Another Dose of Reality

Every day presents new hurdles for our employees who have served time, making the rest of us more and more aware of just how much the cards are stacked against them. On January 8th 2014, our warehouse supervisor, (lets call him Robert), was told by his parole officer that there was an old charge in his file that needed to be cleaned up. It was made clear that this was no more than a technicality, which gave us much ease. Sadly, taking a day off work to resolve this “technicality” in Trenton has turned into 4+ months in prison – just waiting for a hearing date!

Unfortunately, the system very efficiently gets people in to prison; out, not so much. Charles and the Prodigal leaders have spent the past few months trying to communicate with Robert and make his stay as tolerable as possible. But, nobody on the inside has any interest in our doing so. In fact, he is continually moved from facility to facility (now held at Bayside State Prison which is over 2 hours away from Newark) making visits next to impossible.

There are dozens of people who would vouch for this man, and most have already written letters of support to the courts. He has proven himself to his friends and family as a responsible, reliable, and trustworthy guy. He is our manager, master gardener, and a major leader in the development of our education program. He is a key example and role model for the importance of our work. Whether former offender or not, it is rare that this combination of character descriptions gets placed on any human being.

As this is the first time dealing with something of this magnitude at New Ark Farms, we’re struggling with our role in this matter. How involved should we be? What kind of precedent are we setting by getting involved in his legal defense? How, as a social enterprise, can we facilitate a proper work environment knowing that this is not going to be a rare occurrence? Is it our place to set up systems to avoid, or expedite, the process? Or, is that shifting us too far from our business model? After all, we are not social workers or a legal defense fund.

On a personal level we want to do everything in our power to get our friend and co-worker out of prison. But from a professional perspective we know our capacity to do so is limited.

Some invaluable advice from Dennis Porter, President of Prodigal Sons & Daughters (PS&D):

“The system works at its own pace and you cannot push against it. You need to work within its restrictive confines. Although we care about our friend, we need to close the line and keep the program moving forward.”