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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blog: The Nantucket Project, Days 6 & 7, Jeff Grant

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut


Our Week at The Nantucket Project 2013


Jeff Grant

Day Six: Nantucket, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013:   

It happened again.  I have no rational explanation for how or why this has happened to (or perhaps for) me now twice at The Nantucket Project.  I'd have to call it a "pentecostal,"  experience or something, because the closest I can come to explain what has happened now twice is that I was speaking in tongues - babbling.  I literally have no memory of what came out of my mouth.  I do know that I threw out the prepared speech that I wrote (and published as a blog post here yesterday) and tried my best to just tell the truth. To speak from my heart. It was messy.  I was nervous.  

About ten minutes before it was my turn to present, Kate Brosnan squeezed my hand to comfort me - she reminded me to "Bring God Into It." Her smiling eyes were really saying it all.  Ten minutes before I was to go on, Tom Scott pulled me aside and asked me if I was going to "Go For It."  He reminded me what I was there for - to be of service to people, to be a channel.   To be "In Him."  Tom and I are great friends, we counseled each other into and through our Divinity School journeys - I listened intently.  I decided to throw out my script. I prayed.

After Tom took introduced me as "the guy he had met in Starbucks in Greenwich," I started to talk.  I started to tremble. There were over 500 people there and I told them that I was there because the year before a magical and mystical experience had occurred when I told my story at The Fellows Academy Luncheon - I had confessed and confided things in the Fellows and guests that I had never said before in public.  I trusted them and asked them to trust me.  In those seven minutes at the Fellows Luncheon I was transformed in front of strangers and we became a community.  

I told this crowd of 500+ that the speech to the Fellows was one of the most memorable days of my life, but unfortunately I didn't remember a thing about it.  I was taken over, absorbed, in a state of grace or something not of my doing.  Afterwards, I was rushed by people in the room who had borne witness to what had happened who were crying and thanked me for doing that - who thanked me for giving them so sort of permission to be honest about what was going on in their lives too.  We became friends - friends that have lasted since.  Friends like Kristen Kellogg, with whom I tweet many days.  And Brent Tartamella, who put us up at the Westmoor Club over the winter.  And Marc Skvirsky, who became a dear old friend in one day, and who has offered to put our whole family up if my stepdaughter Skylar is chosen to row in The Head of the Charles. 

So with my dear wife Lynn sitting in the front row yesterday afternoon, I explained this to the entire Nantucket Project audience - and explained to them how Kate Brosnan called me up a few weeks later to ask me if I could do it again?  That she invited me to be a Presenter on the Main Stage at TNP2013 and that I told her that I would be honored - but I admitted to her that I didn't remember a thing.  She told me the same thing then that she told me yesterday.  She told me to turn it over to God.  

Yesterday I did so again.  I honestly have no idea what happened. 

________________

Day Seven: Nantucket/Greenwich, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013:   

Neil Phillips.  Two words to describe what The Nantucket Project is all about.  In a weekend of incredible presentations (p/c alert: I loved every presentation), Neil stood head and shoulders above the rest, literally and figuratively.  Neil Phillips (and his Visible Men Academy) is the man!

Gratefulness.  Lynn and I are grateful for so many things that God has offered us over the past decade - none more than to be in the company of our companions at TNP to share the portion of Louie Schwartzberg's film "Gratitude," and to hear his words of hope and life renewal.  Louie has offered to make hard copies available for prison showings.  It has been that kind of weekend. 
 
Thankfulness.  To each of you who has shared with us over the past few days your personal and family stories of pain, suffering, hope, faith and/or renewal - thank you for being with us and for trusting us.  We know it is a deeply profound and personal act of trust and love to share our pain and suffering with one another, to find that we are bound by our brokenness, and that we can only heal if come out of isolation, speak our truths and live together in community.  We know that we have been blessed in getting to know you and we want to keep in touch with you.  Our prayers are with you and your families. 

