is very relational and starts before they leave prison.

One of our key volunteers gets the process going by writing an introductory card to everyone who will be coming to our county inviting them to apply for Home for Good and Remnant Initiatives. Another volunteer processes the letters and applications that folks send in response to those cards. She writes them back with next steps and sets up phone calls through prison transition and release counselors, or chaplains to start a dialogue that will last for weeks or months as we collaboratively help them prepare for their release. 

Several of our volunteers are trained and approved to meet with people in prison before they release to our area.  The goal is to have a plan for housing, recovery support, transportation, employment, email/telephone access, clothing, healthcare, and food before they leave the institution. Other volunteers are trained to provide release-day pick-ups from one of the local prisons or from the Greyhound bus station for men coming here from one of the Eastern Oregon facilities. 

Release day is a busy day. The first stop is breakfast or coffee and then a visit to the Parole and Probation office followed by a trip to the county Department of Human Services for food stamps. Then a trip to Goodwill for some clothing, the local transit authority for bus passes, and the grocery store for food and basic hygiene items.

Throughout the first week, our volunteers help our newly-released-neighbors with transportation to local nonprofits, government agencies, employment resources, and wherever else they need to go. It usually takes a few weeks to a few months to get a driver’s license reinstated and transportation is a huge need when one is trying to get back on their feet. These neighbors usually leave prison with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a couple of boxes of personal items. The need for the most basic of necessities is great. Hope and confidence steadily build as each of these needs is met. 

Community Matters

After our new neighbor is settled in a bit, we’re all about community building and helping them to develop a new network of friends and acquaintances. Since the state requires offenders to return to the county where they broke the law, it’s very easy for people in transition to fall back in with old friends and old dysfunctional habits. So, we work hard to create opportunities for developing new and healthy relationships. Sunday breakfast church, Monday dinner church, a Tuesday night men’s group, frequent coffee dates, check-in phone calls and “how ya doing?” texts combined with all the time spent in the car while running errands, are some of the ways we build healthy relationships needed for successful reintegration.  It’s time consuming and it’s not easy work, but it is rewarding to see the transformative power of simple care and concern working out in someone’s life.  

A couple of months ago, while enjoying a release day breakfast at the Valley Commissary in McMinnville, our newest neighbor chuckled, “I prayed that this time would be different. I have been to prison before, but last time my mom picked me up and our first stop was the bar! Today, I am having breakfast in some organic, hippie café with two ladies I only just met this morning at the bus station. Maybe this time things really will be different.” 

So why do we do all this? 

People often ask us why we would invest in folks we don’t even know, especially ones who have broken the law. The answer for us is multi-faceted. Some of our volunteers do this work because their faith compels them. Many of us believe that everyone deserves a second chance and that change is always possible. Other volunteers have served time in prison themselves and know how much it would have meant to them to have just a little assistance when they released. Some of us have experienced the criminal justice system through family members’ experiences or our professions and just want to make a difference. But, whatever personally motivates us, we all agree that, ultimately, we want safer, healthier communities. 

 It just doesn’t make sense that our state would spend over $40,000 a year to lock someone up and then return them to our local neighborhoods with virtually no support and a high probability of failing.  It seems we are missing a critical element to rehabilitating our law-breaking citizens when we fail to fund the support they need to reintegrate back into society. 

We human beings, by nature, will always return to what we know when we are under stress. Change is hard for anyone (remember your last weight loss or exercise endeavor?), but change is virtually impossible when a person is deep in the despair that comes from not being able to meet the most basic of human needs. Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and belonging are keys to decreasing recidivism and to creating safer communities.  

Public Safety 101

A wise person once said that building a fence around your house does not make you safer. Knowing your neighbors is what makes you safer.  This truth sunk in one day while I was driving Andrew, one of our newly released neighbors, to the DMV to get an ID.

We were joking around and laughing about some of the crazy rationalizations that he had used in the past to justify his need for drugs, when he blurted out, “Thank you Jodi for doing this. For all the ways you and everybody are helping me get my act together.”  

