A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

A Closer Look at the Families of Mass Incarceration: Part 1

In the first installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Check back soon for Part 2 of this compelling story.

Thanks to ongoing work of justice advocates across the United States, we are increasingly aware of the devastating effects of our prison system on the millions of individuals who have been incarcerated.

In the land of freedom and liberty, we incarcerate more of our citizens per capita than any other country in the world. There has been a 500% increase in our prison population over the last 30 years, and more than one out of every 100 adults in the country is currently behind bars.

Angela Davis notes that “prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings.” Through a broken system of predatory profiling, mandatory sentencing, and profit mongering, millions of individuals are being “disappeared” from their communities, and from their families.

So what is it like to be on the outside while someone you love is on the inside?

PJ, Molly, Cheryl, and Kim share their stories.

Broken Relationships

“I grew up with siblings who were always in and out of jail,” PJ remembers. “Our family was constantly interrupted. I’ve never been in prison, but I have five siblings and they have all been in prison. It’s like they were caught in a cycle and they couldn’t get out. They weren’t out for even a year sometimes.”

The first time her older brother went to jail, he was nine.

PJ notes that a system that doesn’t repair what’s broken, just perpetuates the brokenness. “The prison system doesn’t fix anything, it just stalls it,” she notes. “My godbrother went in when his daughter was a baby, and came out when she was 18. So where is that whole relationship? Not only is it him who’s being institutionalized, but there’s her whose growing up without a father.”

By her own admission, Molly went to jail quite a bit when she was younger. “I was addicted and it really affected my kids, because I was not there,” she recalls. When she was inside, Molly’s mother took care of her children. She understands that when you’re locked up, “other people are having to hold up your end.” Each time she had to explain to her mother that she was once again locked up she knew it affected her mother emotionally.

Molly is usually the one that manages the household, which meant when she wasn’t around, others were left to handle things on their own. “It can make people feel abandoned, left behind, feeling somewhat at a lost as a result of my being locked up.”

“On the other hand,” Molly recalls, “my daughter’s father used to go in and out of jail a lot, and I actually felt relieved. He was abusive. When he was locked up I was happy because that meant he was out of my hair for a bit.”

Cheryl has two loved one’s currently in the system, one already sentenced, the other waiting to go through the process. “It’s almost like going through a loss, almost like a death,” she notes. “There’s a grieving process. There is a long adjustment.”

Kim’s youngest son has been locked away for awhile. She shares that “it’s hard even to gather as a family. He was the one who was always joking and laughing.” He has lost his support system, and they have lost him.

“He and his younger sister were real close. It’s been hard for her, not having him around her. We have a grandson that was his little buddy, and now he’s not around. They were babies when he left. Now they’re getting ready to graduate high school and go off to college”

Visits

PJ recalls going to visit her siblings in jail as a kid. “I hated how dingy and dark it was,” she says. “I hated talking to them through the glass on the phone. I remember having to be picked up to see them through the window.”

She now has a nephew that’s been inside for three years, even though he only just got sentenced a year ago. She is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to talk to him for a while.

Because he was arrested in another state, PJ and her nephew are nearly 2,000 miles apart from one another. “The prison does have video visits that you can buy,” she says. “But, you have to pay with a credit card, then you have to download software, then at the time assigned you have to log on with that software.”

PJ says the system works as long as you have access to things like credit cards, computers, reliable internet, and a webcam. But, it’s still a better situation than it used to be.

“When he first got there we had to write to him on a post card,” she recalls. “We couldn’t even write a letter. That was their rule. You had to communicate on a post card.”

Kim also struggled to overcome long distances to stay connected with her son during his incarceration. When she was, in fact, able to visit, it could be difficult. “He was very angry in the beginning, so visits were hard,” Kim recalls. “He would get mad and tell us not to visit. It took a long time for him to calm down and accept.”

However, for PJ it’s a no-win situation: “They cut you off and make you feel abandoned on both sides. The people on the outside feel abandoned, and the person doing time feels abandoned. Then you’re supposed to reunify that relationship afterward. But its already been traumatized.”

Visit our site next week for Part 2 of this story.

