Armed with a goal and a message, Representative La Shawn Ford (D-8th), clergy, and Westside Health Authority officials struck an accord with male veterans and female Cook County Jail detainees for a Christmas week holiday, getting them to agree to send messages to criminals on the other side of the wall asking them to end the violence in the streets of Chicago.
In the spirit of Christmas, Ford and his coalition visited the jail on December 19 and 20, first with 60 Black, male veterans and the second day with 30 diverse women.
“These people in here will be our neighbors again,” Ford said.
“They will be at the park playing with our kids and family members. If we can do anything to come into these institutions and make sure they stay integrated and have a good mindset, it’s helpful.”
Christmas week began at the jail with a detainee population of 5,376, 290 of whom are women. Ford and his coalition of health and clergy partners wanted them to know they are neither alone nor forgotten and that someone does care for them.
While the detainees are still in jail pending their trials, Ford said this is the place where counseling should begin and, with the help of his coalition, he plans on providing them with the resources they need for their re-entry into society.
This was not just a two-day visit with female and Black veterans. They vowed to return and give detainees the tools they need to survive once they are released.
Ford did not come alone. He brought a group of community partners with him including Roy Flowers, a barber who was once incarcerated but who is now a business owner; Rosie Dawson, director of the Westside Health Authority who has a re-entry program; Rev. Timothy Enis and several others.
Their goal is to help reduce recidivism but also to have those in jail send messages to criminals on the other side of the wall to end their violent acts, lest they also lose their freedom. “Re-entry and rehabilitation starts in detainment,” Ford stated. “We know who the people are who need the help because they are incarcerated.”
“We got people in Cook County Jail waving a red flag right in our face. If we want our streets to be safe, why aren’t we helping them? They have been identified as people who have broken the law, some dangerous, some innocent. Either we are going to help them or we are going to harden them. Soon, they will come back out and be our neighbors and cause problems,” said Ford. “I’m all for paying attention to red flags.”
Coalition members came with more than words. For the 60 African American male veterans of wars, they brought individually wrapped meals that included chicken baked and fried, greens, yams, macaroni and cheese, corn bread, peach cobbler and banana pudding prepared by MacArthur’s, a Black-owned restaurant on the West Side of Chicago.
Ford told the veterans he described as “very smart people,” that “This is the time for you to start your new journey. This is not about being detained. Use this as a retreat from where you were. This is an opportunity for you to chart a new path for yourself.” Ford told them he can’t tell them what to do but that “they know where they want to be in life.”
He also told them, “There are people out here who support you and young people need you. We need the people who are incarcerated to send a message to the streets that nobody wants to lose their freedom and to end the violence. They are excited about being partners in this,” Ford said.
The coalition returned to the jail the next day with similar meals also prepared by MacArthur’s Restaurant for a group of about 30 diverse women, as well as playing cards, including UNO, checkerboards, 10 gallons of water and 100 paper cups. They played Spades and Bid whist.
These women are enrolled in the Sheriff’s Therapeutic Healing Recovery Initiative for Vitality and Empowerment (THRIVE) program. The visits were like a family gathering for Ford’s coalition.
Dawson, the director of the Westside Health Authority who met with the female detainees, told the Chicago Crusader, “It was important for us to go to the jail to let them know someone was thinking about them and that they are from our community. We wanted them to know that people do care about them.”
Asked when the detainees are released what she offers them, Dawson said, “We have a Returning Citizens Department. They come in and take tests, get assessed, and we help them find jobs and help them reclaim themselves back into the community.”
When asked her personal opinion about the female detainees, she said, “A lot of them had been taken advantage of by their boyfriends.” The boyfriends asked the women to commit a crime and while they met bail, their girlfriends, many of whom are mothers, remain in jail.
Dawson gave them some advice. “When you get out, change your environment, stay with the jail’s drug rehab program and to reclaim yourselves with your children.” She told the women to put their children first.
“I firmly believe that we cannot just turn our backs on people because they’ve made one or two mistakes,” Dawson said. “We have to help people. When you are a mom, you are being needed by your children. Changing their lives would help keep the children’s lives in order. That would break the cycle of recidivism.”
According to Sophia Ansari, a spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, as of December 27, 2022, for the entire jail compound there were 260 females in custody of which there are 176 Blacks or 68 percent of the population; 44 whites, 17 percent; 37 Hispanic/Latinx, 14 percent and 3 other, 1 percent.
Of the Black military veterans Ford’s coalition treated to lunch and mentored, 72 were Black, or 74 percent; 18 whites, 19 percent; 7 Hispanic/Latinx, 7 percent, for a total of 97.
When asked were the women that Ford’s coalition visited incarcerated for non-violent crimes, Ansari explained that the women who take part in the THRIVE program must have a court order for the program. They must have a substance use- related issue, and they must either have minimum or medium security classification.
Asked if the women were part of a special group Sheriff Tom Dart is trying to help and, if so, what are those programs that are available to them, Ansari said they are enrolled in the program. Explaining, she said they are part of the THRIVE program, which was created to support women who have a substance use disorder.
The services provided for THRIVE are “gender and culturally responsive for women with critical mental health, substance abuse, and community re-entry needs,” explained Ansari.
She said the onsite programming includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individual and group counseling, psycho-educational groups that focus on parenting, anger management, domestic violence, trauma, emotional regulation, mental illness and substance use. The program also provides re-entry planning, among other services.
When asked if the Sheriff partners with community support groups like the Westside Health Authority or with Representative Ford, Ansari responded, “The Office provides individuals leaving custody connections and referrals to a number of organizations including the Westside Health Authority.
“The women in the THRIVE program are provided discharge plans so they are armed with information and referrals to continue their substance use treatment when they return to the community.”
Ansari said the plan “also helps connect individuals with other services they may need to support themselves, such as counseling, employment and housing services.”
For those detainees who are veterans, they receive assistance on how to apply for veteran’s benefits. Ansari said those detained on the Veterans Tier can also take part in specialized programs geared toward individuals who have served in the military.
Ford, Ansari said, “has been a big supporter of the Sheriff’s efforts and visits the jail often to provide encouragement and support for individuals in custody.”
For the Christmas holiday, Sheriff Dart’s staff hosted a toy drive for the children who visited parents and others at the jail.