I was recently asked to join the board of Reconstruction, Inc., a Philadelphia-based non-profit that works on issues related to re-entry programs for recently released prisoners, the injustices associated with the sentence of life in prison without parole (referred to as death by incarceration), and community building for families and neighborhoods affected by crime and incarceration.
This past weekend was Reconstruction’s annual celebration and board meeting, and both events were informative, productive, and enjoyable.
Friday night started with a gathering of about 40-50 people who were associated with the non-profit. The evening consisted of a presentation by each of the three domains of Reconstruction: the Alumni Ex-Offenders’ Association, Fight for Lifers, and LEAD.
The Alumni Ex-Offenders’ Association (AEA) is a program of Reconstruction that addresses former offenders as they come back into the community after being incarcerated. This programs attempts to create an atmosphere that is principled and encourages the members to lead productive lives.
The program focus on two areas:
- Membership meetings, in which personal issues of its members are addressed; and,
- Work Plan meetings, in which the direction of the program is developed. This program meets on Wednesdays, and also meets whenever any crisis arises that must be addressed.
Two members of AEA spoke Friday night, and their stories about the problems and injustices they faced while in prison were difficult to hear, but the positive attitudes they exhibited were a testimony to the strength of their character and to the success of the AEA program.
Fight for Lifers (FFL) is a program of Reconstruction that addresses the concept of Life without the possibility of parole, for men and women in the State of Pennsylvania. At present, there is no chance of people serving a life sentence to be released on Parole.Fight for Lifers (FFL) supports people serving a life sentence in PA., and their families, working to abolish this type of sentencing.
Here are the focus areas of FFL:
- Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP)
- Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)
- Women Lifers
- Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill
- Elderly Lifers
- Mentally Ill
The speakers on Friday night briefly described each of these areas and what the background issues are and what Reconstruction, Inc. is doing to address these issues. There has been some recent successes with the Juvenile Life Without Parole issue. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that judges must consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile offender, banning mandatory sentences of life without parole for all juveniles; in 2016, this decision was made retroactive to those sentenced prior to 2012. The work of Reconstruction and other organizations played a key role in such decisions.
One of the speakers also showed a TED video created by a group of women lifers that went viral. The video is quite moving, and eye-opening. One of the women in the video is prominently featured in Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, and another woman is the daughter of one of our board members.
You can read more about the video here.
The final presentation was with respect to the LEAD program, which stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Development.
LEAD is Reconstruction’s youth-focused program with 4 generations. The first generation, from infant to 12 years of age, is called “Paradigm Shifters.” Group two’s ages range from 12 to 21. This group works on the “Situation Management Pillar” of the Reconstruction Curriculum. The third LEAD group, ages 16-21 facilitates our “Situation Management Pillar”. LEAD’s fourth group, ages 21 to 35, is our youth leadership. Each member enriches the capacity of LEAD. Among the practices of that capacity building are: Leadership Development, Principled Business Practices, and Spiritual Stability. The goal of LEAD is to help participants become more self-determining, responsible, and accountable, to themselves and others. In the vein of community capacity building, youth are invited to take ownership of every part of this program. LEAD’s primary focus of “Situation Management” is to have all of its members to consistently participate.
The presentation Friday night highlighted the four skill sets of Situation Management:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Active Listening
- Relinquishing one’s position in order to understand other’s position
- Accessing and utilizing resources to manage situations
As part of the presentation, the speakers had planned a game for everyone to play known as Loud and Proud. Loud and Proud is a fast-paced social justice word association game that works as a great ice-breaker as well as offering some educational opportunities.
During the presentations we took a break to enjoy an excellent catered dinner and the chance to either reconnect with old friends or to get to know each other a little better.
My wife, son, and I left the event Friday night inspired, saddened, motivated, energized, and much better informed than we were prior to the celebration. It was wonderful being surrounded by people who were so selflessly dedicated to such an important cause.
The board meeting on Saturday was more business-like, yet the atmosphere reflected a joy and an ease of being with each other, as well as a culture of great respect for each other, united in this common cause.
It was once again eye-opening to meet people on our board who are directly affected by the work of Reconstruction. As mentioned earlier, one of the board members has a daughter who has been in jail for 27 years, a woman who has a brother who has also been in prison for 27 years, since the age of 16, and a woman whose husband has been sentenced to life in prison. All of them seemed to be full of hope that one day their loved ones would be “coming home”.
So that’s a brief overview of my weekend experience with Reconstruction. It was certainly one of the more uplifting weekends I have experienced, despite the serious issues that the organization fights for.
The vision of Reconstruction, Inc. is, “Changing ourselves to change the world, by uniting the power of many to defeat the few“, and it has been in existence for 24 years. A major part of its success is due to the relentless work of it founder, and inspirational leader, William Goldsby.
I am proud to be associated with this organization, and I am grateful for the opportunity to make some contribution towards its mission of effecting social change by forging individuals that were formerly incarcerated into an organized community of leaders working together to transform the criminal justice system, their communities and themselves.