Nonprofit offers a hand up not a handout

Published 4:49 pm Monday, July 12, 2021

By Jenny Flores

The purpose of Paul and Silas Freedom Project is to offer incarcerated individuals and their families access to resources that ensure they are not only able to re-enter society without recidivating but that they are able to compete on a level playing field, contribute to their community and experience success in the new life they create.

This assistance can range from groceries and home repair to higher education, business start-ups and home-ownership. It is offered to the incarcerated client, their spouse and their children.

The assistance is not a handout. The program is rigorous and requirements must be met for each project. Personal responsibility is key. What that personal responsibility looks like differs for each client. We meet people where they are and encourage them to stretch beyond that. While we understand the importance of accepting responsibility, whether through a period of incarceration, restitution or reconciliation, we also believe it is unfair and counterproductive to continue to punish those who have completed their sentence through discriminatory educational, employment, civic, and societal policies and practices.

Personal responsibility shouldered by our clients is paramount, but it is imperative we not neglect the importance of collective community responsibility. After all, a community is comprised of individuals and what benefits one person lifts us all. A job offer from you will do more to improve the life of a man released from prison than criticism about his unemployment. Quality childcare and a marketable degree is a strong incentive for a single mother to remain out of jail. Access to individual, family and addiction counseling can prevent mental health issues from becoming criminal issues.

Strong and fully-resourced public schools – in every neighborhood – and the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline would be a tremendous advantage to those who need it most, our children. Summer camps and extracurricular activities that are so important to the self-esteem and development of children are often too expensive for these families to afford. A waiver or sponsorship could change the trajectory of a life. Lastly, ex-offenders have already been in front of a judge. A mentor would be more helpful now. Could that be you?

In an effort to restrain ourselves from passing judgment, it is important to consider the inequities that have brought us to where we are now. According to the 2010 Census, Adams County incarcerates 3.7 times as many Black defendants as it does white defendants. As a community that believes in equal rights, we cannot afford to look the other way on this issue. Additionally, when these individuals are released from prison, they are often relegated to distressed neighborhoods that are not receiving adequate attention or services from the city.

Ex-offenders are told to make something of themselves with little to no resources. The communities they are placed in are expected to accept and support them with limited financial resources or social support systems. The wider community is affected economically and psychologically through the uptick in crime.

It is fine to argue that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But, let’s first work to create a system that allows them to wear boots.

Paul and Silas Freedom Project is interested in working with individuals, businesses, nonprofits and communities of faith. If you would like to be part of this effort please visit paulandsilas.org, email jennyflores@paulandsilas.org, or call 601-304-4156. You can also find us on Facebook @Msfreedomproject. If you or someone you know is in need of these services, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Jenny Flores is executive director of the Paul and Silas Freedom Project. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.