We are especially touched by Greg and Kathy LeMond, and their honesty, compassion and willingness to share how they've overcome adversities through courage and faith. They've proven that true champions put others first - we are so glad to be able to call them friends. 

Clothing crisis poll results.  I wouldn't dream of ending this week of TNP blogging without something fun :).  If you want to see the results of my clothing crisis poll, and see what I wore to my TNP presentation, please go to our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/progressiveprisonproject.org.

To TS & KB,
A special thank you.  It was a blessing beyond our wildest dreams.  May God bless you & keep you always. You know. 
Lynn & Jeff

___________________


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

Friday, September 27, 2013

"The Art Of Surviving Prison" Presentation: Day 5 The Nantucket Project, Jeff Grant

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut


Our Week at The Nantucket Project 2013


Jeff Grant

Day Five: Nantucket, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013:  




________________________
 

The Nantucket Project

Friday, September 27, 2012



"The Art of Surviving Prison"



Jeff Grant



 
Good afternoon.  My name is Jeff Grant, I’ll start off by telling you three things about myself that might not be obvious by looking at me.  First, I served almost fourteen months in a Federal Prison for a white-collar crime.  Second, I am an alcoholic and drug addict.  Third, I’m the Associate Minister and Director of Prison Ministries at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport – a church in one of the roughest neighborhoods in one of the roughest cities in the country.  I am also the Director of the Progressive Prison Project and the Innocent Spouse & Children Project, both based in Greenwich, Connecticut - which I am certain you know is one of the wealthiest communities in the country.  These are the first ministries in the United States to support the families of persons accused or convicted of white collar and other nonviolent crimes.  We’ll talk more about these ministries that my wife Lynn and I have founded in a little while.



Over the next ten minutes, I am going to tell you the story of how I was transformed from being a successful New York corporate attorney, by successfully surviving almost fourteen months in a Federal prison, into becoming an inner city minister – who also helps people accused or convicted of white collar crimes, and their families, through their own transformation stories.  



I have one more admission to make up front – this is not my first time speaking at The Nantucket Project – although it is my first time presenting on the Main Stage.  You see, I am an alumnus of The Nantucket Project Fellows Academy.  Last year, when I was a 2012TNP Fellow, it was an honor to be alongside Sen. Bill Frist when he & I spoke at the Fellows Academy Lunch to kick-off the 2012 Nantucket Project. 



And you know what?  An amazing thing happened at that lunch!  As soon as people found out that I was a prison minister, and that I had gone to prison, prison become the overarching theme of the luncheon!



I really shouldn’t have been surprised – the topic of prison seems to be everywhere now.  It captures people’s imaginations.  It reaches into their homes and affects their families and their lives.  If I took a poll of the people in this room, and asked people to raise their hands if they had a friend or family member in prison, who has been to prison or in fear of going to prison – many of you, maybe even the majority of you, would raise their hand.  The original Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black was an unmitigated hit  this summer season.  Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, comes out next month.  Prison stories are gripping. Prison is topical. And Prison is personal.



I thank Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan for inviting me to be the first alumnus of The Nantucket Project Fellows Program to tell his story on the Main Stage..

_________________



It began when I suffered a sports injury in 1992.  I was a young, successful corporate and real estate lawyer with all the trappings – big house in Westchester County, NY, Mercedes, and vacations to the Caribbean.  You get the picture?   Anyway, I was playing basketball with my biggest client when lightening struck and I ruptured my Achilles tendon.  And in the course of the rehabilitation from that injury I got hooked on pain killers.  I never meant for it to happen – but it did and for over ten years I took them almost every day of my life.   The problem with taking pain killers – at least for me – was that it was insidious.  Day after day, little by little, they cut away at my soul, ate away at my judgment.  If I had had the ability to pull back and look at my life from a distance and see it in five or ten year slices, I probably could have seen how different everything looked over these different time periods.  The compromises I was making.  The physical changes. The mood and behavior issues.  The money problems.  It probably would have been obvious.   But I couldn’t do that – instead, day by day the cumulative effect was imperceptible.  I was miserable – my weight had ballooned to 285 pounds – I was vomiting up blood from anxiety.  I was spending way more money than I was making.  I was taking more and more painkillers.  I stopped showing up for client meetings.  The law firm was spinning out of control. 



