By Harry C. Alford
Beyond the Rhetoric
My bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin has a specialty in Correctional Administration. At the time, the biggest component of study was recidivism. That is the event that occurs after doing your time, being released, and then committing another crime that leads you back to incarceration.
Today, our culture has improved. Now the biggest event occurring after incarceration is re-entry into society. Fortunately, our society has evolved in striving for what is right and noble. That is opposite of our tempo back in the 1980s where President Reagan implemented his War on Drugs initiative which turned out to be a war on Blacks. That was followed by President Clinton, and the Congressional Black Caucus leading the way with “Three Strikes You’re Out,” which weighted crack cocaine crimes with very heavy sentences.
I graduated in 1970, but I have never been more interested in the issue of re-entry than now. Every year we offer a workshop on it at our annual conferences. Next year, 2018, will be more intense. We will have a separate annual conference on re-entry. Our chapters will be encouraged to focus on the issue within their communities.
Some of it has caught on with my son, Harry III. He runs a nonprofit, high tech start-up operation with a focus on minorities, veterans and returning citizens. Last week he ran into Tracy Syphax. Tracy is quite active in the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s re-entry activity and is a board member of our chapter, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. He has a lecture series on re-entry and has written books and produced DVDs on the matter.
Tracy and Harry III recently connected at a seminar. During their conversation Tracy stated, “You know I remember when you and your brother were 12 years old (now 32) intermingling at the NBCC conferences. Funny, some of the topics were about re-entry back then. And here we are today!”
How ironic it was a few days later, when Tracy was in the news. It was fantastic to learn that his past arrest records were going to be commuted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here is the story, from NJ Advance Media for NJ.com:
“Gov. Chris Christie’s administration announced Friday he granted clemency to 10 people ‘in keeping with the administration’s policies of creating second chances for deserving individuals.’ These latest actions bring the total pardons ordered and sentences commuted under the governor to 29,” according to a news release.
Christie is in his final days in office. Gov.-elect Phil Murphy will be sworn in, in January. The pardons come days after Christie signed a package of legislation making it easier for minor offenders to expunge their records and apply for jobs. He’s also made combatting opioid addiction a centerpiece of his final year in office.
— Tracey D. Syphax, who was arrested in January 1981 and convicted of two counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in August 1981 and convicted of making an unsworn falsification to authorities; arrested in August 1981 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute; arrested in September 1981 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in May 1984 and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance; arrested in May 1988 and convicted of manufacturing, distributing or dispensing a controlled dangerous substance; and arrested in February 1989 and convicted of possessing a fire arm.”
After decades of involvement in the re-entry topic, Tracey’s work has finally brought “fruit.” We are so happy for him. His means of income over these past decades has been his expertise in roofing. Entrepreneurship is the best means to succeed in re-entry. Our current system has little understanding or mercy on ex-felons. This is where the NBCC focuses on and overcomes the immense challenges.
After January 1 we will announce our new and updated initiative with proposals, concepts and conference dates dealing with the promotion of a viable re-entry program and in support of all others. I strongly believe that the world will be better for this as well as our great nation.
Let’s make re-entry the most popular subject throughout our cities and neighborhoods. Forgiveness is holy, and nothing can trump turning a troubled soul into something holy.