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Connecting from Stillwater – A letter from James

October 4, 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to be able to publish occasional blog posts from participants in the Amicus Connections Group, a monthly circle comprised of men who are incarcerated at Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater. Many of those in the Connections Group are serving life sentences. They’ve agreed to provide letters which offer insights on the human, day to day perspectives gained by someone incarcerated for decades or possibly the rest of one’s life.  As their group name states, circle members gather in hopes of connecting with the outside world, helping prepare them for life after incarceration as well as offering new insights about those who are incarcerated to those of us who are already living outside prison walls.

James’ letter focuses on his Amicus One to One experience and teaches us how important a visit can be in the life of an inmate. While some inmates will get matched quite quickly, we normally have a shortage of men who are willing to volunteer as a One to One friend and it can take months or even years for a volunteer match to be found. If you’re interested in helping us respond  to people like James, please contact Amicus and we’d love to give you more information about reaching out as a One to One friend.   


My name is James and I’m in prison for murder.  All my family has disowned me. My son, who has been in the Air Force, has contacted me once in a great while. The last time he came to visit was 2005.

In 2003 I contacted Amicus to see about getting a volunteer friend to come visit and also for support. In that same year I received a letter from a man who wanted to meet me. Se we set up a date for him to visit. I looked forward to meeting him. We he came and saw me on three different occasions and then never contacted me again. I thought I had done something wrong or maybe he had health problems. So for one year I didn’t do anything.  I contacted Amicus again and they came and interviewed me again. It was quite some time before I was matched, but eventually I received a letter from a new friend.

He came to visit me for the first time in January of 2010 and has been coming to see me every month for almost three years. He’s been a great friend and very supportive. I receive mail from him all the time. He’s the best thing that’s happened to me. He keeps me positive and keeps my hopes up. He always has nice things to say and really cares about my well-being. Without him I was always depressed and didn’t really care about anything. I was always getting in trouble. I had nothing to look forward to.

Now I look forward to hearing from him and visiting with him. We’ve become great friends and it doesn’t matter to him what I’ve done in the past. It’s more about what I can do in the future to improve my life and the lives of others. I really appreciate what Amicus has done for me. I hope others can get the help I did.  It’s a great place to meet new friends. Thank you for the opportunity.



Letter to Amicus; Part Two- A Slice of Freedom

September 20, 2012

Susan Mwarabu has been a volunteer social media contributor for Amicus since 2011. Susan  relocated to North Carolina and is currently in graduate school, attaining her Masters in Public Administration. Her experiences with Amicus have prompted her series of letters to Amicus which will highlight her first meeting with Amicus, her probation experiences, as well as how she has dealt with job hunting challenges.

By Susan Mwarabu

Living in a state of conditional freedom meant having to accept the subconscious effects of constantly reporting and answering to someone at different times. In case you are wondering, I am referring to probation. I understood it was a necessary step towards paying my dues to society. What I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to deal with was the shame and the secrecy involved.

I am not sure what was worse. Perhaps it was the constant worrying that my neighbors would one day figure out the person who walks into my house to check on me was my probation officer. Deep humiliation was my constant companion for a long time. I didn’t really know how to reign in the confusion of meeting my probation officer in a social event where I offered awkward greetings and then quickly herded my family away from the ‘hot spot’ of shame.

lonely girl

Going through Probation or Parole can be a lonely experience. Finding a friend can make all the difference

Either way, being on probation is a unique and often lonesome experience. I mean it’s not something you talk about with people. You just go through it and hope to make it out on the other side without any problems.  What ended up happening was that I learned to be good at not making any new friends beyond my family and those who have known me for a long time. I didn’t bother with joining the PTA or the neighborhood watch. Why would I want to watch over others when I am being watched over? I had my family and a few friends, of which Amicus is one.

I can’t help but continue to hope for a different way to approach probation or parole. Is it possible for it not to be a shame-based process shrouded in secrecy? Would there ever be a chance of the process being an acceptable part of restitution? Will there be a time when someone on probation won’t need to fear being discovered and the accompanying mistrust resulting in lack of job opportunities or  having a place to live?

I sure hope so, but until that day comes, at least I can continue writing and highlighting the importance of friendship in a process that can be lonely and difficult. Amicus has been a friend to me and I hope others will find a friend like Amicus to help them get through the last hurdles towards true freedom.

Two Kinds of Heart

September 14, 2012

Joe Davis is an Amicus client who was recently released into society after incarceration. He dropped off the following story which is based on some Caribbean folk wisdom. For him, the story is about one of the most important strategies for a successful reentry by someone finishing up a prison sentence – choosing one’s friends wisely. Thanks Joe!

By Joe Davis

There are two kinds of heart in every person; there is the selfish heart and the selfless heart. Finding the proper balance between the two is the struggle to become self constructive instead of self destructive.

Once upon a time, long ago, a fisherman caught two different kinds of crabs. These two crab varieties were separated not by the color of their claws or the size of their jaws but by the differing content of their hearts.

The fisherman captured the crabs and placed the first group in a bucket upon the dock, and then put the second group in a different bucket. Both these buckets were prisons designed to keep the crabs caged up together until it was time for them to be eaten.