Appeals court dismisses suit over police shooting video

Appeals court dismisses suit over police shooting video

February 13, 2017 11:14 AM Appeals court dismisses suit over police shooting video The Associated Press Order Reprint of this Story SAN FRANCISCO
A Los Angeles suburb’s claim that a judge prematurely released video of police shooting an unarmed man was dismissed by a federal appeals court Monday. The video by police in the city of Gardena was widely published after its release in 2015.

Read the source article at theolympian.com

Recap: 2017 Gospel Grammy Winners

Recap: 2017 Gospel Grammy Winners

It was all about great music and “Giving honor to God” during the biggest night in music (Shout out to Chance the Rapper for both an amazing performance and making Grammy history, including his Best New Artist win.). And, in case you missed it, we wanted to give you a quick recap on some of the biggest wins in gospel music during the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.

Best Gospel Album

“Losing My Religion” – WINNER

Kirk Franklin

 

“Listen”

Tim Bowman Jr.

 

“Fill This House”

Shirley Caesar

 

“A Worshipper’s Heart (LIVE)”

Todd Dulaney

 

“Demonstrate (LIVE)”

William Murphy

 

 

Best Gospel Performance/Song

“God Provides” – WINNER

Tamela Mann

 

“It’s Alright, It’s OK”

Shirley Caesar feat. Anthony Hamilton

 

“You’re Bigger (Live)”

Jekalyn Carr

 

“Made a Way (Live)”

Travis Greene

 

“Better”

Hezekiah Walker

 

Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song

“Thy Will” – WINNER

Hillary Scott & The Scott Family

 

“Trust in You”

Lauren Daigle

 

“Priceless”

For King & Country

 

“King of the World”

Natalie Grant

 

“Chain Breaker”

Zach Williams

 

Best Contemporary Christian Music Album

“Love Remains”- WINNER

Hillary Scott

 

“Poets & Saints”

All Sons & Daughters

 

“American Prodigal”

Crowder

 

“Be One”

Natalie Grant

 

“Youth Revival (Live)”

Hillsong Youth & Free

 

Best Roots Gospel Album

“Hymns” – WINNER

Joey+Rory

 

“Better Together”

Gaither Vocal Band

 

“Nature’s Symphony In 432”

The Isaacs

 

“Hymns And Songs of Inspiration”

Gordon Mote

 

“God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

(Various Artists)

 

 

 

 

From Church to Politics: Jewell Jones Makes History

From Church to Politics: Jewell Jones Makes History

When spring semester begins at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Jewell Jones will be like most college seniors, finishing up credits and looking forward to graduation, with one exception: Jones recently made history when he became the youngest state representative ever elected in the state of Michigan.

While serving in your state legislature isn’t a common extracurricular activity for most undergraduates, Jones is not new to politics. He first made national headlines after becoming the youngest person elected to the city council in Inkster, MI. Now, at only 21 years old, the political science and business double major is making history again before crossing the stage.

Jones ran for the seat after the passing of Rep. Julie Plawecki, D-11, whom Jones knew personally and describes as “a very passionate and community-driven individual; someone, simply, with a warm heart.”

Jones first became engaged in community organizing and politics at a young age by attending events with his family and church. “I’ve been extremely active in my church, traveling all over the nation to visit our different Temples, and for as long as I can remember, being about service to the people,” Jones says. “[I went from] a drummer, to an usher, a nurse to a Junior Deacon, to now, a Senior Deacon. I’ve learned to offer a helping hand where it was needed, and ensure my brothers and sisters are taken care of!”

Juggling a budding political career with schoolwork can be hard, but Jones says he takes it all in stride, knowing he can’t be everywhere and focusing instead on where he can be. Outside of his political responsibilities, he’s also deeply involved in his school’s Black Student Union and Army ROTC. Despite the pressures, Jones says most have been supportive of his work, and one of his biggest keys to success is having a strong support system. Jones believes that “having someone in your corner” makes a world of difference.

“A robust and formidable support system allows one to navigate through life, much more rapidly,” he says, “and on a greater level as the team continues to grow.”

