Friday, July 10, 2009

One Ex-Offender's Plight

This is a letter that my baby sister sent to MORE in February of this year...

My name is Adriene Berry. I am an ex-offender living in Philadelphia. I just wanted to take a moment to express to you the difficulty I have encountered in trying to obtain employment. I am sure my situation is not uncommon but that does not make it any less frustrating. I was convicted in 2005, placed on house arrest and served out my probation. Tell me, why I am I still paying that same debt. If I sound bitter, please forgive me. I was a first time offender and I consider myself to be collateral damage in this so called war on drugs. I also realize that I made a decision that I now know will haunt me for the rest of my life. I have been trying to get back to a productive life but that seems nearly impossible. I have registered with every agency in the city. I even have some that send me out on menial jobs that no one else will take only to receive notice by mail, no less, stating that they cannot retain me because of my criminal record. I'd just like for someone to tell me what am I supposed to do to take care of my family. Do I embrace a life of crime since society has turned its back or do I become another able bodied adult trying to live off of the scraps you receive from public assistance? I don't want to do either. I just want a chance to work and support my family. It seems like the government along with corporate America wants to keep me from my rights promised me by the Constitution of the United States of America. It seems that the government is only interested in driving ex- offenders further underground. A lot of people don't want to sell drugs and steal and rob. But you know what, a lot of them do. I'm just wondering what are the options for those of us who want to live a decent life? I look through the re-entry web sites, call the numbers but I don't qualify for most of the programs. They offer training but what happens after that? If there is no one to hire you what good is the training? I can't get any federal assistance to go back to school and if I could what would I study? No federal assistance for student loans or housing. I have to try and pay rent with welfare and child support. I am not receiving welfare at this time but I guess I soon will be. Maybe we don't matter to you. Maybe we get what we deserve. Maybe we don't deserve second chances. I don't know. But I do know that I am not a bank exec who squandered away millions of dollars that did not belong to me or sell high risk loans that I knew would never see serious returns. I know I am not a big oil company who held the whole country hostage while I raked in record breaking profits. Nor am I an auto industry exec who is writing this letter from my summer home in Milan asking for assistance. I am just a simple person trying to live. Where do I fit in? If there is any assistance you may be able to offer me or even if you have a direction to point me in, please do not hesitate. I'm open to feedback, suggestions and anything else helpful. I have been in contact with Ms. Carolyn Harper who is the Director of The Mayor’s Reentry program for ex offenders. Here is a copy of her response to me sent on March 2nd. I still have not heard from anyone in that department yet.

Their response...

Ms. Berry,

Thank you for your letter. You are correct that it is very difficult once you have been labeled as an offender to take advantage of what society offers to non-offenders. I am pleased to see that you understand the consequences of your choices and appear to be ready to make a change. The Mayor's Office for the Reentry of Ex-offenders is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated persons successfully reenter into society, however it is a process.

I am copying Ms. Mines, Deputy Director for Reintegration Services on this email. She can provide you with additional information on our program.

I wish you continued success in your endeavors. Have a great day.

Carolyn C. Harper
Chief of Staff
Mayor's Office for Reentry of Ex-Offenders

So now I am challenging all my Civil servants to step up to the plate. I know where you are when it’s time for re-election. Making a whole bunch of empty promises. How about this new administration? If we want to successfully integrate ex offenders into society, we must provide them with fair opportunities. There is a lot of talk but we need action.

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