If your family is anything like ours, just when you have sat down for dinner, the phone rings with a solicitation from a charitable organization. As your meal grows cold you attempt to explain that you have already exceeded this year’s budget for such donations. Or maybe you just cut the solicitor short and wish him or her better luck with the next call. Either way you feel like a loser.
That was my story—until I got an e-mail from a friend about the Second Chance program for folks who have just gotten out of jail or prison. The message came from Steve Gronow, a Christian businessman in our county, and it indicated that Second Chance mentoring cuts the return rate at the County Jail from 75% to 20% over a period of years. Second Chance is sponsoring a golf outing this Friday (the 19th) to raise funds its programs.
Any such reduction in the recidivism rate not only saves millions of tax payer dollars but even more importantly returns people to society as productive citizens. It’s the kind of program that is desperately needed not only here but everywhere in this country.
I know whereof I speak.
During my 26 years on the Circuit Court bench in Livingston County, I probably sent thousands of young men or women to jail or prison. In a few cases I sentenced a young man at age 18 only to find myself a few decades later returning him to Jackson State Prison at age 40. It was a lose-lose situation for everybody.
Like most judges who sentence felons, I always spoke a few words to the defendant in an effort to convince the defendant to change his ways. I was always painfully aware that a speech from the judge probably has little or no effect, but I always felt I had to try. Just maybe…
Over the years I learned that we cannot return young people to the same milieu that shaped them into the criminal they had become, and that’s what I told the defendant as he (or increasingly she) at sentencing time. More than a few of them came before me holding a Bible and proclaiming that they had found Jesus.
Although experience had taught me to maintain a heathy skepticism, I welcomed their apparent conversion but went on to warn them about the problem with returning to the Hood after they got out of jail or prison.
“Look, you can’t go back to the old friends—the guys who are still smoking weed or snorting coke—and keep yourself clean” I said. “You will not change them, they will change you. You will return to the same kind of behavior that got you here in the first place. You need to get new friends, people who think the way you are thinking right now. People who can help you understand that you will find real happiness in the things you probably scorned in your old life—a job and paycheck, a wife and kids, a home and a lawn to cut.”
You can’t go home again, not if it was for you a school for crime. That’s why a mentoring program that can help these folks learn new coping skills and maybe new job skills is so important. We are in the process in this county of expanding our jail. Maybe it wouldn’t have been necessary if we had given more of these kids a Second Chance.
If you’re interested on playing, sponsoring a hole, of just donating, go to SecondChancesupportnetwork.org or call Jennifer Bigelow at 1-810-522-8174 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, by the way, the golf outing this Friday is at Faulkwood Shores. You can win a car for a hole in one.
No matter how you putt it, it sounds like a win-win to me.