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“I am so glad and honored to see you. I missed you. I never want to miss you again.”
Technically, these aren’t the words of a mother to a long-lost son, since Elder Betty Speed isn’t the mother of the four men she’s addressing. But she might as well be their parent, because she is keenly interested in these men and their next steps forward.
Elder Betty spoke to the men at a recent Welcome Home Ceremony for men who are returning to Milwaukee after incarceration. The ceremony, sponsored by the Alma Center and presided over by an Elder Council and Kitonga Alexander, with lively drumming by Ken, showers the men with support but also strives to hold them accountable for their future actions.
The Welcome Home Ceremony seeks to erase the stigma and isolation men feel when returning home from incarceration. Instead of being pushed away and ostracized, the participants of the ceremony let the men know they are forgiven for their past misdeeds and are surrounded by a community that sincerely wants them to succeed.
“This Welcome Home Ceremony is like a miracle,” said Elder Jojopah Nsoroma to the dozens of supporters assembled at the Welford Sanders Enterprise Center in the Harambee neighborhood. “It doesn’t happen enough in our culture.”
Indeed. The ceremony is the culmination of the men’s Walk of Truth, also conducted by the Alma Center, during which the men make a commitment to leading better lives. During the Welcome Home Ceremony they make their commitment public. The men spoke about their lives, how they survived during incarceration, and how they are going to make positive contributions to the community. One man, who left the ceremony early to go to his job, said he would talk to kids in the neighborhood about making good decisions so that they don’t make the mistakes he did. Other vowed to be good fathers and role models.
Elder Bennie Higgins made each man make a commitment to change by asking: “Do you accept this charge to return back to this community as a full member in peace and love?”
Each man said yes.
Kenneth Gales, Reentry Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, gave each man a letter that detailed the consequences they could expect if they broke the law again.
“My sole responsibility is to help you reintegrate into society,” Gales told them.
The men were surrounded by a circle of supporters from WestCare Wisconsin.
“There’s no way around it,” Elder Claudia Brewer told the men. “Now that you are returned home you have a community of support that you probably didn’t have before.”
Elder James Mosley used a glass of water as a metaphor for the good in each person that they don’t always recognize. That water can be transformed into ice or a gas, he reminded them.
“That which we have in us, we have the ability to transform,” he said.
Community Advocates Public Policy Institute convenes the Milwaukee Reentry Council, which supports the Alma Center’s work welcoming home men after incarceration. To learn more about the council, contact Conor Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-442-4646.
Posted Mar 14, 2018
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Posted Feb 16, 2018