White Collar Support Group 250th Meeting Reflections: Fellow Traveler Nom de Plume, Missouri

Nom de Plume is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets online on Zoom on Monday evenings. We will celebrate our 250th weekly meeting on Monday, March 29, 2021, 7 pm ET, 4 pm PT; all Fellow Travelers are invited.

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If I had to share one value about Progressive Prison Ministries (PPM) my immediate thought goes to breaking barriers. The words prison, criminal, convict, fraud, trauma, isolation, dehumanization and I’m sure there are so many more words we can add to the list, is what the average person would come to believe when reading about a person making wrong choices and decisions that result in criminal behavior and or activity. We are all guilty of reading headlines and feeding into gossip and news about people that are hurting and who have made wrong choices and or perhaps been misunderstood. Do we stand behind the monarchy or do we stand behind Harry and Meghan? Are you Republican or a Democrat? Is it possible to be friends despite having different schools of thought?

We tend to judge and perpetuate a story and an ideal of what a perfect person should be and act. We feed into a culture of perfection and overdrive. If that person doesn’t fit the picture, they are ultimately placed in the isolation box. As humans, we fear what we don’t know and come up with theories, stories and ideas to combat that fear or gap of differentiation to make ourselves feel better. Covid is a perfect example. Racism is a perfect example. Homelessness is a perfect example. Being incarcerated and failure is right up there.

I know I was that average person before I walked in the shoes and clothes of a person that was incarcerated and removed from my family and community. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be accepted. I did it the wrong way. I know I was that average person that was judgmental and seeking approval because I didn’t have all the facts and I certainly didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t have the lived experience to understand what it feels like to go through an extremely traumatic journey of life on lockdown. I was privileged and I had all the resources and networks that allowed me to be successful. I made choices and judgements based on limited information and knowledge. As Adam Grant wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review, “In a turbulent world, success depends not just on cognitive horsepower but also on cognitive flexibility.”

I’ll take it one step further. Success means being humble and open to new ideas and thought. Success means to pause. Criminal justice issues are extremely controversial and support a narrative that currently allow barriers to exist. Barriers exist for a reason. Barriers can be removed. We see it in the headlines daily. We are starting to see some light in this sector as more people have a loved one that has been justice impacted. More than 6.7 million people are incarcerated in the United States. If that seems high, that’s because it is. Currently, mass incarceration in the United States is unique both historically and internationally. In the past thirty-five years, the incarceration rate has increased fivefold. While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of its prisoners. For an imprisoned parent, one of the greatest punishments incarceration carries with it is separation from their children and the trauma their family carries from the experience. Communication and connection are stifled. You have 300 minutes allocated per month to call home and make sure your children, family and friends are okay. With Covid, luckily it increased to 500 minutes per month. That translates to 8.3 hours per month.

Nearly 3.6 million parents are under some form of correctional supervision, including parole. Of these parents, almost 1.1 million are incarcerated in federal, state, or local jails. These parents have an estimated 2.3 million children. Alarmingly, the rate of parental incarceration has gone up sharply in the last decade. Incarceration doesn’t stop with the individual, it certainly bleeds into the family, community and people affected.

PPM was created based on a growing need of people going through similar experiences. People who are wanting to heal versus hurt. People who are parents seeking resources to help their family know how to navigate when they are removed from their life. People who need their bubble burst and face reality and accountability. People who have been placed in a box and often misunderstood. People who want to make amends and take responsibility, but still are held to a lifelong judgement. People who want to learn from their mistakes and live forward and are capable of change. People who want to prevent others from making the same mistakes they made.

So how do you stand up from a tremendous fall? Mark Sanborn, a noted business leader says “everybody does ordinary work. It’s how they do it that makes it extraordinary.”

I wanted to be extraordinary, but the process was not right. When two concurrent waves of thought are present in today’s world, there can be major disaster. History has shown this repeatedly. We see it in politics daily and can apply this statement to many areas in life. It’s difficult to navigate those tides because the culture and language to recognize a human’s behavior based on their environmental factors does not connect. There is no communication. This is a barrier. Each party has their own narrative to support the ideas, emotions, thoughts and culture they live and believe in. Life blows up and where do you go from there? When we travel outside of our culture, we are then capable and able to think, experience and accept different ideas and thought. Perhaps we can see more clearly when we are removed from our comfort zones. We may actually learn a new language and find a path to become better. We may actually change and become stronger. I know I did.

