Yesterday I attended a Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) award ceremony in Washington, D.C. for Returning Citizens who are making strides to successfully reintegrate and for mentors who are working tirelessly to make a positive difference in the lives of formerly incarcerated men and women. Various city officials were charged with nominating a Returning Citizen for an award. I was one of the recipients.
The premise of the event was that navigating the reentry process is much more rewarding when Returning Citizens who have rehabilitated themselves are engaged in the process of giving back and mentoring others. That for me is true transformation. Additionally, it makes the daunting task of recovery and reentry more bearable. It gives life meaning. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
It was truly remarkable to see so many others honored by various prominent District residents including the Chief of Police who awarded a gentleman for turning his life around after incarceration and working to help fifth graders throughout D.C. public schools deal with issues such as: peer pressure, bullying and low level scholastic scores.
Another Returning Citizen was honored for his diligent work in a D.C. Housing dwelling where he works with young men who are at risk of becoming incarcerated. They work on curbing truancy, unemployment and drug abuse. This man stood before the audience and spoke about how blessed he is to be able to reach the seemingly unreachable and turn his pain into passion. He spent 30 years in and out of prison. His last stint was served 10 years ago.
Mannone A Butler, the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, presented me with a plaque for “Being the Change we want to see in the World.” I was especially honored because Mannone is one of several women in the District of Columbia who I admire both professionally and personally. She always greets me with a smile and never hesitates to support me with any of my endeavors. She played a major role last year in helping me to orchestrate the First Annual Female Reentry Leadership Conference.
Mannone Butler believes in empowering women to develop their potential, speak for themselves, and create the lives they want to lead. I believe some people in the field of reentry are intimidated by the real-life experiences of formerly incarcerated people and see Returning Citizens who are advocates and organizing in the community as a threat. Not Mannone. She thrives on seeing us soar.
As I observed the ceremony from my seat at the Kellog Center of Galludet University, I gave thanks for the District residents who support reentry efforts of those who were once deemed an enemy of the state and a menace to society. I saw healing taking place.
I reflected on the importance of such events as I remembered standing in front of my judge when I was sentenced 20 years ago at the age 19. It was indeed a formal ceremony and when that gavel was raised the shame was heartbreaking. Last night I saw the flip side of that scene, sitting there in another formal ceremony, but this time I was among the heroes and compassionate role models who feel compelled to honor the transformation process. That’s big.
Remember: “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” Phil Collins