It was light moment and so I replied, “Well, you know I only do this so you won’t steal my car for drug money!”  

As we laughed, he responded, “I would never steal YOUR car Jodi. But, if you were, like some random lady that I never met, I mean, I might steal her car. But, I would NEVER steal your car. I mean, I know you.” 

BAM! There it is. I would never steal your car because I know you. And that might just be the best answer to the simple question, “So, what do you do?”  

Where there is a will, there is a way!

By Jodi Hansen

POVERTY IS THE MOTHER OF CRIME     My mother is the queen of the common proverb. She was a school teacher, always capitalizing on what she called “teachable moments” and she loved using popular sayings to scold and mold her children. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; Don’t put your eggs in one basket; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” were a few of the litany of famous axioms we routinely heard in our home.

One of her favorites in encouraging us to get an education and a good job was “Poverty is the mother of crime.” She basically threatened us with becoming criminals if we failed to achieve middle-class, self-sufficiency. We were groomed from a very early age to work hard and get an education. We knew what kinds of citizens we were supposed to be when we grew up, and achieving social and financial stability was not a negotiable life goal.

But, folks who intersect with the criminal justice system are not always groomed in such a way.  Generational cycles of poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, and racial discrimination often collude to ensure that some of our citizens will grow up to be poor; and in many cases, that poverty will give birth to a criminal lifestyle. So, if poverty is the mother of crime, are employment and education the antidote?

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION IS WORTH A POUND OF CURE     According to a Poverty Action Lab article, summer youth employment programs for high risk youth do, in fact, reduce crime. Evidence of significant reductions in crime in the young people who participated were noted, not only when the participants were working, but also long after the eight-week program was completed. This is huge because a criminal conviction will greatly decrease a person’s chances of getting a good job. Even being convicted of a misdemeanor can hurt when 9 out of 10 employers are doing background checks of some kind. 

So, if providing youth with good education, job training, and employment opportunities keeps them from committing a crime, it seems that funding these kinds of programs would be worth the up-front costs to avoid the very expensive price tag of dealing with criminality later. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET…DISCOURAGED     But, we haven’t funded enough of these preventative programs for at-risk youth and we have become dependent on incarceration as a way to deal with most criminal behavior. So, we have a lot of folks coming out of prison and facing almost insurmountable roadblocks when it comes to achieving stability. Even as the US economy recovers and unemployment levels drop, for those who have spent time in our prisons and jails the unemployment rate stays steady at 27%. This is worse than the general unemployment rate during the Great Depression! 

In my years of working with justice-involved adults, I have witnessed many determined men and women working hard to turn their lives around after a criminal conviction. Sadly—and far too often—getting a GED or college education or learning new job skills while on the inside doesn’t deliver the hoped-for results once someone is released. It is heart-breaking to watch a single mother who has been the victim of domestic violence—often the causative factor in addiction-driven crimes—work her ass off to make ends meet at low wage jobs because no one will take the chance she could fill a better paying position with more responsibility. When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but too often they run into a door being slammed in their face.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND     But, those of us who were groomed from an early age to be law-abiding and successful citizens CAN make a difference. As the economy improves and the labor market gets tighter, businesses are beginning to see that hiring workers with criminal records is going to be important to future economic success.  Studies show the return on investment to taxpayers for helping the previously-incarcerated obtain good paying jobs is great for our communities.

But, first we have to acknowledge that justice-involved citizens are our neighbors and friends, and that we are all connected. We can no longer delude ourselves into believing that THEIR problems are not OUR problems if we want to solve THE PROBLEM. Reforming the way we arrest, charge, convict, sentence, and then hire our most expensive citizens is crucial to making our neighborhoods healthy, happy and wise. (Yeah, I really did just slip that one in there. ;-)

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION     It’s time to get serious about investing in the success of the previously-incarcerated if we want our neighborhoods to be safe and healthy. But, where do we start?  

