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Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Stake in Saratoga: Coming Out of Isolation and Into Community After A Crisis, By Jeff Grant


Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich, Connecticut 



Aug. 29, 2013  



A Stake in Saratoga:

   Coming Out of Isolation and Into

Community After A Crisis



By Jeff Grant





This is my last day of a week visiting my sister in Saratoga Springs, New York – it is just beautiful here. And just what I needed.



Among the other wonderful things it has to offer, Saratoga has a rich and welcoming recovery community – something I became aware of and experienced in prior visits.  This is something I have leaned upon in the past, and something that I suspected I would need to rely upon again in the future.  Recently, the future became my present in suffering a personal crisis.



As a minister who ministers to families in crisis situations, I was well aware of the ironies and tensions - and opportunities for growth.



My years in recovery had given me a lot of tools on which I could rely.  First, I needed to tell the truth to ministers and friends who love and care about me and my family, and then follow their good orderly direction.  They reminded me that on an airplane, “you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to help others.”  They were unanimous and emphatic that, once I attended to my family’s needs in Greenwich, that I get out of town for a while to work on my spiritual condition.  I followed this advice.  It was here in the Saratoga recovery community that I was able to attend a lot of meetings, attend church, engage in deep prayer, call other fellows, help and be helped by others - and mostly keep the focus on myself.  And I’ve been able to spend quality time with my sister too. What a gift to me and to my family.



I have learned that coming out of isolation and into community after a crisis takes more than just showing up (although even showing up is not always easy after a crisis) – it takes a lot of hard work, acceptance and surrender.  I am working on the acceptance part, but for me it is difficult.  The process of acceptance means that I am learning, yet again, to accept life on life’s terms in the here and now.   It seems to be an especially difficult thing to do when I’m reeling from the hurt of a recent personal crisis.  Surrender is even more difficult, especially for a guy like me who was raised as a fighter, and who spent most of his life as an Alpha male.  But the more I let go and let God, the better things seem to go.  It is certainly progress that counts, not perfection.



I’ve found welcoming recovery in all sorts of places when I’ve needed it – in big cities, in little towns all over this country, and behind the walls of prison.  But this week - when I needed it most - the Saratoga recovery community has been a Godsend.  I am profoundly grateful. 

________________


A Blessing
, by Quinn G. Caldwell, Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York: 
Jesus said, "You ought always to pray and not to faint."  Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger women and men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but for power equal to your tasks.  Then, the doing of your work will be no miracle - YOU will be the miracle, and every day you will wonder at yourself and the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God.  Amen. (from The New Century Hymnal)





Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children 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
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Speaking the Unspeakable: Abused and Neglected Women Speak Out On The 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”


Progressive Prison Project

Innocent Spouse & Children Project

Greenwich, Connecticut 



Aug. 24, 2013  





Speaking the Unspeakable:



   Abused and Neglected Women Speak Out

On The 50th Anniversary of

 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s

 “I Have a Dream”



By Jeff Grant





Today is the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – in my mind the most important and stirring event in the history of our nation’s civil rights movement.



Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” states that today’s prisoner reentry movement is “the new civil rights movement” - I agree.  As a minister, activist and chronicler in this prisoner reentry movement, I searched for a spiritual angle for a sermon about the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech.



In our ministries we spend time with women living on the margins – women who are in shelters, halfway houses, sober living ministries and mothers and children who have been abandoned by husbands who have gone to prison leaving them without resources or a plan.   I asked some of these women if they would like to reflect on what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” means to them.



Below are some of the responses.  The first is from a mother who has been left penniless (along with her children) by her husband; the second is from the Re-Entry Ministry on the Eastside of Bridgeport, Connecticut; and the last two are from student residents in the Reentry Ministry program. 



Last is a prayer that feels important to share on this anniversary of Dr. King’s speech - it was written recently for me by my wife.  I need it to read it and say it out loud everyday – today more than ever.  Perhaps you will find the same comfort and inspiration in it as I do.

____________________





“Our dreams make their path in to our life only if we trust in God and let him show us the way. 

In our lives there will be times when we are able to help others and there will be times when we need help. I have been going through a very difficult time in my life.  My husband is in jail and I have to face raising my children on my own.  I was in trouble and adrift but I have never lost hope that somehow, God will help me. And he has, he did it through a group of people that so generously gave themselves to help someone in need. Do not forget to help others when you can, as Dr. King said in his 1963 speech:  “Our brothers …have come to realize their destiny is tied up with our destiny… we cannot walk alone” If we help each other we will have a better future, together!” 





