Every year The Fortune Society welcomes and services over 5,000 returning citizens from incarceration. Some come from decades of incarceration while others seek alternatives to incarceration, and may have only spent a day or two in jail. As is often done in these horrific cases, the criminal history of the person harmed by the act is released to the public before the facts of the immediate incident is known. Both Mr. Gurley and Mr. Garner could have walked through our doors at some point for services.
Because of that, the words of my friend and mentor, Eddie Ellis, “there are no prison problems, only community problems,” are ever more lucid. As we diligently do the work of providing pathways to successful and empowering re-entry for women and men, we must consider that our people are returning to many of the same crime generative factors that began their cycle of incarceration. Further, the dehumanization of people with criminal histories allows for an environment that deems them and their neighborhoods less worthy of attention that is strength-based.
As protest organizers galvanize the city of New York for paradigmic shifts in community-police relations, we, as re-entry providers should keep our eyes, not only on receiving our friends and family members from incarceration, but, also participating in the dialogue…the work, of strengthening the fabric of our communities.