Transformation: Is There Not a Cause?
By Rev. Dr. R. B. Holmes Jr.
President and CEO/ Live Communications, Inc.
When President Barack Obama addressed the NAACP on July 14th, he laid out reasons why we, as a nation, need to reform our criminal justice system. As the first sitting president to visit a federal prison (El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma), the President drew attention to the fact that 25 percent of the world’s prisoners are in the U.S., even though America is home to only 5 percent of the world’s population. Those numbers are even more startling when, according to the President, “About one in every 35 African American men and one in every 88 Latino men is serving time right now. Among white men, that number is one in 214.”
The President’s tone set the stage for a discussion of not only the $80 billion dollars taxpayers spend per year to keep 2.2 million people incarcerated, but also the one million fathers that are behind bars – around one in nine African American kids has a parent in prison. He closed his comments by making the following statement, “What is that doing to our communities? What’s that doing to those children? Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could be workers and taxpayers, could be more actively involved in their children’s lives, could be role models, could be community leaders, and right now they’re locked up for a non-violent offense.”
Presidential candidates have stated their intentions to support reform of the criminal justice system. Our former Governor Jeb Bush spoke to the National Urban League this past weekend and stated that as Governor, he “took the view – as he would as president – that real justice in America has got to include restorative justice. I opened the first faith-based prison in the United States and signed an executive order to promote the hiring of ex-offenders. In this country, we shouldn’t be writing people off, denying them a second chance at a life of meaning. Many ask only for a chance to start again, to get back in the game and do it right – and as a country, we should say yes whenever we can.”
All over the country, leaders in both parties – on the national and state levels – are beginning to recognize the importance of assisting this population of citizens transition back into their communities by offering job training, educational opportunities, mental health and substance abuse counseling, mentorship, and alternative housing. As stated, President Obama has visited a federal prison, Pope Francis has indicated his intentions to visit a prison when he comes to this country, and presidential candidates have recognized the need to invest in restoring lives.
We are moving in the right direction! When our prison transformation efforts were vetoed by Governor Scott in June, we redoubled our efforts to move forward with the Bethel Ready4Work Prison Transformation Program. Since then, we have established a meaningful dialogue with the Gadsden Reentry Center in Havana to offer services to offenders who have less than three years remaining in their sentences. Our organization will provide worship services in the institution twice a month and develop mentoring relationships before the offender is released so there will be a support system in place when they transition back into the community. We will offer an intensive job training program to offenders when released and partner them with employers in our community. We will provide mental health and drug counseling treatment after they are released, assist with educational opportunities, and identify alternative housing, when needed.
I am happy to also report that on August 11, 2015, the dynamic membership of the Board of Directors of the Bethel Empowerment Foundation, Inc., will conduct its Organizational Meeting and officially begin to formalize the vision of building a faith-based effort for real prison reform. The Bethel Ready4Work Prison Transformation Program is taking shape and preparing to meet the needs of these “returning citizens” transitioning into our community.