Luckily, there are awesome resources that can help us forward. Lucius Couloute and Daniel Kopf in their report Out of Prison, Out of Work give us some concrete suggestions for removing the barriers that keep our neighbors-in-transition from achieving the crime-preventing economic stability we want for all our citizens:

1.     Issue a temporary basic income upon release: Short-term financial stability for formerly incarcerated people is a game changer. This would greatly decrease the temptation to resort to crime to meet basic needs, which will ultimately cost taxpayers less in the long run.

2.     Implement automatic record expungement procedures: Let’s take into account the type of offense and length of time since sentencing, and release some of these folks from being labeled for the rest of their lives.

3.     Make bond insurance and tax benefits for employers widely available: Incentivizing and protecting employers who hire people with criminal records will greatly expand opportunities for the previously-incarcerated to obtain a living wage job moving them off the roles of public assistance for food and housing.

4.     Ban blanketed employer discrimination: Making a mistake doesn’t mean you will always be a bad employee. But worse is that some employers use their right not to hire those with criminal records to discriminate against people of color and women. This has got to change.

5.     Enact occupational licensing reform: Not all crimes make someone a bad childcare worker or teacher or nurse. Having a criminal background should not automatically disqualify a person from occupations that require licenses.

A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS     The past five decades of war-on-drugs and tough-on-crime justice have left us with roughly 70 million adults with a criminal record. So, if one in five of us has a criminal record, shouldn’t all of us assume some responsibility for helping our neighbors reach their goals and contribute to our society in productive and fruitful ways? How long do we intend to make them pay for their mistakes? How long do we intend to perpetuate cycles of poverty and crime with our discouraging and discriminatory hiring practices?

I often wonder if I had been raised in a poor, drug effected, non-white or violent neighborhood—void of the wisdom of my mother’s persistent proverbs—would I have ended up in prison? Would you?

 

 

 

 

 

Headlines and Justice

by Taaryl Taylor

My Facebook feed is frantic with headlines of children being ripped away from their parents trying to cross the US border. Families being separated with parents having no communication with their children is provoking outrage in news outlets all over the Internet.  Just twenty minutes from my home, caravans of ICE detainees are being shipped to the Sheridan Federal Prison while activists crowd overpasses with signs sharing a message of love, acceptance, and furor over the fate of these families.

Whatever our views of present immigration policy, it seems that this practice is something that hasn’t happened in our country since the Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940’s.  Or has it?

Every year over 2.8 million women are jailed, 80% of whom are mothers, the majority of which are awaiting trial for crimes they are only accused of committing.  This means that 2.3 million mothers will be separated from their children this year alone without any proof of guilt.

“A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.”

 The typical bail amount for someone awaiting trial is $10,000. This sum is statistically much more difficult for women to secure than it is for men who have been arrested, thus a much greater percentage of incarcerated women than incarcerated men are sitting in jail—separated from their children. The irony is that mothers, most of them primary caregivers, pose the lowest flight risk.

So, what happens to children while their mothers await trial?  Oftentimes, child welfare services are called in to scramble for some sort of foster care placement, not knowing how long mom is going to be detained. But, even when these children are reunited with their mothers after release from jail, they may find they have lost their homes because mom lost her job and has a pile of bills that haven’t been paid during her incarceration.  The trauma experienced by the whole family during this disruption has long-lasting effect.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence and divorce, with a potentially lasting negative impact on a child’s well-being…The trauma of being separated from a parent, along with a lack of sympathy or support from others, can increase children’s mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and hamper educational achievement.”

I understand the outrage I see on Facebook and the sentiment of the activists who are crowding overpasses while families are being separated from their children in the most recent ICE crackdowns.  It is concerning that ICE presently detains 34,000 people nationwide—with an estimated 2,000 children being separated from their parents since the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  But, even more alarming is that these figures pale in comparison to the millions of women separated from their families in the US every year due to jailing and unfair bail practices!

