Progressive Prison Ministries: The First Ministry in the United States Created to Provide Support for Individuals, Families and Organizations with White-Collar and Other Nonviolent Incarceration Issues. Greenwich CT & Nationwide

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Vision of Forensic Ministry, By Jeff Grant

-->
Progressive Prison Project 

Greenwich, Connecticut 



A Vision of Forensic Ministry

By Jeff Grant



“Needing help is not a crime; knowing that you need help –

 and not asking for it--is a shame.”  





In our ministries, I hear stories by so many people who knew that life could have turned out differently - and they knew it years or perhaps decades before their problems arose.   Long before they had they had legal problems, or drug problems, or marital problems.  I don't think it was just wishful thinking.  I think what they had were moments of pure clarity that transcended where they were, and allowed them to see things as they really were. They had visions of how life could be something different and unexpected.  For most, unfortunately, these moments were fleeting.



I had visions of living in small spaces for most of my life - I mean really small spaces.  Perhaps it was a reaction to the chaos of my family of origin, and my need for some structure and security - but I saw the visions of the small spaces nonetheless.  I saw myself working out in them, sleeping in them, reading in them.  



I also had visions that influenced our ministry helping families with so called white-collar issues.  I have coined the term Forensic Ministry to describe it - I'm still not sure if it is totally accurate or if it will, or should, stick. 



Back in the '90's, I was General Counsel to a very large real estate equities and management company - whose principals were indicted on Federal criminal charges.  In that capacity, I hired and coordinated over twenty law firms - mostly white- collar defense, tax, etc.  At the end of five difficult, intensely fascinating, years, we saved the company, its principals, reputation and assets.  But personally, I was lost. With this new skill set I had a vision of becoming some kind of white-collar expert who could help companies, their indicted principals and their families.   I met with the various law firms with whom I had worked on this big case. Each and every one told me that it was an interesting and noble idea.  They all agreed, nobody would understand it.  I don't blame them - even I didn't understand it.  



So, I went on to build one of the most successful law practices in Westchester County, NY.  That is, until I got into trouble myself. 



I'm not sure exactly what happened to the visions I had before I got into trouble.   Certainly I went to prison, and was confined to a small space.  Maybe my serving those thirteen and a half months at Allenwood LSCI was a self-fulfilling prophecy – as I lay on my bunk, I had many occasions to think back to the visions I had when I was younger.  



Prison started some sort of transformation for me that I still don't fully understand. It still informs and drives my ministry and my life each and every day.  Some refer to this as a calling – a term I use mostly for lack of a better one. 



This calling encompasses a redemption story that has led me from prison; into volunteering in hospitals, rehabs and prisoner reentry programs; and to attending and earning a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in NYC - the preeminent urban seminary in the world; to becoming a prison minister in the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut; to founding the Progressive Prison Project - a Forensic Ministry for people and families facing white collar and other non-violent criminal issues… incredibly fulfilling almost the exact vision I saw before I got into trouble.  These families receive so little compassion and empathy - and are so easy to "other" -  by a world that is all too eager to believe the next sensationalized headline and to ignore the human side.  The goal is to help bring these suffering communities together so that they can help one another - and to try to remain balanced and ever aware of how overarching social issues - such as privilege and poverty - will necessarily influence these ministries and their outcomes.




Along the way, I developed a unique combination of experience, skills, discipline, and intuition needed to fulfill this vision - in business, legal, prison ministry, prisoner reentry, drug & alcohol recovery, religion, social ethics, activism, family work, authorship, etc.   I really did not set out for this to happen - I was just putting one foot ahead of the other.  As clergy, we have taken a sacred vow of confidentiality and are the guardians of people’s most closely held secrets – this privilege is protected under law.   We suggest that those whom we minister retain good, competent attorneys who are similarly engaged in confidential, privileged capacities.



Some people see visions before they get into trouble and find clear paths for themselves and their families.  Others are not so fortunate, and need help in both seeing things more clearly and in having the path cleared.   Needing help is not a crime; knowing that you need help--and not asking for it-- is a shame.  



I am a minister and a friend.  It is a privilege and a blessing to use the experiences I've been given to help others.   Please feel free to give me a call if I can be of service to you or somebody you care about. 


Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Minister, Activist,
Social Ethicist, Author

Director, Progressive Prison Project

Forensic Ministry
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604



(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu 



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ex-Cons Are The New Top Chefs? By, Jeff Grant - Why I’m Proud of Piper Kerman, Author of Orange Is The New Black

-->
Progressive Prison Project

Greenwich, Connecticut



Ex-Cons Are The New Top Chefs?
By Jeff Grant



Why I’m Proud of Piper Kerman,

Author of Orange Is The New Black





I have to admit that when Piper Kerman came to the Greenwich Public Library in May 2010 to promote her book, Orange Is The New Black, I didn’t go to see her speak. 



How could I?  Piper’s story hit a little too close to home for me - and for my family.  With some time and distance though, I’ve come to realize how proud I am of Piper. 



Last evening was the LA screening of Orange Is The New Black, the original series premiering on Netflix from 'Weeds' creator Jenji Kohan - it is based on Piper Kerman's memoir of her year spent in a woman’s Federal prison.  The series’ trailer is currently available on YouTube.   

When I first reviewed the trailer I found it compelling in a lot of ways - mostly because it instantly brought me back to my own fourteen month incarceration in Allenwood LCSI in White Deer, Pennsylvania without most of the high drama force-fed us by so-called “reality” and other television series such as Oz, Prison Break and Lockdown, to name a few.  Instead, at least from this snippet, I found it pretty real.  That is - Not Pretty & Real.  Kudos to Piper and to Netflix. 



I can tell you that I am always on fraud alert – ever vigilant and on patrol for the huckster looking to make a buck in this sector where it is all too easy to prey upon the vulnerabilities of people who are in great need at a critical junction in their lives.  I was in the audience at The Nantucket Project 2012, at which Jack Abramoff spoke, only then a few months out of prison.   Most agreed that something just didn’t seem right – that Jack just hadn’t yet paid his dues.  That is, how interesting or important could his rise/fall/redemption story be without taking the time to rebuild his life, to dedicating his life to helping others, and to having a real redemption story to tell? 



Through different eyes, I was able to watch the HBO documentary Fall To Grace, about former Senator Jim McGreevey’s resignation in disgrace from the US Senate – and his new life to enlightenment in attending Divinity School, becoming an Episcopal Priest and through service.  McGreevey does not look for easy answers, "…at some point in time when we're out on the street and no one is watching, the question is ... Will we turn over our will to unhealthy cravings? Or will we stay in a godly place and do what we are meant to do? And that's always the challenge. That's always the challenge.”  In many ways, Jim and I are on the same page.



The manuscript package is being prepared this week for my own recovery memoir/prison story – Last Stop Babylon: The Art of Surviving Prison.  It only dawns on me in proofing the drafts how out of sync it is with the ministry work I am doing now.  Sure, I must have some kind of cool recovery/prison story – why else would Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan have invited me as a Main Stage presenter to The Nantucket Project 2013?  Although I think it is essential to get the recovery and prison-survival story out that is contained in book one, I can't help but think that, at least for me, the most important part is always in the work after prison.  In the redemption story.  A lot of it is contained in book one, but a lot of it is unfolding even as we speak and can’t and won’t get written about until later? 



Ex-Cons Are The New Top Chefs?   This brings us back to Piper Kerman - it would be so easy for critics to take potshots at Piper and consider her a "new top chef", and I suspect that some will as soon as they see her in her little black dress promoting her book and her new series on Netflix.  Let me set the record straight– this is Piper’s own reentry from prison: right here and right now.  In a world with the deck stacked against ex-offenders getting jobs and getting a break, I will go to the mat to defend Piper - and anyone like her.  She is attempting her second chance in life - on her own terms - and living the dream dreamt by every person inside prison. 



Nothing in the world could make me prouder. 



Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Minister, Activist,
Social Ethicist, Author

Director, Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"A Man Of Many Collars": Fairfield Cnty Bus Jrnl - Article By Patrick Gallagher


Progressive Prison Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut





A Man Of Many Collars

By Patrick Gallagher


When asked about the frequency of individuals with both a Juris Doctor and a Master of Divinity degree, Jeff Grant replied — with a chuckle — “There are more of us than you would think.”
 