Until one day my office manager came to me and told me that we had a problem.  She told me that we weren’t going to make payroll that week.  How could that be possible?  I had been in business as a lawyer almost twenty years – and despite all the problems, all the madness, the business had grown to become one of the most successful law practices in Westchester County.  We were bringing in millions of dollars a year – something I still have no explanation for.   But we were out of cash – I could have done a lot of reasonable things.  I could have called a friend, I could have called the bank. But my mind was reeling, the drugs wouldn’t let me focus.  And that’s when I made my deal with the devil.  I told her to borrow the money from the firm’s client escrow account.  She asked me if I was sure that’s what I wanted to do, and I told her to do it.  And with two key strokes of a computer, my fate was sealed. 



I wound up borrowing and replacing client escrow funds a few more times – but the damage was done.  As these things go, soon there would be a grievance against me that started out over something small - but my client escrow records would be subpoenaed and I would start a long three year battle to defend against the defenseless.  Racked with shame and guilt, my pain killer use escalated and I got really out of control. 



On Sept. 11th, when I saw the plane hit the second tower, I went into sheer madness.  It was as if the world stopped spinning.  I couldn’t think and I couldn’t work -  I started to lose clients and staff.  I was in a pit of denial and was looking for my way out.  There were commercials on TV and the radio for small business loans for businesses that had been adversely affected by the tragedy – I called and described my problem.  They told me that I qualified for a 9/11 loan.  But even having qualified, I was just too desperate and stoned – and I embellished my loan application to make sure I got the loan.  In a few weeks I did get the loan and I thought I was on track to save my law firm and start a new day.  But it didn’t really help – within a few very short months, all the evidence had mounted and it became clear that I was going to lose my grievance case and was going to be disbarred from practicing law. 



One day in July 2002 I had enough – I had no more fight left in me.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I called my lawyer and told him to throw in the white flag and resign my law license.  That night, after my wife and kids went to sleep, I sat down in the big easy chair of the den in our house in Westchester, and tried to kill myself.  I swallowed an entire bottle of pain killers.   I just wanted the pain and the madness to stop. 



________________



I woke up a few days later in the Acute Care Unit of Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT and there was no way of knowing then that instead of my life ending, that my new life had begun.   I made it through seven weeks of rehab and started the long arduous but incredible journey of a road back to life through recovery.   I went to my first AA meeting on my first night out of Silver Hill Hospital – and at that meeting I did exactly what I was instructed to do.  I raised my hand and said, My name is Jeff, I’m an alcoholic and I need a sponsor.  I met my first sponsor at my very AA meeting, and have attended almost 9000 AA meetings since then and have never again touched another drink or a drug.  I am very proud to say that on August 10th of this year, I celebrated my 11th sobriety anniversary.



But, of course, we already know that there was more to my story.  I did what any "sane person" would do with no money and no job – I moved my family to Greenwich, Connecticut – perhaps the wealthiest community in the country.  There I became a very involved member of AA, and took on a lot of responsibilities and commitments.  After all, recovery had saved my life.  Over the first year or two, with so much wreckage to take care of – I had lost my career, my money, I lost our home in foreclosure, my marriage was in shambles.  But recovery was my bedrock – I was staying sober.



One morning, when I had about 20 months of sobriety, I received a call from the FBI.  The agent on the phone told me that there was a warrant out for my arrest in connection with my fraudulent statements on the 9/11 loan.  I couldn’t believe it – it had been four years, I was now sober almost two years - and I couldn’t believe that anybody was looking at that loan.  But one of the gifts was that I was able to face this as a sober man, and be there for my family, for my community and for myself sober. 



