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Central Ohio restored citizens' Collaborative honored by Columbus City Council

CORCC Members Dana Davis, Johnna Sawyers,  Zach Ruppel, and Maria Ford pictured with Columbus City Council Member Shayla Favor (c) November 4, 2019

Community Chat Blog 

  • Richard Rohr

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. —Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. [1] In his book Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice, he makes the case that it is distance—physical, social, and spiritual—that allows injustice to flourish. Proximity to one’s neighbor—and remember, we’re all neighbors according to Jesus—is what turns our hearts towards love and restorative justice. Stevenson writes about his first interaction with an inmate named Henry on death row: two men, exactly the same age, one studying at Harvard Law School, one condemned to die:

Henry asked me questions about myself, and I asked him about his life. Within an hour we were both lost in conversation. . . .

I had no right to expect anything from a condemned man on death row. Yet he gave me an astonishing measure of his humanity. In that moment, Henry altered something in my understanding of human potential, redemption, and hopefulness. . . . Proximity to the condemned and incarcerated made the question of each person’s humanity more urgent and meaningful, including my own. . . .

I’ve also represented people who have committed terrible crimes but nonetheless struggle to recover and to find redemption. I have discovered, deep in the hearts of many condemned and incarcerated people, the scattered traces of hope and humanity—seeds of restoration that come to astonishing life when nurtured by very simple interventions.

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.*

*Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption(Spiegel and Grau: 2014), 10, 12, 17-18.

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  • Kim Brazwell

Imagine spending the rest of your life being judged for a bad decision you made on a random day. Imagine facing consequences and repercussions that affect your income, family, relationships, legal status, shelter and many other of life’s necessities based on your worst day. Can you fathom spending the rest of your life under the weight of extreme consequences, fees, paperwork and watchful eyes because you happened to have the unfortunate circumstance of being caught for a crime many others have committed undetected? This reality is shared by many, if not most of the restored citizens in our communities - both juveniles and adults with firsthand knowledge of the incarceration system.

It is so easy for those of us who have never experienced incarceration or been justice-involved to have biases, thoughts, opinions and extreme value judgments against fellow community members less fortunate than us as it relates to the court and prison system.

How much more passionate would your advocacy be for restored citizens if it was your parent who served time? ...Your child who served time? ...Your sibling or best friend who served time? How adamant would you be for desiring and/or demanding your story and voice to be heard if it was YOU who was going to spend the rest of your life stigmatized as a documented felon?

Communities are described as groups of people living in the same place and having particular characteristics in common. Are we embodying “community” in Central Ohio? I would argue that a common characteristic among all community members is the desire for the foundational level of Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs - food, clothing, shelter and safety. Let us not forget that the basic principle of community calls for us to remember those who share the same spaces with us. Many of these community members are those who have been affected and impacted by the justice system and are relegated to live on the fringes of the “good life” we take for granted.

Call to Action:

Are we humble enough to put our pride down and to step back into fellowship with people who are just like us and who desire to share the common pursuit of interests, dreams and goals? Instead of judging people for the rest of their lives on their worst day, what would our community look like if we poured into people and empowered them to believe that through collaboration, their best days are ahead of them?

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  • Kim Brazwell

Delinquent.  Ex-con.  Convicted felon.  Formerly incarcerated.  These are the terms we’ve historically used to refer to someone who has been involved with the justice system.  But where is the humanity in any of these terms?  Each of the labels has stereotypes and stigmas dripping off them.  It’s time for the negative narrative to change.  In the last few years, a new term has begun being used to refer to folks who have formerly served time in correction facilities: restored citizens.  The idea behind this new term is that of starting over and re-entering the community still worthy and still a citizen. One of my favorite definitions for restored is to be made new and better than before.  We believe it’s possible – with proper supports, resources, services and advocacy – for restored citizens to rejoin the community as positive, valuable contributing members.  But how does one transform their mind from being “property of the state” to being a whole, individual person?  What are we willing to do as a community to support our restored citizens in being made whole again?

“Property of the state”. The mere language of referring to someone as “property” conjures up images of slavery.  Not unlike the days of slavery, our speaker discussed the dehumanizing experience of being reduced to a number.  …Of being viewed in the eyes of prison staff as reprehensible.  …Of being locked up, isolated and subjected to a quality of life so desperate that some become better “criminals” in prison.  One attendee spoke of the, “…Soft bigotry of low expectations.”  Yet, the idea of being “restored” makes me think of freedom – a new kind of freedom.  Many of us have conducted ourselves in ways that were less-than-stellar.  However, a lesser number of folks get caught and are required to right their wrongs through incarceration.  Once time is served, what does it mean to re-enter society?  What have you lost?  What do you gain?  How do you work through the hurt of what you experienced on the inside of prison once you’re on the outside?  And how much longer after your body is free will it take for your mind to be free as well?

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Address: Columbus State Community College

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315 Cleveland Ave.

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