Jeff Grant
Jeff Grant

Grant, a Greenwich resident, associate minister and director of prison ministries of First Baptist Church of Bridgeport and vice chairman of the board of Family ReEntry Inc., has made it his mission to empower the incarcerated and former prisoners to get their lives on the right track.

“The purpose is to humanize the issue — that these are real problems that are happening to real families,” Grant said, “and at the end of the day, how can these people go through a positive transformation to change their lives and be of a better value to their society.”

In that particular instance, though, the people Grant referenced are not your typical inmates.
Grant’s calling — and the area in which he spends most of his time — is the inner-city prison ministry. But here, Grant refers to a different class of criminals: people convicted of so-called white collar crimes.

Prison, Grant says, has a funny way of leveling the playing field between the Gold Coast financiers and the inner-city gangsters. 

In the past, someone from a place like Greenwich might have looked at the wave of drug- and vice-related crimes in a place like Bridgeport and said, “It’s not my problem, it won’t affect me,” but now, Grant said, “We’re in a new age when crime and criminal justice issues are pervasive, and it affects everyone in every community.”

Sitting across from Grant, it’s just barely discernible that he speaks from experience.

In 2006, Grant, a former corporate lawyer with an office in Mamaroneck, N.Y., was sentenced to 14 months in a low-security prison after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges. He was charged with falsely claiming in a loan application to the U.S. Small Business Administration to have had an office on Wall Street that was impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Prison, he said, “was a profound experience for me.”

“It was something I found that I needed — it wasn’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there it was something I understood as fundamentally cleansing,” Grant said. “When I came out, I was able to be more empathetic and compassionate and understanding of the plights of others, including my family, who’d been put through an unfair journey that wasn’t of their making.”

After his release from prison, Grant volunteered with various nonprofits that helped rehabilitate former convicts as they re-entered society. He found Family ReEntry in Bridgeport, where he initially helped to transform a blighted block across from the First Baptist Church that had been home to drug addicts and prostitutes into a community garden.

“And that was where it all started,” he said.

Later, his minister at the Second Congregational Church in Greenwich would suggest that he consider entering the seminary, which Grant did in 2009. He graduated last year from Union Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with Columbia University, and in late 2012 was appointed to First Baptist Church in Bridgeport.

All the while, beginning in 2008, Grant said local individuals convicted of white collar crimes and their families would reach out to him for advice and counseling.

“Since I lived in Greenwich and people knew I had been a white collar criminal, word got around that I had information that could help people with their own white collar issues,” Grant said. “And I started to get phone calls.”

He attributed much of that to the shared experience. “In places like Greenwich, once someone is accused of a crime, they’re cut off from their community. I understood that, because I had gone through that myself.”

The issues that define both the inner-city and white collar criminal communities — feelings of isolation, shame, guilt, remorse; economic struggles; and legal and family issues — are one and the same, Grant said. He said the two communities have much to learn from one another.

“The things that the suffering community had in Bridgeport were almost identical to those of the white collar community,” he said. “And so, by empowering the Bridgeport community to speak up for itself, it actually empowers the Greenwich community as well.”

The informal consultations with white collar criminals and their friends and families has grown into the Progressive Prison Project.

“It’s a ministry,” Grant said, “and it’s unfolding now in kind of interesting and magical ways. … It’s not like I have a business plan — I have a ministry that’s in its infancy.”

He said the ultimate goal is to foster a compassion between communities, where, in the past, a lack of compassion has led to a social divide.

“I think it’s about learning how to conduct this ministry in balance and in ways that are going to be healthy and harmonious between the communities.” 

Reprinted from: http://westfaironline.com/55603/a-man-of-many-collars/

Jeff Grant, JD, M Div

Minister, Activist,
Social Ethicist, Author
 

Director, Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Nantucket Project 2013, Hear. Here. Announcement & Bio


Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

The Nantucket Project 2013
Sept. 27th - 29th

Hear. Here. Announcement & Bio






So grateful & humbled.

Jeff,

Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604

(203) 339-5887
jgrant3074@icloud.com
jg3074@columbia.edu