Re-Entry: Past, Present and Future
We got up early on Thursday, March 31st, to take in a 7:30am breakfast gathering at the City Club for a program titled "Re-Entry: Past, Present and Future " in which Ms. Rachel Dissell, Reporter for the "Plain Dealer," moderated a panel consisting of Mr. Charles R. See, Executive Director of the Community Re-Entry Program of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry; Mr. Brandon Chrostowski, Chief Executive Officer of Edwins Leadership andRestaurant Institute along with two former offenders who seem to have succeeded admirably in getting their lives together who were Mr. Ernie Drain, a graduate of Edwins; and Mr. Damian Calvert who was involved in the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry's Friend-to-Friend program and is now a research assistant at CWRU's Social Justice Institute.
When we arrived, we walked into the City Club with the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah B. Pryce who works on re-entry issues with the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and in the lobby of the City Club we met Mr. Josh Prest and Ms. Caryn Candisky, who both work for U.S. Senator Rob Portman. We were pleasantly surprised when they told us that U.S. Senator Portman, who has been a consistent support of re-entry programs and recently introduced legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, would be introducing this City Club program.
Among the other people that we talked to on this day was Mr. Adam Artman from Ohio Guidestones who told us that he went to high school with Ms. Theresa Lee, the daughter of Ms. Margaret W. Wong. He even attended her wedding and when he gets married on Saturday, April 2nd, Ms. Lee will be there.
Before he started his introduction, U.S. Senator Portman rang the City Club gong and said that this was something he always wanted to do. Then he set the tone for the rest of the program when he cited statistics which revealed the overwhelming majority of incarcerated felons would be released some day and probably half of them would some day return to prison. U.S. Senator Portman contended that it has been proven that re-entry programs can make a significant impact on recidivism and upheld the work that was done at Edwins; he recalled that Edwins once served a meal to 50 U.S. Senators and Mr. Chrostowski got to talk to them about how the Edwins program worked and the participants ended up being very impressed by both the food and the program.
During the discussion, it was emphasized that hard work and the realization of one's potential are important factors in rehabilitation. Mr. Drain said that self-actualization or being the best that one is imperative and that redemption can be a powerful motivator in terms of retaining positive change. Mr. Calvert talked about how he took advantage of programs in prison that were of help to him after he was released. He was sorry that the Clinton administration terminated the program that would have enabled him to obtain an advanced degree while he was an inmate; this would have helped him after he was released.
Along these lines, it was said that it would be a good thing if our society could adjust its attitude about ex-offenders and view them as potential acquaintances or neighbors. Of course all of us want to protect our families and no one wants to be a crime victim but if we knew that someone scheduled to be released from incarceration was moving to our vicinity, we would certainly want to them to have the tools and the support to make a new start and become self-sufficient for both their sakes and for ours.
It was pointed out that Edwins doesn't "push" or "pull" its participants to do anything. Instead, it serves to "block and tackle" the barriers that are holding them back. A fair amount of time was devoted to reviewing the "ban the box" concept in which there is no question on the initial employment applicant for a city, county of state job that asks "are you a former felon?" because this causes too many people to be disqualified before they have a chance to state their own case. Certainly, though, a person's criminal record will come out in later interviews.
What's more, Mr. Chrostowski believed that those who have turned their lives should take pride in this and not try to hide the fact that they are ex-offenders because it took a lot of dedication and courage for them to be where they are today.
As Mr. Calvert pointed out, history is full of who "did time" and went on to make significant contributions. "I'm an authority on what not to do," he said, "who better to make a positive impact?"
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.