Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc.: the first ministry in the United States created to provide confidential support and counseling to individuals, families and organizations with white-collar and other nonviolent incarceration issues. Greenwich CT & Nationwide.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Nantucket Project 2012 - Column 1




Progressive Prison Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut 

A column from Sept, 2012.  I was the kick-off speaker at The Nantucket Project 2012 Fellows Academy lunch to start the weekend:



Practically Religion: Interesting Times at The Nantucket Project



By Jeff Grant

An Ancient Chinese proverb says, “may you live in interesting times.” I have a feeling that The Nantucket Project will be a very interesting time.

I recently received my acceptance email selecting me as a 2012 TNP Fellow to The Nantucket Project this Oct. 5-8th. The email from Kate Brosnan (TNP Exec. Director) said, “I would need you to be here by noon on Friday since I have you speaking to all of our Fellows at the Fellows lunch. You will be following Senator Bill Frist on the program.”Really?

So here’s the deal. The Nantucket Project bills itself as an “event experience that brings together a select group of eminent and accomplished visionaries, thinkers, innovators and performers to one of the most storied places in the United States.” And I think that it’s pretty much true (present company excepted) from what I can tell from its website and from speaking with its Chairman, Tom Scott (a Greenwich resident). The presenters at this year’s event are mind-boggling, or in my case as I labor over my own presentation, mind-numbing. Here are a few names to get me crazy in the middle of the night: Greenwich’s own Eddie Lambert, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Peter Thiel of PayPal fame, the actor Mark Ruffalo and his Water Defense project, Larry Summers the Ex-Secretary of the Treasury. There are probably 30 – 40 presenters and panelists in all, and 350 people private jetting in to this oasis in the Atlantic to experience the experience and rub elbows. As a TNP Fellow, I have a scholarship to attend but I wasn’t surprised to find out that that no private jet will whisk away my wife Lynn and me to Nantucket. We do have a plan, however; if we start rowing from Greenwich Harbor today we may make it by the start of the event.

Why in the world would Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan select me, a seminarian/theologian and Director of a new prison ministry model, as a Fellow to this monster of an event? Well, I’m not sure. But I think it’s about two things. The first is about lifting up the voices of those who can’t speak for themselves; about understanding that the only way we can solve this mess we are in is to hold the oppressed at the center of the conversation. It is so easy to enlarge (or reduce) the discussion to meta-terms, think of the world as a big technological problem to solve. But who is actually speaking with and for the hundreds of millions of people on the ground in this country, the billions on this planet, who have to figure out how to live life each day on life’s terms? Can their issues, problems and traumas be reduced to some imagined collective and/or collected understanding from which business leaders will make decisions that will change their way of life and destiny? What are our ethical imperatives? Do we slow down enough to engage the people in the process, invite them to the table, ask them the questions about what they really need, or want?

The second is specific to the world of the imprisoned, the recently released from prison and those who are in fear or danger of going to prison. It doesn’t take too much time for them to figure out that the process is, and is forever going to be, life altering for them and their families. In fact, for almost all, it’s a life sentence regardless of their sentence. It is more trauma, after years or lifetimes of trauma, and it affects those in every economic background. In my work in Bridgeport and New York City, I’ve spent years with, and fighting for the rights of, families on the margins who have no resources with which to ensure a successful reentry from prison. Some succeed, but the majority succumbs to the cycle of recidivism that swallows generation after generation.

Headlines every day announce prison-centric issues that affect people in towns like Greenwich. It seems like no one is immune. For white collar types it is disturbing that there are virtually no services available to help make sense of this. Nobody, that is almost nobody, understands. The affected have never felt more alone, more vulnerable, hurt, afraid, and helpless. The old standbys that they used to rely upon (power, independence, intelligence) not only feel useless and unreliable, but they feel counterproductive. It feels like there is nowhere to get credible information, and nobody to trust. I meet with these people most days too, and offer my experience about the process, and hope that there is a different and better life on the other side.

So, I think there is little doubt that that The Nantucket Project will be a very interesting time. I will give a full report in my next column.

Link to my column, Practically Religion, that appears in various Connecticut-based media: http://hamlethub.com/greenwich-life/cat/people/19504-practically-religion-interesting-times-at-the-nantucket-project-2


Jeff Grant, JD, M Div                                                                                    
Director, Progressive Prison Project                                                           
Associate Minister/Director of Prison Ministries                                               
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport Connecticut            
jg3074@columbia.edu
(203) 339-5887


Experienced and Compassionate support of families affected by incarceration issues on all ends of the social and economic spectrum. 



Monday, March 25, 2013

White Collar Ministry 3 - Why Greenwich? Why Bridgeport?