Re-Entry Ministry



“God had the plan. He used The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak faith-filled words 50 years ago that remain “alive” and “active” in our life and ministry today. And God empowered Martin Luther King to put His words into action. He told us that we are saved from things that bind us and rob us of our freedom and justice. His dream of freedom and justice was based on the love that Jesus Christ has for all people. For the past 34 years, we (Re-Entry Ministry) have labored to free women from the bondage of substance abuse... to give them a dream... that God has a plan to restore us and rescue us from our depravity...to give a future and a hope... a dream that becomes a reality. What would things be like if Martin Luther King had not dreamed?”



 Two testimonies of ladies who have found freedom in Jesus Christ follow:



The 33rd Annual Re-Entry Ministry Banquet will be held on Sept. 14th at 12:30 pm at the Holiday Inn in Bridgeport.  Among the speakers will be State of Connecticut Pardons & Parole Chair Erika Tindill.



Juelene L.



“I am 48 years old and from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. My parents Bernice F. and Collin L. are both deceased. I was drinking for 40 years since the age of eight (8) and at a later date I started smoking marijuana. Eventually, I stopped smoking the marijuana but continued drinking and at the age of 39 I went to jail for third degree assault and did not get out until I was 41, a year later I went back to drinking. After that I decided to ask for help from my counselor. They sent me to Atlanta for help. I went to two programs, but because of my anger I left them. I ended up back home living on the streets sleeping in abandon houses, in the park or wherever I could. I went to my brother to see if he could help me out, so he called his cousin and she makes calls to places and the last call was to Sister Queenie. We talked on the phone and here I am. I thank her for taking me in. She did great with me, my favorite Scripture is Psalm 138:1 ‘I will praise thee with my whole heart.’”



Pamela I.



“I am 49 years old, a mother of two sons, and grandmother of two, originally from Miami, Florida but relocated to Hartford, Connecticut. Before coming to Connecticut I had a 20 year addiction to crack cocaine and problem that I didn’t know how to handle or control. I sought help in all kinds of programs and treatments, trying to find answers that only God Himself can answer and fix.

After coming to Re-Entry, God is showing me a new way to live, and giving me a new life. Through Re-Entry, God has reached down in my heart, and given me a reason, a desire and a hope to live for. Re-Entry Ministry has taught me the value of living my life for Christ and doing His will.

I am so very grateful to Sister Queenie and all the dedicated staff who helped me and taught me the Word of God, and how to apply it to my life.

The Scripture I leave you with is Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, sayeth the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.’”





A Prayer for Jeff

by Lynn



Exalted God, You give me sacred tasks and I beg of you to grant me the courage and strength to faithfully execute my duties.



Please, guard me from the blindness of avarice and the thirst for glory and honor.  Endow me with the desire to service equally the poor and the rich, the wicked and the good, the enemy and the friend, and to see simply in each a fellow human being in pain.  Let your truth alone guide me.



Oh most compassionate and merciful God, strengthen me in body and soul that I might do your will and serve my fellows with kindness, compassion and intelligence.



Amen.



Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children 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
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Luke, Mothers & Children, A Sermon: By Jeff Grant: The Innocent Spouseand Children Project






The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport

Bridgeport, Connecticut



Sunday, August 11, 2013



Luke, Mothers & Children:

The Innocent Spouse & Children Project



Luke 12:32-40



A Sermon

 By Jeff Grant 



Do Not Be Afraid.

Expect Miracles.

Allow Them To Happen.





Good morning, and Welcome to the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport Connecticut.  For those of you who are new here, my name is Jeff Grant, and I am the Associate Minster here at the First Baptist Church, and I am also the Director of Prison Ministries. 



Pastor Scott is away this morning, and he has asked me fill in for him to preach this morning’s sermon on our Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke.  With your permission, I have decided to give you both a sermon and an update on the prison ministries at the church.  And specifically on the important and groundbreaking work we are doing at Innocent Spouse and Children Project.

______________________

Let’s start with a true story: 



Not too long ago I received a call from a friend about a family in crisis.  This family was from an affluent suburb of a major financial center.  The husband/father was now in prison for securities fraud.



Upon his arrest the husband left his family penniless, with no plan, no means to support the mother, children or their home.  Their family and friends cut off all ties with them almost immediately – they were left without any emotional, spiritual or financial support.  They were Eskimos on an ice barge.  



It was a scenario I knew all too well.  I agreed to meet with the mother the next day - I asked my wife to come along for the first part of the meeting and help in case the mother wanted her point of view and a little extra hand holding. 



The house and grounds were lovely, if fallen slightly into disrepair - I was familiar with the Norma Desmond-esque nature of these things.  I was pragmatic and down to business, my wife was all compassion and kindness (her specialties).  The mother was a deer caught in the headlights - she had no plan, no direction, and nowhere to turn.



The mother’s tale is a sad and all-to-common one these days – an over-ambitious husband who lost his way.  The details are not particularly important, and even if they were, propriety and privilege prevent me from discussing them here.