Known as the “Neighborhood Hope Dealer” to many, Jones hopes to bring more people—especially youth—into their communities to make a difference. It’s something he’s been passionate about since attending a Congressional Black Caucus conference in the nation’s capital a few years ago.

“There are plenty of opportunities [to be involved]—one can become a precinct delegate, or just a concerned citizen/community organizer with some sort of community organization, or simply behind an issue that they’re passionate about,” Jones explains. “Really, all it takes is getting off the sidelines. Start talking to people, and the door will be opened.”

This attitude toward community change has propelled Jones into the national spotlight and leadership roles in his community, where he intends to promote “the classic approach, through grassroots organizing and educating and expanding the electorate.” All of this comes at a time when politics in America couldn’t be more divisive, with tensions high across the nation, including Michigan. When asked about his advice on bridging gaps in the local community, Jones is optimistic and direct.

“Everyone’s experiencing the same issues,” Jones says. “We need to begin working together, lay it all out on the table, and bring the diversity of opinion and ideas to the forefront to make sure we are truly working for the betterment of society. We need to have more conversations, listening to understand, rather than listening to respond.”

Already, Jones has the mindset of a seasoned leader, and true to his new service position in state government, the representative-elect is most excited to meet new people, bring resources to his neighbors, and see the greater community succeed.

“In the future, I am looking forward to seeing the fruition of the movement that’s going on—young people are making huge strides.”

 

 

Christmas Service Projects have more perks than you think

Christmas Service Projects have more perks than you think

It’s that time of year again! December is here and so are all the many festivities of the season. But, what is all the fuss about?

Why do we do whatever it is that we do every year? What is the real meaning of Christmas? Of course, as Christians, we are aware that Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as depicted in Luke 2:4-19.

However, Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas in many ways, and the reason behind the celebrations vary from person to person. Some see it as a religious holiday, while others may view Christmas as a cultural holiday.

The way we celebrate Christmas varies throughout families and friends everywhere. Some families may have a grab bag event while another may simply have a potluck dinner and exchange gifts. However, there is one tradition that is starting to catch on and become more popular around the holidays, Christmas Service Projects (CSPs).

As a society, we seem to be more willing to exhibit acts of kindness toward one another during the holiday season, which would explain the growing popularity of CSPs. CSPs are generally designed to give people an opportunity to volunteer to help those who are less fortunate during the holiday season. It is an opportunity for us to “pay it forward” while realizing that the person who is volunteering could very well be in the same situation as the person who is in need.

The concept of CSPs certainly has its perks for people of all ages and is considered a gift that keeps on giving. When children participate in acts of service as an expression of celebrating Christmas, it has a positive effect on their grades, attitudes, and even self-esteem. In fact, research shows that volunteering as a youth leads to a higher quality of life as an adult.

“Volunteering leads to better health… Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer,” according to a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service.

Deuteronomy 15:10 (NIV) says, “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

As Christians, we have a responsibility to freely give to others, paying close attention to our attitudes, and the way we give to others. A little further in Deuteronomy 16:17 (NIV) it reads, “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.”

Giving of yourself is a selfless act that is usually beneficial for the person receiving and rewarding for the person giving. Are you looking for CPS ideas for the holidays? Here are a few inexpensive ways to pay it forward in the coming weeks:

  • Make Christmas cards and send them to troops overseas.
  • Gather friends and family to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food pantry for the holidays.
  • Pick up a few items at the dollar store such as stocking stuffers. Pass them out to the homeless, public service workers, or even a neighbor.
  • Design a card or special treat for the next Salvation Army bell ringer you encounter. Imagine how long they have been standing in the cold ringing a bell to try and raise money
  • Shovel snow for a neighbor, the elderly, a friend or a stranger, without receiving any monetary donation for it.
  • Help an elderly person hang Christmas decorations.
  • Decorate a tree in a populated area for people to enjoy. Don’t forget to take down the decorations when the celebrations are complete.
  • Have each person in your family commit to helping at least 4 people throughout the week. This will generate thought and conversation about serving others. Set aside some time to share your experiences and how you can carry these projects further through the entire year.

 

How will you be giving back this holiday season? Share some of your ideas below.