And so, this begs the question: Where are the headlines for all of these mothers and children?

 

 

 

PUNISHMENT: a criminal justice allegory

by Jodi Hansen

Jessica and Anita were the closest of sisters. Only 18 months apart in age and one year apart in school gave many folks in their small town the impression they were twins. After attending college out of state, they returned home and married local men within two years of each other. Kids soon followed and between the two of them they bore seven children over a ten-year period.  But, the demands of life, work, and children never got in the way of their weekly coffee dates where they shared each other’s trials and triumphs over lattes and scones. 

Their lives seemed to be sailing along fairly smoothly until one day Anita came to the coffee house distraught and angry about an incident with her 17-year-old son, Marcus.

“You won’t believe what he pulled this past weekend!” Anita exclaimed as she joined her sister at their usual table.

“What? Who? What’s going on Ann?” Jessica inquired. 

“Marcus! He…well… he smoked pot at a party!”

Jessica was shocked. Marcus was a good kid.  He was a popular senior doing well in school and headed to a good university next year. Jessica knew all this because her oldest child, Janelle, ran in the same crowd as Marcus. But, as much as she was concerned about her nephew smoking pot, what Anita would share next was far more disturbing.

“Okay, well, now, tell me what happened?”  Jess tried to calm her sister as she dug a little deeper.

Anita answered, “I told you what happened. He smoked pot! That’s what happened!”

“But, how do you know?” Jess questioned.

“How do I know anything? Kids talk. That’s how. Someone at the party told Marc’s little brother Jeffrey and Jeff told us.”

“Did you ask Marcus about it? Maybe it’s a misunderstanding.”

“We told him what Jeff had told us. He tried to explain himself, but we cut that off right quick because there are no good reasons for using drugs!”

“Okay. So… what are you gonna do about it?”  Jess asked gently.

“Oh, we have already DONE about it!  We grounded his sorry ass for a month!” Anita loudly proclaimed drawing the attention of the other customers.

Somewhat embarrassed, Jess calmly continued, “But, did you ask him what happened? I mean, kids try drugs for different reasons.  Is he okay?  Janelle told me he took it really hard when his girlfriend broke up with him because they are headed to different colleges in the fall.  Why did he say he tried pot? Is he depressed, experimenting?  What’s going on in his head. He knows drugs aren’t okay. This is really out of character for him. Is he okay?”

“Does it matter? Does it matter what he was thinking or why he did it or what’s going on with him?" Anita answered.  "Not in our family it doesn’t! We have made it clear to all the kids that we have a zero-tolerance policy in our family when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  His reasons don’t matter. But, he will have plenty of time to think about whatever it is that is bothering him while he is stuck in his room for the next thirty days.”

“Thirty days!? That seems a pretty harsh punishment without even asking what happened Ann. You didn’t even give him a chance to defend himself against someone else’s version of the story. Keeping a kid in his room all evening and all weekends for a month just seems harsh.”

“Oh, he is getting more than weekends and evenings. He is grounded 24-hours-a-day.”

“Wait. You can’t keep him in his room 24-hours-a-day. He has to go to school!”

“Oh, no he doesn’t.  He is staying locked in his room 24/7 for 30 days. Period.”

“But, he will fail school if he can’t go and what about his Saturday job with the landscaping company? And soccer? He has a lot of people depending on him.” Jess pleaded with her sister. 

“He should have thought about all of that before he put that doobie in his mouth!” Anita would not back down.

“Ann! This doesn’t make any sense!”  Now Jess was getting heated. “He has a good scholarship waiting for him. A bright future. If he fails classes now, he will lose all of it! The landscape guys need him on Saturdays to work. They are really busy this time of year. His soccer team needs him. And, who is going to make sure he stays in his room all day anyway?  You and David work. The kids are all in school. You can’t monitor him 24/7 for 30 days!”

