Celebrating second chances: Safe Return lends a hand to the formerly incarcerated
on October 15, 2014
There was clapping, cheering and hugging as one by one a dozen formerly incarcerated youth and adults came up to the front stage of the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church last Wednesday to get their certificates of graduation.
The graduation concludes a 10-week leadership program led by the Safe Return Project, a community organization geared at the reintegration of formerly incarcerated Richmond residents , first launched this year.
Funded by the Mitchell Kapor Foundation and The California Endowment, the program is intent on helping newly released Richmond residents tell their stories and voice their concerns about rejoining the community.
The program, led by formerly incarcerated men and women themselves, includes sessions of “Alive and Free Prescription” training, designed to focus on ways to reduce violence in individual lives as well as in communities. The violence prevention program is founded by the Omega Boys Club, a youth development organization based in San Francisco.
It also includes training from “All of Us or None,” a San Francisco grassroots civil rights organization fighting social discrimination against formerly and currently incarcerated persons.
“Anything like this happening in the community is good, especially in Richmond,” said a pastor.
“Formerly incarcerated: you do not have to be unqualified for the rest of your life. You are worthy of being heard,” said Dameion King, a city council candidate who was once in jail himself.
At the ceremony, students sat surrounded by family or friends. They listened closely as organizers called them up to give them their certificates and tell their stories.
“I spent 21 years in prison on a life sentence,” said Sandra, one of the graduates. “I thought I would never see the daylight again,” she said, “and now, I have not one but two jobs.”
Organizers hope the program will be continued next year.
“If we can help one person, maybe that person can help ten people, who knows?” said a community member.
Among the projects Safe Return graduates are working on is a plan to defend the right of housing for the formerly incarcerated living in Richmond.
They will present the plan to Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, City Manager Bill Lindsay, Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Jones, county supervisors and other leaders on Oct. 30 at an action meeting organized by Safe Return and ran by the graduates. The action meeting will publicly challenge city leaders about housing barriers. A similar meeting last year drew 100 people, said community organizer Tamisha Walker.
“Who better to represent the formerly incarcerated than the formerly incarcerated themselves?” Walker said. “Because if they don’t do it, no one’s going to do it for them.”
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