- No second chances? Legal barriers frustrate ex-offenders (FCN, 02-11-2004)
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Singer-actor and human rights activist Harry Belafonte, D.C. government officials, entertainers, sports personalities, and radio and television celebrities all came together to help “increase the peace” and salute dozens of rehabilitated ex-offenders Nov. 3.
The “prison-industrial-complex” was designed for Black men in particular, Mr. Belafonte told the Third Annual Ex-Prisoners Family Benefit sponsored by Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters (CFDSBS). Young Blacks, therefore, must make choices to not get caught up in that complex, he said.
The event was billed as the nation’s largest gathering of ex-offenders this year which featured remarks by Mr. Belafonte and former D.C. mayor and current councilmember Marion Barry; City Administrator Robert Bobb; musical performances by D.C. “Go-Go” band E.U. and R&B legends Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels; as well as a fashion show by clothing manufacturer Universal Madness, Inc.
“I have been very much involved for the last 20 years with criminal justice and with the plight of our young African American men and women who are incarcerated,” Mr. Belafonte told The Final Call. “Whenever there are gatherings like this around the country and I am invited to attend, I make every effort to be there to lend support, to let the young men know that some of us who have been in the struggle for a long time are still around.”
Mr. Belafonte, whose recordings and films beginning in the 1950s have become cultural icons, challenged young hip hop musicians to use the power of their money and resources to make sure the best interests of their community are represented in the images they create. He said both his mother and grandmother taught him to consider unconventional remedies to society’s problems, and he cited historic figures such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as contemporary figures like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as examples of successful “radical” leaders who should be emulated.
“Conventional attempts to reduce the violence in our community have, for the most part, failed because of the lack of collaboration and combined efforts of enforcement, intervention and prevention methodologies,” CFDSBS founder Al-Malik Farrakhan said in a statement. “To counter this shortcoming, CFDSBS has adopted a carefully planned, synchronized effort which uses a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing crime.”
One such highly successful rehabilitation effort involved ex-offenders and handicapped children. More than 100 minimum security convicts were furloughed to help the Information Center for Handicapped Children, until a Virginia governor eliminated the furlough program, according to center founder Yetta Galiber.
“I am looking forward to seeing some of my guys tonight,” Ms. Galiber, the center’s director emeritus told The Final Call. Of the 100 men she helped rehabilitate, only two returned to jail, she noted.
“I won’t remember all of their names tonight, but I’ll never forget their faces. It was unbelievable to absolutely change the direction they were (headed) in. One young man spoke at my retirement, and he had become an attorney. We were locked up, just for being Black and poor, and that sort of thing,” Ms. Galiber continued. “But when they started coming out with me every day, they were working with young children and children who couldn’t walk and talk, and couldn’t toilet themselves, and they taught them,” she said of her program utilizing inmate-teachers, which became a national model for teaching disabled children, a model that is still used to teach children today.
The Cease Fire model is an around-the-clock intervention program in which ex-offenders respond to emergencies and confrontations between rival youth groups, and between youth and police throughout the city. Their intervention helps increase the peace.
It is a successful model, according to former Crips gang leader “Rock Hound,” speaking on behalf of CFDSBS patron, actor and football Hall of Fame player Jim Brown, who was not able to attend this year’s celebration.
During the production of a documentary film, Rock Hound told the audience that rival gang members killed his daughter on his birthday. He vowed revenge. When Mr. Brown could not talk his protÃ©gÃ© out of his planned, extra-legal retaliation, Mr. Brown insisted that he would then accompany Rock Hound when he went to assassinate his adversary. The former gang member told the audience that he felt he could not commit the crime he had in mind with Mr. Brown by his side, and eventually abandoned the planned attack, and instead he rededicated himself to Mr. Brown’s Amer-I-Can, anti-gang, violence intervention program.