Since it was getting late, the fisherman went home to sleep and left the two different kinds of crabs trapped in their prisons, all alone overnight.

Isolated and separated from the sweet surf and sea they began to feel the hatred of living a life full of misery that would not allow them to swim in the ocean and be free. With their prison located only a few feet from freedom, it was torture for them to smell the salt-filled breeze echoed their pain within their songs of pain as they sang and prayed.

The sound of the oceans thunderous waves made them yearn to see their homeland once again; before the morning sun came and sent them to their deaths. The moon shone overhead, illuminating the poor crabs, each one wondering why it would have to die.

Now what do you suppose the fisherman saw at dawn’s first light when he returned to the dock?  One bucket was still full of angry crabs while the other held no crabs at all.  “How could this be?” the fisherman wondered aloud.

An old man heard his question and offered an answer based on what he had seen in both crabs and their human counterparts.  He told the fisherman that the first bucket was still full because it was filled with a group of selfish-hearted crabs, who hated one another. Each crab thought of itself as much more important than any of the others and couldn’t stand to see another crab finding freedom while it remained in the bucket. Every time one crab would climb to the top of the bucket, the others would get jealous and pull that one down again.  This pattern continued, ensuring that they were all kept in bondage.

The second bucket, the one the fisherman found empty was truly a prison without prisoners. It had once held a group of selfless prisoners, who truly loved one another, treating each as if they were brothers.

The crabs in this now-empty bucket existed in harmony, helping one another out for the betterment of all. They figured that if they lifted one of their number up to the top of the bucket  and into freedom, then that one could reach down back into the prison and pull the rest of them free.

For by working together they found that they could heal one another’s misery and escape back to the freedom of the sea.

There are two kinds of heart in every person. There is the selfish heart and the selfless heart. Finding the balance between the two is the key to becoming “self constructive” rather than “self destructive” and living a life free from the shackles of one’s own self-slavery.

Always remember, we have the power to choose the thoughts we act on during each moment we find ourselves in.

Letter to Amicus; Part One

September 7, 2012

Susan Mwarabu has been a volunteer social media contributor for Amicus since 2011. Susan relocated to North Carolina and is currently in graduate school, attaining her Masters in Public Administration. Her experiences with Amicus have prompted her series of letters to Amicus which will highlight her first meeting with Amicus, her probation experiences, as well as how she has dealt with job hunting challenges.

It’s been over a year since I first walked into the offices of Amicus looking for something that would give meaning to my life. Not only did I find compassionate people ready to listen, I found something more. I found a group of people who bravely embraced new ideas and didn’t shy away from trying out new concepts.

April 9 - Quill Writing

Letter to Amicus

As I told communications director Steve Nelson and Robyn McCullough about how I wanted to contribute, never in a million years did I think they would give me the chance to be involved in their social media campaign. After all, I was not perfect. I came with all my imperfections and I had even prepared the speech stating exactly how I had come to make a big mistake in my life that had cost me my career. I was surprised when they instantly accepted my request to volunteer in their social media communications. Without much fan fare (I was prepared for many barriers and huddles before getting involved) they put me to work right away and gave me a chance to use my skills in putting out the Amicus message.

From blogging to tweeting to creating newsletters, Amicus staff did not fear reaching out to the community. Even after relocating to North Carolina, I still find myself wanting to sustain the friendship that is the foundation of Amicus. A friendship, such as the one that Amicus offers is most rare. It doesn’t demand that you be perfect. Rather, it takes you as you are. With all your faults, and tries to give you the tools you need to reenter the community after making poor judgments. Amicus doesn’t judge, doesn’t put you on a probationary period to see if you can cut it.

A friendship from Amicus is a friendship of a lifetime.

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

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.


July 13, 2012

post by Steve Nelson, Amicus Communications Director

I am like a book, with pages that have stuck together for want of use: my mind needs unpacking and the truths stored within must be turned over from time to time, to be ready when occasion demands  – Seneca

It’s easy to underestimate the challenges of unpacking after a move or a trip.  It can be a time of looking at oneself in a lens that’s been changed by your recent experiences and that’s not always fun. Not only does unpacking often signal the end of the adventure and the return to the “normal” but it’s also a time when a question can be heard clanging away at the back of one’s brain: “What Now?”

We’ve been unpacking at Amicus for a few weeks now after our move to 3041 Fourth Avenue South in Minneapolis.  We’re still refining our approach to the new space, shifting workstations around and wondering whether the long promised concept of  a “paperless office” is perhaps buried somewhere in our file room. But the physical part of our move is pretty much complete.

Now we seem to be shifting to mental unpacking. How do we make “Amicus” work in a new environment?  When we moved in, it was obvious that some Amicus Reconnect clients were waiting for us and happy that our services were now more easily available in their home neighborhood. A couple clients are even lending a hand themselves, volunteering with us. Others in the neighborhood who could use our services don’t know a thing about us. How can we introduce ourselves to them?At the same time, some of our other clients from the downtown location are still finding their way to us.  How can we make it easier for them to get here?

Thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety we’re beginning an exciting project now which will introduce us and strengthen our relationships with our new neighbors in south Minneapolis. Part of that will mean going out to other social service organizations, housing complexes and communities of faith with what we’re calling “Mobile Reconnect.” Through the program, we can offer some basic Reconnect services at these various locations, and also connect with those in need who have a criminal record, inviting them to visit our full Amicus Reconnect office when they are able.

We’re also beginning to connect with some of the great agencies already in this  neighborhood and starting discussions about how we can partner with them to serve our shared clients better and more efficiently.

That’s what I was thinking about when I was drawn to the Seneca quotation at the top of this post.  Sometimes unpacking is a way to rediscover truths about who we are and turn them over,  allowing us to present them in a fresh way when the occasion demands.

Helping Young Women Find the Infinite Possibilities Within Themselves: Marjorie D. Grevious, Amicus Radius Program Director

July 6, 2012

Amicus Radius Program Director Marjorie D. Grevious

Post by Steve Nelson, Amicus Communications Director

“The world’s a much bigger place than you know and you’ve got choices as to how you choose to live in it.”
This theme resonates through the life of new Amicus Radius Program Director, Marjorie D. Grevious, and it is one she’d like to share with the adjudicated teen girls in the Amicus Radius Program.
Marjorie was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.   The firstborn of a single mother who worked to get her college degree while raising four children. Marjorie remembers the struggles for her mom and siblings, but these were not allowed as excuses for limiting their futures.
“My mom taught me that the world was bigger than our circumstances,” Marjorie said.
Marjorie’s true heart’s desire was to dance in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and she threw herself into training despite severe asthma.  Marjorie recalls being taken to the emergency room weekly while in rehearsal for a show.  Eventually, she needed to move on from that aspiration, but even as she recognized the physical limitations of her body she began to learn the limitless possibilities within herself.
Education was the most highly prized achievement in her family, and all four siblings eventually went to college.  Marjorie originally began at a small private college in Kentucky with the goal of becoming a teacher. Later she would realize that teaching wasn’t her path. Not knowing what to do next, Marjorie announced she was “taking a break from school” – an announcement which she describes as causing a “generational uproar” in her family.
Shortly after, Marjorie began hearing regularly from her Aunt Laura in Minneapolis.
“I really didn’t know her that well, but she was a legend in our family for having moved way up north and becoming very successful as a social worker in her own right. She started sending me letters and a few checks to help out. Little did I know she was wooing me to move to Minnesota.”
She moved in the middle of winter and it was a tough adjustment for a southern girl who had never experienced more than a few inches of snow and temperature that never went below freezing.

Marjorie wanted to move back to Kentucky but her family insisted she earn her own money for moving expenses if that’s what she chose to do.  She began working in financial institutions to earn a paycheck. She knew that field wasn’t her calling but she became educated about money matters.
Both her mom and her aunt Laura were involved in Social Work, but Marjorie didn’t seriously consider going into nonprofit work until volunteering with Chrysalis, a Center for Women, where she was trained as a support group facilitator.
Her volunteer work eventually led her to apply for a position as grants assistant at the McKnight Foundation. She learned about the business side of nonprofits and became energized by the inspiring work being done throughout the community.
“Wow, there’s this whole field of working with young people outside of school that I could do,” she recalls thinking.
She began working for a series of nonprofits as a counselor, becoming exposed to girls who were considered “at-risk.”
“What I saw was that these young women were so talented and strong and that they often had these adults around them who would create cycles of crisis and chaos. That’s when I learned about strengths-based approach. Everybody has strengths which have gotten them to where they are. Our job as counselors is to help young people find the answers and tools they need within themselves.”
One of her favorite activities while working with youth with limited experience outside their own communities in southern California was to take them on field trips outside their comfort zone. Girls who had never been more than 15 minutes from home took sailing lessons on the ocean, toured museums and even visited more upscale neighborhoods they thought were off-limits to them. In some cases,  these areas weren’t very far from the tough neighborhood the girls knew so well – often just a short walk in a new direction.
Over the succeeding years Marjorie has had several positions in the field of youth development, and has traveled extensively.  She recently served as Grants Manager for Youth Development at the Greater  Twin Cities United Way, managing $11 million in grants supporting 60 youth programs in the metro area which worked with 25,000 youth. She left in 2010 to accept a volunteer position at the Kripalu Yoga Center in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Upon her return she helped her mother through breast cancer treatments, while also helping her brother raise his 10-year-old son.
Yoga brought Marjorie back to working with girls, as she connected with the Amicus Radius program to teach classes and was inspired by the work, and especially by the girls themselves.
“This group of young women grew up in poverty and all the chaotic systems that come with that. As a result they have developed a certain level of maturity and survival skills that most of us don’t have to use until later in life. I want to help them understand that they are more powerful than a lot of their peers, but they need to learn how to focus their power more effectively.”
As the new Amicus Radius Director, Marjorie hopes that the girls Radius works with can see a possibility for their own    future selves when they look at her.
“My mom was a single mom who really struggled to raise and care for four children on her own, but she taught me to live my own lessons and that I could make choices and have a different path.  I am the other choice these girls can make. ”