- Associated Press - Sunday, January 17, 2016

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) - It was from inside a jail cell in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., under arrest for leading a civil-rights march, wrote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The difficulties of those who have been in jail were front and center at Mount Olive Baptist Church recently as it marked the weekend before the national holiday honoring the slain civil-rights leader by hosting a conference geared toward helping former inmates make the adjustment back into society.

Leading the conference was an organization called HOPE for Ex-Offenders Inc. that has been helping inmates re-enter society since 1974. Mount Olive church is dedicating this year’s King remembrance to raising money and awareness.

“Everybody needs somebody to help them,” said the Rev. Carl T. Phipps, executive director of HOPE, which stands for Housing, Opportunity, Prevention and Employment-Education. “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

“Amen!” the audience of about 50 people shouted back.

Phipps told The Record (https://bit.ly/1PzvbJ3 ) that HOPE is a faith-based organization open to people of all denominations. “We don’t push Christianity on anyone,” he said.

The Mount Olive pastor, the Rev. Gregory Jackson, said churches in Hackensack had set a goal of raising $10,000 for the organization. Mount Olive was selling paintings done by ex-offenders and sweet-potato pies baked by church members. On Monday, Sen. Cory Booker will speak at a Martin Luther King Day service.

“Ministry is more than a worship service,” Jackson told the audience recently. “Ministry involves service to people. They (prisoners) have paid their dues. It’s for them, and time for society to move on.”

Just about every former inmate faces the problems of finding housing, training, a job, and adjusting to a much-less-structured life beyond prison bars. But the issue is especially important among African-Americans, because of high rates of incarceration among the black population.

Figures compiled by the U.S. census in 2010 showed that in New Jersey, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population, but account for 54 percent of the inmates in state prison. Nationally, blacks are 13 percent of the population and 40 percent of the inmate population, according the U.S. census.

Getting a second chance is one thing; knowing what to do with it is another.

The biggest obstacle ex-offenders face is “not knowing where to go for help,” Phipps said. The HOPE program, which has offices in Hackensack at 259 Passaic St. and in Paterson at 326 Ellison St., offers an array of services, including job training, identification replacement, housing assistance, and drug and mental health treatment.

There were at least two success stories in the audience. Angie Milazzo told of how she was born in prison but now has two master’s degrees and a book about her struggle, “Finding Healing.”

James Coleman Jr., the son of a minister, told of his descent into drugs and how it landed him in prison. But he left that world behind when he left prison, and has been working as a nurse’s aide for 23 years.

“I don’t regret my journey,” he said.

The seminars dealt with mundane matters like writing a résumé, developing job interview skills and improving communication - and, in particular, learning to explain the gap in employment that has been occupied by a prison stretch. Another workshop focused on how to change the mindset to become an entrepreneur and create a job, instead of relying on employers. Another workshop explained the process for getting criminal records legally expunged.

Bill Roesch of Impact Paterson, a business incubator, urged members to create their own work through entrepreneurship. He urged members of the audience to enroll in a program that teaches entrepreneurship, which meets at Impact Paterson, 100 Hamilton Plaza, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for eight weeks. Impact Paterson is online at impactpaterson.com.

Roesch sought to dispel several myths about entrepreneurship. One of the biggest, he said, “is that you need money to make money.” Roesch said most successful entrepreneurs start their businesses with investments of less than $10,000 and without elaborate business plans.

He said the most common characteristic of an entrepreneur isn’t money, but a mindset that cultivates success through self-confidence, self-esteem and a good work ethic.

“I heard a saying the other day that we are the average of the five people that are closest to us,” he told the audience. “Who are the five people in your life? Do they help you grow?”

Also helping to spread the word about entrepreneurship was Delores Connors, who along with Mary Joyce Laqui, both of Bergenfield, started a greeting card line, Write to Matter. The cards are for family members to communicate with inmates and decorated with nature scenes: flowers, lakes and mountains.

“Nature is what God gives everyone,” she said.

Ebonee Brown, a student at Rutgers University explained the process of getting a criminal record expunged. Hiring a lawyer could cost up to $5,000, so she suggested that an individual either do it themselves or, if their income is low enough, seek free legal aid services.


Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), https://www.northjersey.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide