“It’s a rainy night in Georgia.”
You may not be old enough to remember Brooke Benton’s soul song by that name, but I am. I won’t tell you how old I am, but the first time somebody called me “Pop Pop,” it was a CO leading me to the nurse after I passed out in a holding cell with 70 other guys serving 30 day sentences on 15 weekends. But I digress.
I have been spending a lot of rainy nights in Georgia because I am providing training to houses of worship all over the state who have decided that they want to be places that welcome home men and women from prisons and jails. Since last year, I have spoken with hundreds of religious leaders, on behalf of my organization- Healing Communities USA- about being ready to receive, support, and empower what we call “returning citizens,” a more hopeful term than “ex-offenders.”
We have talked about supporting families of inmates, providing support for people coming home, even helping crime victims develop a sense of healing and forgiveness. When I’ve gone to bed in those rainy nights in Georgia, I was exhausted from the conversations about how the faith community- Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc.- can be there for people coming home.
Other states have similar initiatives. They recognize that every Sunday, every Saturday, every Friday, thousands of people come to worship burdened by their struggles associated with their son, daughter, grandchild, sibling or even parent locked up in the system. They want support. And they want to help.
Healing Communities USA, has been working with state governments, Departments of Corrections, churches, masjids and temples to help them get ready for people coming home, the families left behind, and people struggling with having been crime victims. We have had these conversations and trainings from Montana to Florida, Massachusetts to California. We are finding people that want to help.
This is a sign of hope that those of us who come through the criminal justice system have not been totally abandoned. We just need to connect with the people we can trust and really want to help. I mean, really…not just some person who wants to feel good about themselves because they “lend a hand.” So we are doing two things: First we are talking to inmates and the formerly incarcerated- again, we use the term “returning citizens”- to see if they have family in a House of Worship, so we can contact that church, masjid, synagogue or temple to help them reconnect. Second, we provide training so they’ll know how to support us- real love and support, not just doing us a favor so they’ll feel good about themselves.
So tomorrow, I head back to the South and the rain. People hate rain because it’s inconvenient. Whenever it rains, I think about how many of us won’t get yard that day…and when it’s lightning and thunder, how many of us got lockdown. So on my next rainy night in Georgia, I will pray for people who are more than inconvenienced, and get up walking through the rain to the next training meeting.
Rev. Harold Dean Trulear, Ph.D. is an associate professor of applied theology at Howard University’s School of Divinity. He also works on behalf of prisoners and returning citizens as the national director of Healing Communities USA, a reentry initiative. Dr. Trulear is also a former inmate.