I was sentenced to eighteen months in Federal prison.  For those of you who don’t know how the designation process works in the Federal prison system, basically on the day your name comes up you are designated by your security level lowest to highest and given a bed kind of like checking into a hotel.  I had a security level of "zero" – so I could have been designated to a camp anywhere within 500 miles of our home in Connecticut. But on the day I was designated there were no beds in camps in this area – so I was designated to a Low Security Prison.  And that’s where I went.  On Easter Sunday, 2006, I reported to Allenwood Low Security Corrections Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania.  And soon found out inside that there was one former lawyer - that would be me - two former doctors, five former stockbrokers, and 1500 drug dealers.  This was real prison and would be home for the next thirteen and a half months.



________________



Among the many, many things I learned about successfully surviving prison are two main points.  The first is that everything –  and I mean everything is about respect in some shape or form.  In prison, respect basically comes from keeping your mouth shut most of the time, and believing none of what you hear and half of what you see.   It’s amazing how much I learned about respect in prison – respect for others, respect for life, respect for possessions, respect for God.  It’s as if I had been sleepwalking my entire life and never had my eyes open to the human condition or what it took to be free, until that freedom was taken away from me.  The other thing main point I want to share today about successfully surviving prison is to a have a plan. Before I went to prison I read the works of great leaders who survived captivity, and read about their ability in prison to manifest control over bodies and attitudes – and their abilities to help others.  Even before I went to prison, I decided that my plan would be a daily regimen of mind, body and spirit in helping others and myself.   For my mind, I learned to play guitar – and took over 200 guitar lessons while I was in prison.  For my body, I walked 14,000 laps around the track – the equivalent of walking across the United States from New York to Los Angeles in one year.  And for my spirit, I turned to God.  I read the Bible, went to religious services and communed with other suffering people in ways I had never before encountered.  And there was AA in prison too – and it was a gift to be able to keep my AA program going giving the other inmates comfort that they could stay sober on the street as they taught me how to stay sober in prison.



__________________________



I was released from prison in 2007 and had to do a stint in a halfway house, home detention and then three years of Federal probation.   I also had court ordered drug and alcohol counseling.   It was my counselor – a former Catholic Priest turned drug counselor- who recommended to me that I rebuild my life through volunteerism.  I called my old rehab Silver Hill Hospital, and asked them if I could come interview for a volunteer position – they told me to come over that day.  We sat and talked for almost two hours, and importantly, I fully disclosed everything that that happened in the past few years.  They asked me to fill out an application and told me that they were going to do a background check – I was nervous.  I figured that if my own rehab wouldn’t take me for a volunteer job, who in the world would ever let me work for them?  I didn’t have to wait long.  Two hours later my phone rang and I was a recovery volunteer for Silver Hill Hospital.   This led me next to becoming a volunteer house manager at Liberation House in Stamford, CT – a residential rehab where guys are sent instead of being sentenced to prison.   That led me to Family Reentry, a nonprofit serving the ex-offender communities in Bridgeport and New Haven CT, the first organization that asked me to serve on its Board of Directors.  My then girlfriend Lynn – now my wife – worked with ex-offenders of Family Entry and converted a blighted inner city block in Bridgeport into the largest privately owned public use park and garden in the State of Connecticut.



All this time we were living in Greenwich and attending AA meetings – and I became known as the “prison guy.”  I was sharing about going to prison, surviving prison, and staying sober through the entire experience.  Soon guys who had white-collar legal problems were seeking me out, and over the next six years I must have met with and counseled fifty guys in various stages of going to or coming back from prison.  It was an eye opening experience and I had no idea that it was going to turn into a ministry.  I was just putting one foot ahead of another.



I went to Chris Tate, a Reverend at the church that we were attending in Greenwich, and told him that I was searching for something more meaningful.  He recommended that I apply to Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  I told him that I thought that was a little crazy – for one thing, I’m a Jew.  Next, how would I ever get accepted to the preeminent urban seminary in the world with my story?  But, he told me that seminaries are in the redemption business – I should apply.  And I did.  I was accepted to Union Theological Seminary and went to school there for three years.  