“Sure, I can. We hired a security guard.”  Jess about fell off her chair as Anita continued. “The guy comes at 7:30 AM and stays till 5:30 PM when David and I get home. This way we can be sure he stays put. The guard will even take food into him during the day. I make the lunch before I leave and the guard takes it in at lunch time. The guy will even watch him pee and take a shower—the only reasons he is allowed out of his room.  And, it’s only costing us $12 an hour. I found him on craigslist.”

Stunned, Jess stared at her sister in disbelief. Slowly, she formed her next thought and asked, “How in the world are you going to afford to pay a full-time security guard to keep Marcus in his room for 30 days?  You guys don’t have that kind of money.”

“No, we don’t.  But, we need to make sure he knows what he has done is serious. So, we made adjustments by stopping the others kids’ music lessons and sports and theater stuff for the month. The guard is willing to monitor the others after school too. I mean, since they have to give up their usual after-school activities. They just come home and stay there. The kids aren’t happy, but I told them we all need to make sacrifices to ensure Marcus straightens up and never does this again. We can’t have a drug user in our house. It makes everyone unsafe. This is as much for their good as it is for his.”

Jess shook her head slowly, “I am sorry Anita. This is really confusing. You are taking away from three kids who have done nothing wrong to teach a lesson to one kid—a lesson that will cost him his college scholarship, a good job and who knows what else?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to get him some counseling or at least get to the bottom of why he tried drugs and maybe deal with the root cause of this?”

Anita stared back at her sister and answered flatly, “Jess. That’s really not my problem. Marcus knew the rules. Marcus chose to break the rules and now Marcus will pay. Do the crime. Do the time.

Jess looked up from her cooling latte to meet her sister’s callous stare as she carefully replied. “Ann, it seems more accurate to say that Marcus broke the rules and now everyone is going to pay.”

 

Common Sense

by Jodi Hansen

WHY WE FAIL     Common sense and common business practice tell us that every once in a while, businesses, nonprofits, churches, community groups, and pretty much every organization needs to step back and ask some hard questions about their operations. Questions like, “Is this consistent with our mission?” and “Is this sustainable?” are key to evaluating organizational health.

Those who fail to take a hard look at whether their organization is living into its intended mission and doing it in a cost-effective way, will fail. Those who fail to make the necessary changes in operations and infrastructure to ensure they are living into their intended mission in a sustainable way, will fail.

I am presently watching this kind of drama unfold as the Newberg School District attempts to address a $4 million budget shortfall. The leadership failed to answer these kinds of basic questions about mission and sustainability in the past, and now the school board is scrambling to save the district by cutting staff and school days to get back on track.

What about our criminal justice system? 

Who steps back and asks the hard questions about organizational health in this system?             

Is it living into the mission to protect public safety while rehabilitating those who threaten it?   

Is the way our criminal justice system operates cost-effective and sustainable?

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC     Books by insiders such as Kamala Harris, Jens Soering, James Kilgore and Adam Benforado describe how our very expensive system is failing to protect our communities from violent criminals and failing to rehabilitate those who commit trauma and addiction driven crimes by addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.

Samantha Bee and John Legend are among a growing group of celebrities using their platforms to alert the public to the inordinate power held by prosecutors and elected DA’s in administering justice.  They stir us to ask the question, How can we say that our citizens are innocent until proven guilty when too much power with too little oversight lies in the hands of an elected few whose focus is to WIN the prized guilty conviction?”

Others like Jay-Z have produced compelling YouTube videos about how the War on Drugs has failed, while law professor Michelle Alexander and pastor Dominique Gilliard expose the racism deeply imbedded in our system.

So, no, our system is not living into its mission and it seems everyone from celebrities to journalists to law professors to lawyers, to nonprofit leaders to pastors, and even those who have intersected with the criminal justice system themselves, are asking the important questions.

A BOAT LOAD OF CASH!     But, we also need to ask if our present way of operating is cost-effective and sustainable. The criminal justice system is complex and a cost/benefit analysis is much more difficult to evaluate in a web of federal, state, and local agencies—all charged with the same mission—than it is in a better contained organization like a business. But, it is worth asking the question, “How much does this really cost?”