The mother needed to stop being a victim and to make some difficult decisions.  What other choice did she have - it certainly looked like her husband was not going to be coming home any time soon.  She needed answers, to understand her options.  She needed a plan - a plan that included a spiritual solution for her material problems.  



A spiritual solution basically means to not be afraid, to expect miracles - and then allow them to happen.  I have no ready explanation for how or why this works - yet it seems to work each and every time. 

It took us a little time to develop trust - I was asking her to make a big leap of faith.  But the more we spoke and shared our lives, it became clear that what we shared was our  suffering - we were bonded by our brokenness.  I shared with her my family's suffering and spiritual solution, and suggested that our experience, strength and hope would open a path for her family's own spiritual solution. 



Of course, her spiritual solution would have to deal with some very real issues.  She needed to find out what went wrong, when and why?   To do this she needed a team of professionals – she gave me permission to put together a team of expert lawyers and other professionals to work solely on the behalf of her and her children (incredibly, she never retained independent counsel - or received any advice or counsel - independent from her husband who was now in prison). 

  

In very short order, we had a full team in place where there had been none.  Among the miracles that happened for this mother were that this team of wonderful lawyers and professionals all worked on her matter in nontraditional payment arrangements. 



We delved deep into spiritual matters – and dug into the how and why?  We searched for signs and guideposts, as to how this all could have happened – how this innocent spouse could have been unwittingly dragged into this mess?  We searched, scoured for, and unearthed clues; we considered, intuited and prayed for options and solutions.


Through the process of seeking spiritual solutions, expecting miracles, allowing them to happen, faith, teamwork and discipline, and overcoming fear - today it looks as though we will able to secure a real future for this mother and her children.

_______________________

Let’s talk about Luke:



The first half of the lectionary year - from Advent to Ascension - is typically called the "Season of Christ" and addresses the question, "Who is Jesus?" The second half of the year – all of the Sundays of Pentecost is named the "Season of the Church" and addresses the question, "What does it mean to follow Jesus?"  This week’s Scripture reading from Luke is enmeshed in the heart of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus. 

According to today’s scripture reading, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples and the crowd he attracts along the way.  After sharing the parable of the rich fool, Jesus urged his disciples to dwell on no earthly concerns:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear...Instead, strive for God's kingdom and these things will be given to you as well."



Jesus then invites them to give all they have away and, in the verses that follow, to look for Christ's imminent return.  The edgy part in the last verses - reward for those who were ready and what feels like a thinly veiled threat to those who are not - only heightens the sense of expectancy for, and tension around, Jesus' instructions.



There is, however, one line, one phrase really, that stands out for me, that helps put the entire passage into perspective.  It is when Jesus says, Do Not Be Afraid:

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."  

Do not be afraid is the one of the main points through out the good news of all Scripture - and it occurs many times in Luke's account of the Jesus story.  Do not be afraid is the starting point and anchor for everything else in this passage.

___________________

I’ve learned a lot about Jesus’ admonition Do Not Be Afraid – I learned it mostly through service to others.   Service and volunteer work is something I suggest to everybody who goes through life crises – and since almost everybody goes through some life crisis, I recommend service to others to almost everybody.



As many of you know, Pastor Scott chose me for the prison ministry position here at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport because of the path that I chose after I was released from prison.  I served almost fourteen months in a Federal prison for a white-collar crime.  After my release, I volunteered in hospitals, rehabs and prisoner reentry programs; I attended and earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in NYC - the preeminent urban seminary in the world; I became a prison minister here in the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut – this is my main calling and where I spend most of my time. 



But something else was burning a hole in my soul – it was a thirst - a calling - to help people and families get through what my family went through.  That’s why we founded our new ministries: the Progressive Prison Project and the Innocent Spouse and Children Project, both in Greenwich, Connecticut, that offer experienced and compassionate support to the families of the people accused or convicted of white collar or other nonviolent crimes.  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 of things. 

___________________

You can imagine how frightened this mother and her children have been.  Frightened, isolated, penniless, without hope.  You can imagine how difficult it was when we came into each others' lives and we prayed together, and then asked each other to not be afraid.  We started by asking each other if we could look at things differently, engage in spiritual solutions, start to expect miracles, and that we could allow these miracles to happen simply through faith, trust and eliminating fear - or at least the strangle-hold that fear had on making good, sound decisions. 



Huge miracles have already happened for this mother and her children – mostly through the work of the wonderful team of professionals that we put together for her.  This team also had to overcome its own fears, learn to expect miracles and allow them to happen.  Doing things differently is just as difficult for lawyers and other professionals as it is for anyone else – maybe even harder. 



Through the outstanding work of this team, we learned just this week that there will almost certainly be a safe and secure future for this mother and her children.  God has delivered what mere mortals might have thought was impossible.  I know what this mother and her children originally thought was impossible.