In April 2011, Chris and Rev. Holly Adams baptized me with water brought back by my friend Walt Chichocki from the River Jordan. In May 2012 I earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary with a Focus in Christian Social Ethics.   For my master’s thesis, I wrote a 150 page treatise that became the basis of my hopefully soon to be published book, "The Art of Surviving Prison." 

_________________________



A few months later, while still working with white-collar families in Greenwich and doing reentry work in Bridgeport, I accepted an offer from The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport for Lynn and I to start a prison ministry at the church.  You have no idea how blessed we felt to have come from where we came from, and to have a life of service in a community where we could really make a difference.  And where they could make a profound difference in us.   I started to blog about the experience of working in the hood during in the day, and with white-collars in the evening when lightning struck again. 



I received a call from Lawrence Delevingne, a reporter at a Hedge Fund Magazine called Absolute Return (now at cnbc.com), who had read my blog – he called me an "inner-city minister ministering to white-collar criminals and their families."  He asked if I would do an interview.  And I told him that I would on one condition:  that the story is about a new ministry that is bringing suffering communities together in new ways so that they can survive, transform and succeed.  Over three or four sessions Lawrence conducted a sensitive and powerful interview that caught the attention of a lot of people.



The Progressive Prison Project and the Innocent Spouse & Children Project are the first ministries in the United States to support with intentionality the families of people accused or convicted of white collar and 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.   



It is true that we still spend the majority of our time in the inner city, but we find our work with white-collar families just as fulfilling.  These wives and children are innocents of situations not of their own doing, in situations where they have often not been independently represented, in which husbands and fathers have gone to prison often leaving them penniless, homeless and shunned by their communities.  For these mothers and children, we assemble teams of advocates, ministers, lawyers, counselors  and other professionals to protect them and get them safely through to a new life in a new family dynamic on the other side of prison.



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. 



__________________________



Thank you for allowing me to spend a few minutes with you, tell you my story and share with you the ground breaking work we are doing the Progressive Prison Project and Innocent Spouse & Children Project.  You can learn more about it on our website at progressiveprisonproject.org. 



May God Bless You and Keep You Always. 


______________________________


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
progressiveprisonproject.org 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blog: The Nantucket Project, Days 1, 2, 3 & 4, Jeff Grant

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut


Our Week at The Nantucket Project 2013
Days One, Two, Three & Four


Jeff Grant




Day One: Greenwich. Monday, Sept. 23, 2013:   

TNP week begins - I've got the jitters already.  So glad I got took on yesterday's sermon at UCC West Norwalk - I am very grateful to Rev. Holly Adams for the opportunity - what we thought would be a "TNP tune-up" wound up having all sorts of "a-ha" moments too.  It's often that way when we meet new people and we share things that are so close to us like family and friends who are in prison - wounds get opened and we heal and bond together in lovely and unpredictable ways.  When I was lawyering for all those years, these things rarely happened.  Now, it happens almost for us all the time.  It is a blessing. 

Lynn & I are saddened by the news that Mikhail Gorbachev is having emergency back surgery and will not be coming to TNP.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family for a speedy recovery.  Tom & Kate must be freaking out - but they are pros & troopers and already have Sen. John McCain filling in as Keynote.  Not too shabby.  There's a wild mix of personalities, politics and philosophies going on at this conference - we can't wait to see what happens. 

Tom emailed me the first day presenter list.  I am slotted third in the conference - Friday afternoon - right after Steve Case! - jitters now turning to full-on anxiety attack :).  So glad to be on early & then be able to enjoy the rest of TNP.

TNP is a very casual conference - I learned this last year when I was a 2012 TNP Fellow.  Everybody is pretty much walking around in topsiders and dockers.  That said, I have no idea why the dry cleaner has become the singular focus of my attention. 

*On a somber note, we just found out that our friend Robert Bray passed away last evening.  Please join us in prayers for Bob and his entire family.  The entire Greenwich Community will dearly miss Bob and his gentle, kind spirit.  