The Prison Policy Initiative, has done the hard work of pulling together all the different ways we spend money on criminal justice in our communities.  They report that our criminal justice system costs the government and families of justice-involved people $182 billion each year! That’s a lot of money being spent on a system that is failing to deliver on its mission.

But, whenever I see anything described in billions of dollars I get lost in the bigness. What does that big number mean and how much does that big number really impact my life?  Sometimes, I need to break the big issues down into smaller, more manageable, concepts.  So, I decided to work with numbers I do understand.

WORKING WITH WHAT I DO KNOW     As a Home for Good in Oregon community chaplain and reentry mentor, I know that there are 85 men and women releasing to Yamhill County from our state prisons in 2018.  I also know that we spend approximately $47,000 per person per year to incarcerate these people.  That means that keeping the 85 folks in prison for just the last year of their sentence cost the state of Oregon around $3,995,000.

This number doesn’t consider all the services they will need when they release like PO supervision, food stamps, mental health, addictions services, and housing assistance. This number doesn’t factor in how many years they served and what the total cost was to incarcerate each of these neighbors to be. It’s just a snapshot. But, it got me thinking: if all 85 of these folks had just one year of time taken off their sentence, it would have saved the state almost exactly what Newberg Public Schools is trying to cut from its budget.

COMMON SENSE     So, I wonder, if we shortened sentences just a bit, could we pay teachers better and have smaller class sizes?  If the government spent less on perpetuating a failing criminal justice system, would we have fewer drop-outs and maybe less addiction-driven crime in the future? What would the impact be of diverting some cash out of that $182 billion a year that it costs to keep this failing system alive to fund schools? Heck, the US Department of Education only got $68 billion this year.    

Living into Mission? NO

Sustainable? NO

Time to Change? YES

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor

By Jodi Hansen

Won’t You be My Neighbor?   Some of us of a certain age and stage remember vividly the theme song of the beloved PBS children’s program Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On beautiful spring days like today, while looking out my kitchen window at budding trees and the gorgeous blue sky, I like to break into this cheesy song for a laugh.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood; a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

But, was Mr. Rogers wrong?  In our modern urban and suburban contexts, we don’t usually invite others to be our neighbors. We might buy a house in a nice neighborhood where we have heard the schools are good or choose our neighborhood because it’s where we can afford to live. Very few of us plant our roots somewhere based on who we want to be our neighbors. We have our social media friends and our in-the-flesh friends, but most of us don’t really know our neighbors. In fact, most of us are completely unaware that our criminal justice system is choosing some of our neighbors for us.

You return to where you fell.  One thing most law-abiding folks do not know is that when someone commits a crime, they must return to the county where the crime was committed after they have served their jail or prison sentence.  It seems counterintuitive to send someone back into the very neighborhood where they got into trouble when changing their surroundings would be so much more effective in helping them to get a fresh start.  Sadly, counties don’t want to pay their own PO’s to supervise people who committed crimes in other locales, so the folks we send away to prison actually come right back into our communities.

In fact, 95% of people whom we send to prison will one day be released back into community. As much as “tough on crime” proponents want to believe that we can lock them up and throw away the proverbial key, the reality is that “those people” are eventually going be our neighbors.  Thus, we must ask ourselves, how can we help them to be good neighbors?

Old habits die hard when you are overwhelmed.  Good prison programing can be very effective for helping people address the trauma, addiction, and the wrong thinking that led them to commit crimes. But, programs are sorely underfunded and unavailable to most. Unfortunately, time spent in prison is typically spent doing menial jobs that keep the place running. Getting a college education, engaging in drug treatment, or obtaining good quality job training for most of America’s 2.3 million incarcerated people is a myth.