Pain hurts. Pain can numb and when it’s not managed appropriately, ignored or understood, it cannot be healed. With the appropriate care team and tools provided, it can be managed, healed and transferred into stronger and more successful outcomes. Having PMM as a triage network, provides success stories of overcoming intrinsic pain and weakness. We certainly know what it feels like to be at the top and how it feels to hit rock bottom. I have to say that I’ve become a better and stronger person from the failures I’ve experienced after bursting my own bubble. Unfortunately, while being in the bubble, I hurt many dear and loved ones along the way. This has been the most difficult part of the journey. Knowing this hurts tremendously. I am extremely thankful and grateful to my family and friends who were beside me through the most difficult times that were not easy on them for sure.

The wrong choices I made in life allow me to see things more clearly. I also learned more about myself and knowing that being perfect doesn’t mean going into overdrive and being a chronic pleaser. It’s certainly an uphill climb, but having a team that can help you see through this process is what allows an individual to grow and walk on a safer, authentic, sustainable and clearer path.

When pain isn’t managed, it can be exacerbated into so many outlets in unconscious and subconscious ways. With pain, communication stops. This is part of the transformation and acknowledgement that life was not healthy and as a result, behaviors supported a lifestyle that fed into a pain that was not managed effectively. Unfortunately, punitive measures are taken without consideration of behavioral health and restorative applications.

When a human goes through this journey, finding a healthy network, support system, hope and guidance to become transformative and stronger is essential. I am blessed to be working as a workforce development case manager at St. Patrick Center. The clients I work with could very well be me. If I didn’t have the support and network through this process, I would be homeless and most likely finding outlets to continue managing pain in very unhealthy ways. I would become another statistic with a revolving door back into incarceration.

Not having the necessary tools and skillsets in any situation ultimately set-up a person to fail regardless of a conviction. PPM provides an outlet to let people know they are able to change and that we have the option to humanize vs dehumanize. We have the ability to choose vulnerability over isolation as we continue to learn more about culture and our human behavior. Words are important. Communication is important. Words are important.

Culture: The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

Humanize: To make (something) more humane or civilized.

Dehumanize: To deprive of positive human qualities.

Isolation: The complete separation from others of a person suffering from contagious or infectious disease; quarantine.

Vulnerability: Willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weakness to be seen or known; willingness to risk being hurt or attacked.

Studies show that the United States has the highest prison rate population in the world with 743 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Rwanda with 595, and Russia with 568. Some scholars pin this rise in the prison population to the changing focus from rehabilitation to punishment which has happened since the 1970’s. Other scholars explain this recent focus on punitiveness as resulting from the interconnections between the media, public opinion, political trends, and legislative changes. Once dehumanized offenders are typically expelled from the moral community, their negative treatment is seen as justified.

When we don’t speak the same language or experience the same type of environments, it’s difficult to understand the other person’s perspective. We don’t know what we don’t know. As a result, it’s important to challenge oneself to be open and to understand where another person may be coming from.

Bringing visibility to the experiences and stories we share through incarceration and breaking down stereotypes are essential.

I am extremely thankful to be a part of PMM as we are a network that provides opportunities and hope to people who share lived experiences in trauma and stigma. Our goal is not to perpetuate the stigma, but rather eliminate it through healthy outlets. Shame, guilt, judgement, and the feeling of not belonging are all emotions and barriers when one takes a detour in life. Without adequate support, understanding and a foundation for mental health, it’s very easy for someone to completely crash and feel abandoned. This organization is founded on the belief that each human is deserving of life and dignity. Dehumanization is not the solution. PMM breaks barriers through empowerment.

Leo Tolstoy, an incarcerated individual himself, wrote these beautiful words in his lifetime:

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. If you want to be happy, be. There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth. The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

Info at prisonist.org.

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White Collar Week Podcast: An Evening with Our White Collar Support Group. The support group meeting on this podcast is different than most, because all of the 16 group members appearing have agreed to share their names, faces and very personal stories in an effort to reach out to individuals and families suffering in silence. All on the podcast are post-sentencing or back from prison. Watch on YouTube, Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, link here.

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Jeff Grant

Jeff Grant

Jeff is practices law in NYC at GrantLaw, PLLC, providing private general counsel, white collar crisis management, and dispute strategy and management services.