___________________

Day Two: Greenwich. Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013:   

Fellows Academy Luncheon.  Leslie Bresette emailed to ask if Lynn and I would attend this year's Fellows' luncheon on Friday, to support our friend Marc Skvirsky who will be speaking.  (Last year, when I was a 2012 TNP Fellow, U.S. Senator Bill Frist and I gave the speeches at the Fellows Academy Luncheon to kick-off The Nantucket Project - what an honor!).  Marc is the Vice President of the important Boston-based nonprofit, Facing History and Ourselves - we met at last year's TNP and became old friends overnight. 

Sunny. High around 62. Winds NW 15-25. High tide 3:44 p.m.  An example of a helpful - and admittedly compulsive - daily email I subscribed to from The Nantucket Inquirer to guide us our clothing choices for the trip on Thursday.  Oy vey!

Sold Out. I received a call yesterday from a close friend - who was trying to find TNP tickets for his close friend.  He told me that TNP was Sold Out - and did I have an "extra" lying around? Or could I give Tom Scott a call on his behalf?  For the record, TNP does not give presenters extra tickets - they are super generous but I think they probably sell tickets to cover the huge cost of this extraordinary weekend.  I did call Tom - and he told me that although have a long waiting list they are trying to accommodate everybody in some fashion.  I love these people. 


A Redding Lament.  You'll find a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt that I reposted on our facebook page, facebook.com/progressiveprisonproject.  I found this quote posted last week by our friend Gail in tribute to our friend Walt, who is recovering from Multiple Myeloma.  Walt is a one of the greatest guys we have every met - a long time mentor of inner city kids in the Family ReEntry/ Fresh Start Champions program in Bridgeport, CT. We are pulling for you Walt! 

I've got to put in a mention in here for Hopeton Scott, our Senior Pastor at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport.  While we are at TNP, on Fri. Sept. 27th & Sat. 28th ABCCONN will hold its World Mission Conference in New Haven, CT. Pastor Scott will lead Bible Study on Sat. morning.   If you are in or near New Haven on this Sat. morning, it is worth the time to be in a Bible Study with Pastor Scott!

A big shout out to TNP's own Jenelle Ferri and Philip Davidson for help cleaning up my Power Point for my presentation on Friday.  Last year I was at TNP2012 and saw some of the greatest technological presentations ever made on the planet - so I know that my Power Point is pretty much that of a fourth-grader.  I take comfort in knowing the reason I have been invited to present at TNP is to tell a human story.  Well, at least my Power Point will be decidedly human... 
 _______________

Day Three: Greenwich, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013:   

The Art of Surviving Prison - not only is it the title of my presentation on Friday - it's also the name of my "soon-to-be-released" book.  Issue #1:  Some TNP materials say that this book is "due out fall 2013."  Issue #2:  My literary agent, Amanda Mecke, is only now first shopping this book around to publishers.  Issue #3: As anybody in or out of the literary world knows, it would be a snowball's chance in...

The Art of Surviving Prison, ReduxI accept complete responsibility for any overambitious statements I made as to the publication date of my book. Whew!

A word to the TNP Fellows.  Upon reflection, I think I had a good attitude as I engaged last year's The Nantucket Project as a 2012TNPFellow - I think I had achieved some portion of a "beginner's mind."  This was extremely helpful in having the courage to introduce myself to - and having meaningful dialogue with - the kind of interesting people that I would meet at TNP (many of whom had appeared on magazine covers).  I'm desperately trying to coax myself into a similar state now.  You know how it is?  The harder I try the less it seems to happen.  Here's a link to the column I wrote a year ago: http://progressiveprisonproject.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-nantucket-project-2012-column-1.html.   

