Friday, December 31, 2010

When is Paying Your Debt to Society Not Enough?

A 'second chance'...

That's what more than a few of us need. Whether it is failure in school, in a chosen profession, in a marriage, as a parent or as a son or daughter, nearly everyone of us has needed a second least.

CitySquare has helped thousands of people get second chances. The great thing about working at CityWalk is getting a chance to hear (or overhear), in elevators or the garden deck, residents talk about how this place is helping them start over. Some are formerly incarcerated citizens who, before CityWalk@Akard, we're unable to lease an apartment. Some are taking advantage of a decent low-income apartment to return to school and finish their education. There are great stories around here about starting over.

At Destination Home, our permanent supportive housing program, men and women who heretofore thought themselves consigned to life on the street, have gotten a second chance. Like the guy, who, when not putting in applications for work, volunteers as a receptionist for one of our programs and in our development department. Or the one resident who amazes me: after a life on the streets, gets his own apartment and decorates it with very simple things, but with a flair that makes me want to bring him to my house and decorate a room or two.

Or Sam, a graduate of our WorkPaths job training program. Sam spent 17 years in prison and although not quite 35, he had the maturity level of a teen-ager. What Sam knew, is that he wanted to start over. 'Mr. Britt, I know I've done wrong. I deserved to be punished for what I did. But, all I want is a chance to start over'.
Sam made it through our 12 week long construction training program (getting in isn't easy). And got a living wage job, with benefits. The WorkPaths staff, later found Sam a better job, making a little more money, required fewer hours, with greater opportunity to move up in the company. The day before Sam was to start his new job, he was carjacked and shot in the eye. CitySquare staff worked with Sam to make sure he got the medical care necessary, helped him get an apartment away from the element that was stifling his growth. And Sam is volunteering with WorkPaths, doing whatever needs to be done - including talking to incoming  candidates to the program, letting them know what its done for him and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity the program represents.

Oh, I forgot to mention...Sam recently graduated from another WorkPaths' program - our technology based, soft-skills program, designed to participants enhance their employability through computer literacy. Sam's preparing to take full advantage of his 'second chance'.

There are people who don't squander an opportunity to overcome the mistakes they've made in the past. They take advantage of them and, in turn, make just about everyone who knows them, or even of them, proud...

At the beginning of the decade, nearly 8000 formerly incarcerated prisoners, 15% of those released from prison returned to Dallas County. In the city of Dallas, most of them returned to three zip codes 75215, 75210, 75216. Some of them will need 'second chances'...

That's why I'm finding it hard to understand the offense some have taken at President Obama's call to Philadelphia Eagle's owner Jeff Laurie to congratulate him for signing Michael Vick.

Vick's season, which has been nothing short of outstanding, has been overshadowed only by his outstanding attempts to demonstrate his remorse and his desire to redeem himself.

Yet there are those who think that Obama was out of line for expressing his appreciation to the Philadelphia Eagles owner for giving Vick what all returning prisoners are going to have to have - a second chance.

"President Obama's public support for Michael Vick was not a statement of approval. The president was not saying that he empathizes with the desire to commit crime or that he wants to free every prison inmate in America. Obama's statement was a bold vision for the pursuit of equity and liberty that reminds us of what our country can be. His words also present elected officials with the opportunity to help our nation return to reality: rather than simply believing that we serve as a beacon of light for free and Democratic societies, we can actually fulfill that lofty expectation with bold and intelligent reform of the prison industrial complex."

This is obviously not the view held by people like FOX pundent Tucker Carlson, who, while professing his Christian faith has decided Vick 'should have been executed'.


Guess Tucker missed the lessons on forgiveness and redemption in Sunday School...
Look, nobody denies that what Michael Vick's dog fighting was a cruel heinous act. It was bad enough to spend time in Leavenworth! But his debt to society is paid. Those who employed him in his chosen profession considered him valuable enough to let him work for them. And Vick's living up to his agreement with them, both on the field and off. And the President thanked the owner for the example he set by giving him a 'second chance'.

I'm sorry, I think I missed the reason for the outrage - unless it's that we no longer believe that the only acceptable punishment for some crimes is lifelong post prison release humiliation.

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