St. Martin’s Social Justice Commission members break bread with Parolees
Byline by Doug Edmonson
The St. Martin’s Social Justice Commission has been on a journey these past three years of raising our awareness of racial, immigration and criminal justice issues, educating our parish on these important social issues and reaching out to the community to make a difference in disadvantage people’s lives. That journey has been gratifying and enriching for the SJC members and our St. Martin’s community.
An important step in our journey occurred on September 19th at Criminal Justice Ministry on South Jefferson and Chouteau where we reached out to provide a meal for clients that are part of the re-entry program to integrate back into society after extended incarceration. Criminal Justice Ministry provides housing through three “Release to rent” options and, secondly, “first services” to provide items to address immediate needs of returning citizens (including welcome backpacks, clothing, hygiene products, bus tickets, medication assistance among other things). St. Martin’s worked closely with Criminal Justice Ministry to provide a full meal with salads, hotdishes, bread and desserts for about 30 participants in the Re-entry Program. Nearly the entire St. Martin’s SJC membership participated in the meal, including chair-persons Mary Drastal and Gail Schneider, Mary and Doug Edmonson, Daryl Norman, Maggie Brunkhorst, Mike Kelly, Carole Cleary, Nancy Helmer and Janet and Dick Gilbert, and St. Martin’s parishioners Bev Weaver and Steve Biederman. Dick was gracious enough to do a lot of the food preparation and everyone contributed to the meal with a variety of delicious hotdishes and desserts.
The meal was as rewarding to the St. Martin’s SJC members as it was to the clients who participated in the meal. The CJM Re-entry participants were open, honest, sincere, intelligent and willing to openly discuss their incarceration and how much the CJM program means to each of them. We heard from participants that have been jailed for 10 to 25 years and have been in the program for a few weeks up to a full year. Some of their experiences as they re-enter society after incarceration were heart-rending. Learning how to shop for food, how to use a TV remote or smart phone, or even putting a key into an apartment door for the first time after cell lock doors had opened and close automatically, continually reminding them of being shut off from society. We were told how re-entry to normality can be a frightening process, yet it was apparent that CJM has made that transition back to society a little less imposing, and significantly improving their odds of making a success of their return to real life. We heard of their frustrations too; the distrust and bias they sometimes encounter in job hunting or in public contacts, bad bus connections that don’t get them from home to their new job and back and other hurdles we never think twice about. They shared their gratitude for the Re-entry program and St. Martin’s outpouring of love and concern (and a hot meal) and they shared their hopes and dreams for a new start in life. The individual discussions between the St. Martin participants and the various CJM enrollees were heart-warming and sometimes teary eyed. Many of the enrollees just needed to talk and were curious about our Social Justice objectives and activities and extremely thankful for our outreach and concern for their journey to a new life.
We shared our plans for the three Criminal Justice forums that are planned for October and November. The evening ended with new friendships, handshakes and hugs and St. Martin’s promised to be back with more good food and fellowship. While our St Martin’s SJC journey continues, we gained a new understanding of the wonderful work of Criminal Justice Ministry and these brave clients and their journey to a normal life.
Contact Anna Muckerman, Community Outreach Coordinator for info or donations for Criminal Justice Ministry, at firstname.lastname@example.org.