Progressive Prison Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut

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In Early December, I was on my way to the Fresh Start Holiday Party in Bridgeport.   Fresh Start is a program of Family ReEntry, a nonprofit that serves formerly incarcerated persons and their families in Fairfield County.  Since I was Vice Chairman of Family Reentry, I was invited to attend the party.  I liked going each year to give support to the clients and staff, and also because the party was thrown in the reception hall of the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport.  Family ReEntry rents space in this church to run its Bridgeport programs.  As I had been at the Family ReEntry programs many times, I knew and felt very comfortable at this church.



As I walked into the church on this particular day, something told me to go to Pastor Scott’s office before I went into the reception hall.  On reflection, it wasn’t a strange thing to do; I had been greeting Pastor Scott in this manner since I had been accepted to Union Theological Seminary.  As I progressed and then received my Master of Divinity, we increasingly had more and more things to talk about.  We spoke for a long time and when we were through had the blue print for me to become the Associate Minister/ Director of Prison Ministries for the church.  Both Pastor Scott and I both knew it was perfect for me.  I told him I needed a week to discuss it with my wife Lynn, take good counsel from trusted advisors, and to pray about it.  It was unanimous – we were heading to Bridgeport.



In my new position as Associate Minister for Community Outreach and Development/ Director of Prison Ministries, I have been given the freedom to continue and advance other projects around the state.  The Progressive Prison Project is a Greenwich-based project that offers compassionate and experienced assistance to all persons and families going through these difficulties on all ends of the social and economic spectrum .  Similarly, I am involved in a project based in New Haven uses a strength-in-numbers strategy to help empower those individuals and social networks that are most affected by incarceration and inequities of the US criminal justice system. 
 



As a Greenwich resident, it used to be easy for me to believe that things that happen in places like Bridgeport could never happen to my family.   But that was before some difficult things happened in my family that made me look at things differently and more clearly.   And as I think about it, after events in Newtown and other recent events in this county, how could any reasonable person ever again take that position?



Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, and other towns in Fairfield County are not so far away from Bridgeport, only a few exits on the Merritt or I-95, or a few stops on Metro North.  I invite all of my friends and neighbors to email me, give me a call, or come visit me at the church - or I'll gladly come to you.  Let’s talk about how we can work together to make things better.




Jeff Grant, JD, M Div                                                                                    
Director, Progressive Prison Project                                                           
Associate Minister/Director of Prison Ministries                                               
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport Connecticut            
jg3074@columbia.edu
(203) 339-5887

Experienced and Compassionate support of families affected by incarceration issues on all ends of the social and economic spectrum. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

White Collar Ministry 2 - News & Content Link

Progressive Prison Project
Greenwich, Connecticut 




We curate useful news and information content daily on the Progressive Prison Project Facebook page at:


https://www.facebook.com/progressiveprisonproject 


Gratefully, 

Jeff

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

Assoc. Minister/ Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
Bridgeport, Connecticut

jgrant@progressiveprisonproject.org
jgrant3074@columbia.edu
(203) 339-5887

Experienced and Compassionate support of families affected by incarceration issues on all ends of the social and economic spectrum. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

White Collar Ministry - Hedge Fund Story

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Progressive Prison Project 
Greenwich, Connecticut


Not long ago I met with a hedge fund manager who had already been sentenced to five years in prison - he had been designated to report to a Federal prison in five weeks.  Although his case was highly publicized, he preferred to meet in a diner – I have found that many people feel more comfortable having a first meeting in this kind of neutral setting.  After our initial introductions, he told me that he had an “army of professionals” and had “everything covered.”  As the conversation unfolded it became clear that although the lawyering and many of the other professional pieces had been handled well, nobody had ever discussed with him –or his wife – how to survive the prison experience and then put their lives back together on the other side. 
 
I asked him, for example, if he understood that once he surrendered he would be a prisoner of the Federal Bureau of Prisons - and that it was possible that he would be placed into the Segregated Housing Unit (solitary) for days or weeks before he was put on the compound?  Did his wife know how to track his movements if he was transferred to another prison?  Did anybody prepare his wife for her first visit to the prison visiting room, so that she wasn’t sent home due to wearing the wrong clothing?  Or because of incidental drug residue on her clothes or money she might bring in to buy him food in the vending machines? 

He looked dumbfounded - and a little embarrassed.  He was reporting to prison in five weeks and nobody had ever discussed with him and his family anything that they would need to survive the ordeal ahead.   

I told him that there was no reason to be embarrassed - that for families of his economic circumstances this was a common paradigm. This is perhaps the most difficult situation to ever happen in a family's life- who could blame them for not knowing the right questions to ask or in not understanding how to find experienced, compassionate support with the kind of background that they really need?

I suggested that he start taking notes. 

We called the waiter over and asked for a stack of place mats and a pen.  We talked for the next four hours.  

Jeff Grant, JD, M Div                                                                                    
Director, Progressive Prison Project                                                           
Associate Minister/Director of Prison Ministries                                               
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport Connecticut            
jg3074@columbia.edu
(203) 339-5887


Experienced and Compassionate support of families affected by incarceration issues
 on all ends of the social and economic spectrum.