We Are Coming Out of the Shadows, We Are Asking For Your Help
For far too long, persons that have felony convictions have been too afraid or too ashamed to make themselves known and compel society to treat them with the dignity and fairness that is due to all citizens. The time has come for that to end. Men and women that have made documented bad decisions, but who have made the decision to redirect the courses of their lives should have a path that leads to a successful life. The current state of our nation does not allow for that. Rules, regulations, stipulations and revocation of rights has made a felony conviction a life sentence. I pray that we do not allow this opportunity to improve upon on justice system to pass us by. Below is an open letter that I read to the Shelby County board of commissioners in Memphis, TN.
January 12, 2015
To Whom it May Concern:
I’m standing on behalf of those that have made documented bad decisions, but who have made the conscience decision to redirect their energies and to become positive, productive citizens that add to the common good. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
For far too long, we have been seen as a population that is undeserving of the opportunity to contribute to society in a positive manner. Many feel that we don’t have the capacity to transform our behavior and add value to the community. Some would be comfortable with the status quo, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. Others think that simply locking people up will, somehow, make the community safer and rid it of its scum. The problem is those stances have been proven ineffective and dramatically too expensive. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
Let’s take a glimpse at the current state of affairs. As a resident of Memphis, TN, located in Shelby County, I will only speak to that which I have firsthand knowledge. An inmate is granted the privilege of serving on a “work line” (a trustee position that allows an inmate the ability to work outside of the confinements of the prison walls). He is allowed to perform tasks such as electrician assistant, or painter, or lawn maintenance crew member. Some are even allowed to operate heavy equipment (i.e. tractors). The work experience is priceless. The tragedy is that those same individuals are not afforded true opportunities to continue that work for Shelby County as free men. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
Work release programs offer an inmate the ability to develop skills and work ethic. Although the inmate is still incarcerated, he is allowed to leave the prison to go to work at a local business. The business has a relationship with the prison and has agreed to accept candidates as employees. This lucky man is now able to support his family and pay for a portion of his cost of incarceration. He is developing a sense of worth for himself. He is beginning to see himself as a new man and the world is filled with opportunities. But, upon his release, he is terminated. He is now being penalized for completing his sentence. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
Shelby County, in its efforts to assist our population, created an Office of Reentry. This is a quote taken from the website of the Office of Reentry: “The Office of Re-entry serves as a “one-stop” interactive resource center for ex-offenders to navigate in a healthy environment. The Division of Corrections program addresses needs of the incarcerated citizen as they prepare for release; The City of Memphis Second Chance Program has been restructured and it will continue to focus on reducing recidivism through training, job readiness, and job development in an effort to create opportunities for employment. The Tennessee Board of Probations and Parole provides the supervision required by the State of Tennessee.” I sincerely applaud this effort, but it falls short in that the office offers no direct services and no employment opportunities. While it is true, this population has its challenges, we are not unable to navigate society. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
I am a proud American. I am a citizen of this great nation. The time has come that the rights and privileges provided in the founding documents of our great nation are enjoyed by ALL of its citizens. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the words of my hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “All we say to America, is be true to what you said on paper”. Over time, the paper has changed because of the will of the people with regard for the current state of affairs. The beauty of our system is that this ability still exists. I pray that we don’t allow this opportunity to improve on our justice system to pass us by. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
I am blessed to be the founder and Executive Director of LifeLine to Success. LifeLine to Success is an ex-offender reentry program that equips men and women that have felony convictions with the tools necessary to successfully reenter society by becoming positive, productive citizens. Over the past 5 years, we have seen many lives transformed. Our organization is one of the leaders in the blight efforts in our city. We have been awarded contracts with the City of Memphis, The Achievement School District, Frayser Community Schools and the Delta Fair. We are, also, very civic minded and consider volunteering a pillar of our organization. To illustrate that point, LifeLine to Success was named Large Group Volunteer of the Year by Volunteer Mid-South in 2012, Volunteer Community Group by the Mid-South Food Bank in 2013 and received the Community Service by the Frayser Exchange Club in 2013. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
Finally, LifeLine to Success provides no competition to other agencies that service our population. Our target audience includes individuals that don’t necessarily qualify for other programs. The majority of our members do not possess a high school diploma. Many of them have undiagnosed mental conditions. They have been victims of chronic abuse and trauma. They don’t read on the level necessary to qualify for other programs. They have multiple offenses, some of which are violent. Yet, they want to live a life that is not filled with crime. We make crime unattractive and remove it as an option. Our members get it! They deserve a chance. We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
As a convicted felon, I understand the plight of our population. The frustrations, hurts, pains, feelings of worthlessness- those are real to me! The knowledge that no matter how hard I work, I will always be labeled and looked at with doubt and suspicion. The weight of that realization is sometimes unbearable. Yet, I press on. My biography is permanently marked. But my future has yet to be written. That provides me with hope. Change like this comes when men and women of conscience are made aware of injustice and they act. We cannot do this alone. I’ll close with another quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We are coming out of the shadows, and we are asking for your help.
Pastor DeAndre D. Brown