Self-Development of People and Criminal Justice in the United States
by Carline Seide Murphy
I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Criminal Justice in Stony Point, NY last year that was sponsored by Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA). It was very moving to learn how the Presbyterian Church (USA) is bringing awareness on these issues by taking the necessary steps with its approved resolution calling for the abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons. Many sources of opportunities and resources were highlighted in an effort to reach out to communities who are living these realities. As I shared in an earlier article, it is also my belief that in addition to the necessary legislative changes that need to be made in the criminal justice system; serious efforts should be made to educate young people and their families on the pitfalls and dangers of exploitation that they face once they become an offender. Organized community groups can be funded through Self Development of People to educate families and legislators in their respective communities to take action. Legislators can advocate for more employment opportunities to be made available for young people and their families in their community.
This year at the invitation of Rev. Leif Erickson of First Presbyterian Church of Hudson I had the pleasure of going to an International Community Dinner which included a variety of speakers and performers. The pre-dinner program (for teens and adults) was focused on social justice and alternatives to violence: Prisons in New York State, Re-entry: Is There Life after Prison?
Joanie Hunt of Promised Neighborhood, a local group that is addressing the state of the students in local schools, along with Carolyn Polikarpus of Re-Entry Task Force of Columbia County, led a workshop on Alternatives to Violence. The workshop was an exercise that is run by and for inmates similar to the 12 step program of the Alcoholics Anonymous, where members assumed an adjective name that matches with the first letter of their first name. Participants were to choose an adjective that adds something positive to their name. My adjective name was Caring Carline. After everyone had chosen a name participants were asked to form a concentric circle where they discussed in pairs information about themselves and not be afraid of being judged by the other person. Then there was a reflection period on the experience. One of the participants shared during the reflection period how discrimination as a child had affected him all his life. For inmates inside prison, Carolyn explained, this exercise is very connecting with others. The Staley B. Keith Center for Social Justice made a presentation on their work for Systems-Change Advocacy and Self-empowerment Trainings and Mentorship.
In September 2013 Self-Development of People partnered with the Staley B. Keith Center for Social Justice by awarding it a $20,000 grant. The grant will assist this group that has come together to form the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center, an organization working to empower young men to resist the marginalization of their communities. Three 12 week training programs are planned and will include self empowerment, systems change advocacy and mentorship.
(Are you a member of a group of low-income persons working on issues of importance to you and your community, will working on these issues result in long-term positive change? Are you in need of financial assistance? Contact SDOP at (502)-569-5782, (www.pcusa.org/sdop) we would welcome talking with you and possibly hosting a community workshop in your area).
Carline Seide-Murphy is on the Northeast Task Force of the National Self-Development of People Committee and also serves as Chairperson for the Community Relations Committee, a standing committee of the National Self-Development of People Committee.