Even those who do have a fruitful experience while incarcerated will be confronted with incredible barriers to success upon release.  Lack of job opportunities and housing options for those who have criminal records can keep the most motivated people from achieving their post-prison goals.  Lack of community-based mental health and addictions treatment compounds their barriers to success upon return to our communities.

It’s an uphill battle and many become so discouraged that they eventually give up trying to become law-abiding and contributing citizens as they resort to survival skills they learned by returning to the criminal lifestyle they were sincerely hoping to leave behind.

Who? Me?   As productive citizens, we do have the ability to change the statistics for revolving door recidivism when we recognize that these “ex-cons” are our neighbors.  At Remnant Initiatives, we like to use the term, “neighbors-in-transition.”

Our neighbors-in-transition need job opportunities and living wages and housing options just like the rest of us. They need friendships with pro-social and law-abiding citizens who can help them learn new ways of being. They desperately need communities that want them to be successful–communities that understand that public safety and neighborhood health are directly influenced by their success.

We need more heroes.   Mr. Rogers once said. “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say. ‘It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” 

The previously incarcerated are going to come back to our neighborhoods. We have no choice in that matter. We can be heroes by helping them to be successful when they do. Mr. Rogers would say that makes us good neighbors.

Connecting the Dots

By Jodi Hansen

It’s Wednesday Night and I’m in Prison 

I spend my Wednesday evenings at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. This is the only women’s prison in the state of Oregon and on any given day houses approximately 1,300 women. And no, I am not there doing my time in weekly installments. I have been serving as a religious services volunteer for over eight years.  In the time I have been leading bible studies and worship services at CCCF I have met many women who have shared their stories of crime, imprisonment and a desire to do better. Sometimes the stories sound far-fetched, but unless a woman invites me to look her up on the Oregon Offender Search website, or to do a Google search for news stories about her crimes, I refrain from doing any research and simply take her at her word. 

But, this was unbelievable!

A few years ago, I met a woman (let’s call her Emma) who told me the nature of her crime and the nature of her sentence.  I was shocked! Emma had committed identity theft. She had seven victims of whom she had, in total, defrauded less than $50,000.  But, during the charging phase of her adjudication, the DA split each crime into three separate crimes: one charge for the ID she used, one charge for the credit cards, and one for the counterfeit checks—twenty-one counts of ID theft in all.  The DA then stacked the charges, which would be served consecutively, one after another. Because measure 57 (mandatory minimum sentencing legislation passed by Oregon voters years ago) mandated harsh penalties for these kinds of crimes, she would be staying at Coffee Creek for a long while. 

According to the offender search I made (at her insistence that I do one), she is serving 14 years, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $47,000 a year. A quick bit of math and I learned that the state is spending over $600,000 to keep someone locked up for a crime that was not violent and cost the victims less than $10,000 each. Not the best return on investment if you ask me.

Wait, there’s more!  

Emma often laments that she will not receive any drug treatment while she serves this long sentence because her charges were not directly drug related, even though the impulse that drove her to commit these crimes was addiction to meth and heroin. She desperately wants a better life moving forward and knows that drug treatment will be key to her achieving her goals when she is released in 2027.

And now that she is sober and thinking clearly, she says she wants to pay back the money she stole from the victims. She had a good paying job in construction before drugs sent her life into a spiral that led her to commit ID theft. She often exclaims, “Please send me to treatment and put me back to work! Put an ankle bracelet on me and monitor my every move while I work to pay back my debt to society and to my victims!”

Instead she was given a long, unproductive, and expensive sentence with court ordered restitution of only $356.75.  

Meanwhile, back in Yamhill County… 

In February, I attended the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting where the presiding judge of our county asked us to be aware that he may be looking at making cuts. A request for additional state funding had been made, but did not look good.

A few weeks ago, my husband, who is an attorney in our area, shared that the funds did not come through. The state of Oregon simply doesn’t have the money to continue operating our judicial departments at full capacity. The adult drug courts were consolidated from two to one, which effectively required the staff to do more with less, while vacant positions will remain unfilled. A friend of mine was demoted—complete with pay cut—but is close to retirement, so needs to stay. 

