Beyond the Rhetoric
My bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin has a specialty in Correctional Administration. At the time I was a student, the biggest component of study was recidivism. That is the event that occurs after doing your time, being released and then committing another crime which leads you back to incarceration.
Today, our culture has improved. The biggest event after incarceration is re-entry. Fortunately, our society has evolved in striving for what is right and noble. That is opposite of our tempo back in the 1980s, when President Reagan implemented his War on Drugs initiative, which turned out to be a war on Blacks. That was followed by President Clinton and the Congressional Black Caucus leading the way with “Three Strikes, You’re Out,” which weighted crack cocaine crimes with very heavy sentences.
I graduated in 1970, but I have never been more interested in the issue as I am now. Every year, we do a workshop on it at our annual conferences. This year, 2018, will be more intense. We will have a separate annual conference on re-entry. Our chapters will be encouraged to focus on the issue within their communities. Some of it has caught on with my son, Harry III. He runs a nonprofit, high tech start-up operation with a focus on minorities, veterans and returning citizens. Recently, he ran into Tracy Syphax. Syphax is quite active in the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s re-entry activity and is a board member of our chapter, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. He has a lecture series on it and has written books and produced DVDs on the matter.
Syphax and Harry III recently connected at a seminar. During their conversation, Syphax stated, “You know, I remember when you and your brother were 12 years old – now 32 – intermingling at the NBCC conferences. Funny some of the topics were about re-entry back then. And here we are today!”
How ironic it was a few days later when Syphax was in the news. It was fantastic to learn that his past records were being commuted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here is the story from NJ Advance Media for NJ.com:
“Gov. Chris Christie’s administration announced Friday he granted clemency to 10 people ‘in keeping with the administration’s policies of creating second chances for deserving individuals.’ These latest actions bring the total pardons ordered and sentenced commuted under the governor to 29, according to a news release.
Christie is in his final days in office. Governor-elect Phil Murphy will be sworn in in January. The pardons come days after Christie signed a package of legislation making it easier for minor offenders to expunge their records and apply for jobs. He’s also made combating opioid addiction a centerpiece of his final year in office.
Syphax […] was arrested in January 1981 and convicted of two counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in August 1981 and convicted of making an unsworn falsification to authorities; arrested in August 1981 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute; arrested in September 1981 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in May 1984 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in May 1988 and convicted of manufacturing, distributing or dispensing a controlled dangerous substance; and arrested in February 1989 and convicted of possessing a firearm.”
After decades of involvement in the re-entry topic, Syphax’s work has finally brought “fruit.” We are so happy for him. His means of income over these past decades has been his expertise in roofing. Entrepreneurship is the best means to succeed in re-entry. Our current system has little understanding or mercy on ex-felons. This is where the NBCC focuses on and overcomes the immense challenges.
After Jan. 1, we announced our new and updated initiative with proposals, concepts and conference dates dealing with the promotion of a viable re-entry program and in support of all others. I strongly believe that the world will be better for this as well as our great nation.
Let’s make re-entry the most popular subject throughout our cities and neighborhoods. Forgiveness is holy, and nothing can trump turning a troubled soul into something holy.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.nationalbcc.org.