Certainly, there will be a lot of life changes that they will have to get used to - theirs is a family that will almost certainly be split forever by institutions like divorce and prison.  And this mother and her children, through none of their own doing, will likely bear the cross of a tragedy in which a lot of people and institutions lost of a lot of money and respect for the system. 



But as I see it, the biggest tragedy of all about white-collar and nonviolent crime is not how big the matter is, or sensationalized the headlines - it is in our failure to see it as a human story, with real people, real brokenness, and real families left behind. 



That is why we are honored and proud to announce the launch of the Innocent Spouse & Children Project.  We believe it is the first ministry in the United States to specifically support the families of people accused or convicted of white collar and other nonviolent crimes. 



We are so grateful to have the opportunity to have helped this mother and her children move their lives into a new day, even as they have helped us learn and grow, and help our new ministry to evolve.  



Do Not Be Afraid

Expect miracles.

Allow them to happen.




Thanks to workingpreacher.org for assistance on some theological insights. 
 



Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children 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
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu 




Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prison, Trans* Issues & Orange Is The New Black, By Jami Yandle, M Div - Guest Blogger

Progressive Prison Project


Greenwich, Connecticut 

Prison, Trans* Issues & Orange Is The New Black, 
By Jami Yandle, M Div - Guest Blogger 


In early 2012, Jeff and I were classmates at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. We often found ourselves engrossed in deep theological discussion surrounding our theses based upon two respective new theologies that we had created - Jeff's Theology of Imprisonment and my GenderQueer Liberation Theology. We found so many similarities in our respective theologies, we knew the opportunity to collaborate was near.

Over the past month, Jeff and I have been trading emails about "Orange Is The New Black" - specifically about its groundbreaking treatment of women's and gender issues. When Jeff asked me to author a Guest Blog on Trans* issues on Orange Is The New Black for his wonderful blog site about his ministry, the Progressive Prison Project, I could not resist.

As a Trans* advocate and a person who identifies as GenderQueer, my thoughts about the Trans* character on the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black are mostly of relief. The series comes at a time that is most poignant for our country concerning Trans* rights. From hospital and healthcare to the educational system, Trans* folks are paving the way for important dialogue concerning the social construction of gender, sex, sexuality, and visibility therein.

In the gender variant communities there seems to be a spotlight on the white Trans* male experience. Their journeys are courageous. I’ve read memoir after heartbreaking memoir, seen and read countless blogs and interviews galore that highlight tragedy and pain of what it is like to be FtM. On the flip side, I have celebrated various Facebook status updates about money gained for testosterone shots or top surgery, times when these men are “passing” as male and therefore finally gaining emotional healing from all the  trauma incurred by larger society. All the while wondering, where are our Trans* women? Specifically, Trans* women of color.

I cannot help but notice that the same issues that pop up in mainstream society surrounding systematic issues of oppression and class largely stemming from white, heterosexual, male privilege are now hitting my community with force.

Some Trans* men who now live full-time as male adopt the dangerous misogynistic attitudes of their brothers, all too soon forgetting the trials and tribulations of what it was like to grow up in America as a little girl. Let’s not forget the opportunities afforded to them that paid for the surgery which now lends them the same joys and ease as their cisgender male brothers.

I cannot blame them- growing up female in this world while being GenderQueer has been an awful experience for me, at best. It was only through my faith, supportive family and friends, in addition to my own personal drive that I have learned to love my sexuality, my sex, and my gender identity, and my gender expression. I wish I had a character like Sophia Burset in my youth, the Trans* woman of color to look up to while growing up. I had two choices, dress like a man and be perceived as butch, or dress like a woman and try to fit into boxes I never liked nor wanted.

But Sophia, like many Trans* people (and arguably anyone who is human and does not fit the various prescribed cookie cutter boxes society as a whole doles out) is my heroine for paving her own way against all of the odds.

Sophia is good with style, witty, fierce, tender, and (gasp) quite spiritual. And it’s okay!! Finally, a series that not only reflects the back-story of a Trans* person but she has an entire emotional arc and gets similar character development as the rest of characters on the show. Additionally, she is a person of color and her experience is seen in its entirety and as a whole. Sophia is the leader in the facility for aesthetic prowess, appropriately.

Trans* women have processed being a woman on a level that cisgender women have not. Trans* women of color, more so. It is not a better or deeper process, just different. Trans* women are fighting for the right to be themselves, knowing all too well the marginalized place in society they are now privy to join. Their femininity runs so deep there is just no other way to exist in this world and herein lies the strength of their stories and struggles. And they are doing it well, with fewer resources, less support, and from a more vulnerable spot than the rest of us.

Jami Yandle, M Div is currently a Chaplain Resident the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.  You can read more about Jami, GenderQueer Liberation Theology and gender & trans* issues on Jami’s blog: Trans*it-Authority (http://thetomboyeffect.wordpress.com).



Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children 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
jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jg3074@columbia.edu