The irony was not lost on me as I connected the dots and exclaimed to my husband (in my out-loud voice with hands flailing in the air), “The state can afford to keep thousands of nonviolent drug offenders locked up to the tune of fifty thousand a year EACH, but can’t afford to keep the drug courts operating? Really!?!?”

I wonder what else the state can’t afford to fund because people like Emma cost so much to incarcerate…

Grass Roots Advocacy in Action

by Jodi Hansen

 

PARTY TIME IN NEWBERG

Our home is no stranger to parties. It’s not uncommon for us to pack a crowd into our 1979, ranch-style abode to eat, drink, and share around a topic. A good time is usually had by all, and sometimes we even learn something!

 

Most recently, we hosted an incredibly diverse group of lawyers, nonprofit leaders, local pastors, educators, business people, and public servants to discuss criminal justice reform in our context.  Our guest of honor was the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit who “advocates for policies that make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and just for people convicted of crime, survivors of crime, and the families of both.”  Andy from PSJ helped the assembled group to understand the need for electing reformed-minded district attorneys and legislators if we ever hope to change a broken system that costs too much and delivers too little.

 

WHY DO I CARE?

The average citizen may not know that the most powerful person in the criminal justice process is the local District Attorney.  The DA is the chief elected law enforcement officer in the county. He oversees a team of Deputy DA’s who evaluate police reports to decide which crimes will be charged, what evidence needs to be shared (or not) with the defense, and whether to offer or accept a plea bargain.  

 

Some DA’s are obsessed with winning and this can really cloud their judgment when it comes to considering the root causes of why a defendant committed a crime. Does this person need drug treatment or mental health care? Is incarceration the best place for this person to be rehabilitated from their rebellious ways? For many DA’s, it doesn’t matter. Getting the prized conviction and chalking up another win for the “law and order” team is how the score is kept in too many counties around our state.

 

IN THE CASE OF PUBLIC SAFETY, WINNING IS NOT EVERYTHING.

Smart on Crime advocates tell us there are many ways for us to reform our justice system to be more cost effective and just plain more effective in helping our communities to address the social issues associated with public safety and community well-being.

 

But, when it comes to reform, the Oregon District Attorneys Association is one of the loudest voices against proposed change.  Our state representatives are often very supportive of bills that seek to move us toward a system that better serves victims and those who commit crimes, but then the DA’s show up, scare our legislators with ill-informed stories of how the sky will fall if reform legislation passes, and the process gets unnecessarily bogged down.

 

And, that is why we gathered in our 1979, ranch-style abode. Criminal justice reform will happen at the local level and there is nothing more local level than a house full of concerned citizens learning that we need reform-minded DA’s to move forward.   

 

E PLURIBUS UNUM

But what stood out to me at the end of the evening was the incredible unity of opinion among those who attended.  Political and religious conservatives were breaking bread and learning alongside mainline church pastors and democratic party leaders—not exactly a typical Tuesday night in 2018 America!

 

One of my most religiously and politically conservative friends said it this way, “I am pretty skeptical when I hear ‘bi-partisan issue’, but this is a no brainer. Who wouldn’t want to reform this system?” 

 

Yes, who wouldn’t want reform when the system is so expensive and does so little to ensure public safety and community flourishing? Well, a lot of DA’s. That’s who.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Remnant Initiatives was born out of identifying three critical local problems. Yes, the problems are national in nature, but we know we can only address what is in our control and so we have focused on the local as the dream for this organization.

FIRST, after years of working with women in prison and women transitioning back to life on the outside, we realized that our community was not equipped to serve individuals and families that have been involved with the criminal justice system. There are many organizations who do a good job serving those families and individuals with basic and emergency needs, but once a person is ready to move into sustainable housing, employment and working to build a new, healthy, sustainable way of life,  we were falling flat in our local context.