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Finding the Light in Our Community

July 27, 2012

Finding Our Community at Twin Cities Pride Festival

“The lights, they fill the air, or were they always there? I finally see it … There’s so much energy in us.”  – Cloud Cult

Supporting those who are seeking a second chance after paying the price for a crime can often seem like a lonely road.  Landlords who have been burned in the past by someone with a record, adopt policies that keep ALL ex-offenders out of their properties. Jobs are hard to come by for ex-offenders and even the businesses that will hire a person with a record sometimes don’t want anyone to know about it. Politicians spouting “tough on crime” cliches advocate for policies that by their very harshness, will actually drive more people into crime.  If you care about second chances our nation can sometimes seem like a dark place.

This summer Amicus has been spending time out in the community and we’ve been finding that the lights of hope and restoration are still out there.

Amicus Volunteer Recruiter Jill Barnes has the often-challenging job of  finding volunteers who will commit to visit people in Minnesota Correctional Facilities and offer them a positive connection to the outside world and friendship.  It’s called  “One to One” and we’ve been doing it for over 45 years. What we’ve found is that people who know that other people care whether they succeed or fail, generally don’t want to fail. If they get released from prison, they work a little harder than the average person not to get sent back. That comes out in the statistics.  The felony recidivism rate for all of those released from Minnesota prisons is 23 percent.  For those who have successfully participated in our One to One program, the rate is 7 percent.

Statistics aside,  we do know one thing indisputably.  Friendship is a powerful thing. One man who had done time for armed robbery once told me he thought of his Amicus friend as a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

So in a way, Jill has been out this summer to community groups, churches, and festivals looking for lights.

What she’s found is that by talking about the issues and making it safe for others to tell their own stories, there’s a lot of light she can bring as well.

“We had signs and statistics out, talking about who’s in prison and how much money it’s costing us. People would stop and read and you could just see the shock on their faces.  I don’t think most people have any idea of the burdens placed on people by our state and by the criminal justice system,” Jill said.

For many others, it’s a more personal thing. “I’m surprised by all the people who have someone in their lives who is struggling with incarceration or finding their way back into the community,” Jill said.

Jill emphasized that it doesn’t take saintliness or even a great deal of time to be a One to One friend.  Often it’s only a commitment of about four hours a month.

“But it can be life-changing too,” Jill said. “It can be life-changing not only for the person in prison but for the volunteer as well.”

Amicus is always looking for more One to One volunteers. We have many women in our program and there’s a particular need for men who could visit the many other men who are incarcerated and waiting for a One to One match.

If you’re interested or just want to be connected with someone who can talk to you about the struggles faced by those reentering society after a prison sentence, please contact Amicus at 612-877-4250. Jill can be reached directly at 612-877-4254 or jill@amicususa.org.

People who are interested but hold back from volunteering for Amicus sometimes do so because they feel they need to have everything in their own lives working before they could be a friend to someone else – that right now their light doesn’t shine brightly enough.

But to someone in a dark place, even a little light can seem very powerful and what you have is probably brighter than you imagine.  Like the song says, there’s so much energy in us.

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