Clothing crisis - feedback welcomed.  As I may have mentioned at least a few times already, I'm having a serious wardrobe issue for TNP.  Here's the thing - for a guy who likes to think he's pretty funny & accessible (I might be wrong), I take my prison activism work very seriously. So, do I go casual like most presenters? Or maybe a comfortable suit with no-tie kinda look?  The polls are open and I'm hoping that all three readers of this blog will email me.  

Today would have been my mother Muriel Grant's 79th birthday.  She was a beautiful woman who lived life on her own terms - we miss you mom. 
 ________________

Day Four: Greenwich/Nantucket, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013:   


Wheels Up today at 4 pm!  Last year was not only my first time at TNP - it was also my first time on Nantucket.  As a 2012TNPFellow, I drove from Greenwich & then took the ferry from Hyannis.  I really had no idea how intrepid and dedicated you have to be get to and from this island - it was an important perspective I gained from my experience last year.  Important perspective or not, we are extremely grateful for the flight this year! 

Soliciting comments.  I just finished a draft of the Intro for my Presentation tomorrow.  I've got 10 mins total, so basically it's: Intro - 2 mins, Story - 6 mins, Wrap up - 2 mins, Relax - 2 days.  Any friends who would like to contribute comments, please email/text me today and I will joyfully email you a copy.  I love collaborations!

We're going to a party! Lynn & I actually got invited to a party tonight in honor of fellow presenter Greg LeMond (the U.S.'s only Tour de France winner).  A "TNP pre-party" feels kind of like it's the 90's all over again (or maybe it's just the start of a typical weekend for you Nantucketers?)  Anyway, a big thanks to My Charity of Choice CEO Hunter Ziesing for hosting the shindig. 

The results are in.  There was an overwhelming response (not kidding) to my clothing dilemma poll in yesterday's blog post.  And, believe it or not, one wardrobe option was favored by over 75% of the respondents! (Also plenty of responses not appropriate for family viewing hour).  I realize this was all a tad obsessive - thanks to all for your kind assistance.  See you on the Main Stage tomorrow.


More soon...


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
progressiveprisonproject.org 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Luke, Slaves & Masters, Luke 16:1-13: A Sermon. The Innocent Spouse & Children Project, Greenwich, CT



United Congregational Church

Norwalk, Connecticut



Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013



Luke, Slaves & Masters:
The Innocent Spouse & Children Project,
Greenwich, CT



Luke 16:1-13



A Sermon

 By Jeff Grant 



Good morning, and Welcome to the United Congregational Church of Norwalk Connecticut.  My name is Jeff Grant, and I am the Associate Minster and Director of Prison Ministries at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  For those of you who are not familiar with our church, it is in a neighborhood in Bridgeport called “The Hollow” that can be pretty rough at times. You can probably guess that the ‘hood in Bridgeport is sometimes a very difficult - yet very fulfilling - place in which to be a prison minister. 



I spend the rest of my time as Director of two other ministries – the Progressive Prison Project and the Innocent Spouse & Children Project – both based in Greenwich, Connecticut.  In these new forms of prison ministry, we offer support to people accused or convicted of white collar and other nonviolent crimes and their families.  Believe it or not, Greenwich is sometimes an even more difficult - yet fulfilling - place to be a prison minister.



My dear friend Rev. Holly Adams is away this morning - in Russia no less - she has asked me fill in for her to preach this morning’s sermon on our Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke, apply it to the work we are doing in our prison ministries, and specifically point out ways in which – in our experience – people have been transformed through Christ from being Slaves to money into being joyful servants of the one true Master.  That Master of course is God.

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This morning’s scripture lesson, Luke 16:1-13, is sometimes called the “Parable of The Unjust Steward,” or, in some versions of the Bible, the “Parable of the Shrewd Manager.” It is one of the most confusing passages in all of the New Testament, so it looks like we have our hands full this morning.  It asks, “How is it that an unfaithful Manager, about to be relieved of his position, can gain praise from his employer when he ends his career by stealing more from him?”  



I think that this is a certainly a question that anyone might be very interested in hearing about – and especially someone who might be heading to prison, who has a family member in prison, or who has recently returned home from prison?



To better understand this parable, we need to look at the context in which it was presented.  The Parable of the Unjust Steward is the fourth story given in a series that begins in Luke 15.  The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep – which is a parable that tells us that every soul is precious to God and is worth great effort to save.  The second story is the Parable of the Lost Coin – in this parable Jesus reminds us that we will put forth a lot of effort to a task that we deem valuable enough. The third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a story in which we learn that God wants us back even when we turn against him.



In today’s parable, each of us is a steward, or a Manager, of God's creation and the blessings God gives to us.  But a steward, or a Manager, does not own the things he manages.  God is the Owner; we are the Managers.  In the Parable, the Rich Man says to the Manager:  “Give Me an Account of your management.”  In the same way God gives us our lives to manage.   But how many of us refuse to account?  How many of us refuse to submit to authority?  Even when that authority is God’s authority?  Maybe especially when that authority is God’s authority? 



“Give me an account of your Management,” says the Owner in the parable.  Yet the Manager at first refuses just as we refuse.  We refuse to submit to authority.  And we suffer.  We think we know better.  We think we can go it alone.  



The Parable continues and tells the tale of the unscrupulous Manager – who thinks he gets one over on everybody.  He even thinks he gets one over on God.  The Manager wanted to make his money the easiest way possible.  He wanted to make it on the backs of others - in unscrupulous transactions.  Being forewarned that he is about to lose his job, the unjust steward provided for himself by making use of other’s resources.  



Doesn’t this describe us – aren’t we all too easily persuaded to take shortcuts?  To cut corners?  Even though we knew in our bones that somebody was likely to get hurt?  That we might be cheating our families - or ourselves - from that great life that we had been promised?



But note carefully the way in which the Lord commends the Manager after his deeds had been revealed.  The Parable states: "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly."  That’s right, the Manager was Commended – but perhaps not in the way the Manager would have preferred.  



In the Oxford Dictionary, one definition of the word Commended is to “entrust someone or something to,” as in “I Commend him to Your care.” This definition is from Middle English: the prefix “com,” from the Latin word, commendare, (expressing intensive force) + and the balance from the Latin word, mandare (meaning to commit or entrust).  So the word Commended in this context can easily mean the Lord forcefully committed the Manager – which of course is exactly how we sentence prisoners when they have committed such egregious acts.



In today’s Parable, the Manager is indeed sentenced by God – but not cast off as we do in modern-day United States to unyielding prison sentences.  Instead, a loving and compassionate God sentences the Manager to a life of service to God.  The parable states:

if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

 

It continues,



“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.





Let me tell you some stories about families that are learning that they can no longer be Slaves to money, and thus have been joyfully “sentenced” to lives as servants of God: 

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Let me start by sharing a little bit about my own family.  We’re a family in which we’ve learned a lot about being no longer be Slaves to money and being joyfully “sentenced” to lives as servants of God through service to others.   Service and volunteer work is not only something we joyfully do, it is something we suggest to everybody who goes through life crises – and since almost everybody goes through some life crisis, we recommend service to others to almost everybody.



As some of you may know, the Reverend Hopeton Scott is the Senior Pastor at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, and he chose me for the prison ministry position mostly 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; and then I became a prison minister in the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut – that 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. 

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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.  This is but one of the miracles I have found along my faith journey – a path of spiritual discovery that only seems to seems be richer and more fulfilling as I share it with others.



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.



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 other’s 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, 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. 
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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.  It is the first ministry in the United States to support with intentionality the families of people accused or convicted of white collar and other nonviolent crimes. 



We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to help this mother and her children along their faith journey in learning that they could break away from their own enslavement, no longer be Slaves to money and a false Master, and be joyfully “sentenced” to lives as servants of God – just as they have helped us learn in much the same ways and have helped our new ministry to grow and evolve.  



Thanks be to God. 




Portions of this sermon have been previously used in prior sermons on this important subject. Thanks to The Expository Files for assistance on some 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