Our Brothers’ Keepers reentry services are a holistic, multi-faceted program that supports a returning citizen’s transition back into the community. Re-entry services connect the individual to needed supportive services and reduce the barriers that prevent successful reintegration.

Holistic Approach:

Reentry services takes into account all of the individualized needs that a person integrating into the community may need in order to be successful in their transition. This includes many factors such as housing, social support, stabilized and structured living and employment.

Program Goals:

  • Increase employment skills and knowledge as well as to provide opportunities to build job experience.
  • Provide structure and social outlets to help increase a returning citizen’s sense of community and self.
  • Empower the citizen to understand their past, avoid any criminogenic patterns, and have hope for the future.
  • Assist returning citizens in establishing a stable life style.
  • Remove barriers during reintegration and to decrease the rate of recidivism.

Reintegration Process:

Step 1 – Intake and Relationship Building

  • During an initial 2-3 hour meeting, an assigned Re-entry Specialist completes an extensive intake with the returning citizen. Information is gathered about the returning citizen’s demographics, personal and criminal history. The Re-entry Specialist takes the time to get to know the individual and their story.

Step 2 – Resource Needs

  • Through a series of conversations with the returning citizens, initial areas of need, both long and short term, are explored.
  • Re-entry Specialists provide on-going support to the returning citizens, including follow-up 2-3 times per month. Working with the individuals to make sure they remain stable in the community and providing the assistance when needs arise.

Step 3 – Goal Development

  • A service plan is developed with both short and long-term goals. The individualized plan addresses up to 21 different areas of need and helps determine which programs and/or community services would be most beneficial to the individual’s circumstances. Referrals are made to the appropriate program or services.
  • Referral sources include Illinois Dept. of Corrections, County Probation, Local Correction Agencies, Parole Reentry Group, Community Referrals, and Local Churches.

Core Service Components:

“You have been told, O man, what is good,

and what the Lord requires of you:

Only to do the right and to love goodness,

and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

The United Congregation of the Metro-East recipient of the Micah award on November 3, 2017 was Fr. Christian (Chris) Reuter, a man who believes in the words of the prophet Micah and has put them into practice during his blessed 78 years of life. Fr. Chris was born in 1939 and grew up in St. Louis County and entered the Franciscan high school seminary in 1953. He was ordained on June 24, 1966, and spent the first 35 years of his priesthood in the Archdiocese of Chicago. His years working in the African-American community on the south side of Chicago were split between education as an English teacher/ principal at Hales Franciscan High School, as Associate Pastor of St. Philip Neri, and then as Pastor of Corpus Christi parish.

During these years Fr. Christian had many teaching successes, but also many occasions to interact with law enforcement agencies and the courts that prepared him for the many challenges of prison ministry that would become a part of his life. He soon found out that inner city adults and especially youths had more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system. Church and school ministry in that environment often took him into police stations, courtrooms, county and state prisons, and parole hearings.

During the 1960’s he was also involved in the Civil Rights movement and marches. When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago, Fr. Chris drove a truck that the Civil Rights leader used to deliver his speeches. Father Chris stated that, “I knew what it was like to have bricks flying at you through the air, and it was a time that reinforced for me the need for justice and equality among all people.”

In 2002, after a long discernment of how to continue the Franciscan mission of service to the marginalized of our communities, Father Chris joined confreres Father Carroll Mizicko and Father Fernand Cheri to move to East St. Louis, where they built St. Benedict the Black Friary. It was at this time that then-Bishop Wilton Gregory asked Fr. Chris to rebuild and coordinate prison ministry in the diocese. In conversation with the local lay leaders of the community he told then that, “We came to be your brothers. We don’t have all the answers, but we came to walk with you, to work with you.” Throughout his ministry in Chicago he “always visited people when they were in jail”, and now in southern Illinois he turned his full attention to prison ministry as the Coordinator of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Belleville.

Father Chris is very aware that the criminal justice system is grounded in retribution. This is a system that is not about healing, reconciliation, or restoring relationships. It is about punishment and revenge that lead only to further division, hostility, despair, and broken relationships. The words of the prophet Micah called him to seek justice, love tenderly, and pursue reconciliation and restore relationships which are the paths to Restorative Justice.

Those in prison and returning to the community have, to be sure done wrong – sometimes the unthinkable wrong – but there is no wrong that cannot be forgiven and no life that cannot be saved. The work of prisoner re-entry is the work of forgiveness.

Every year over 650,000 men and women are released from state and federal prisons. Over 75% about 487,500 individuals are re-arrested within five years. They have great difficulty finding employment and housing, and many are dealing with alcohol and/or drug addictions. Most re-entering persons do not immediately obtain heath insurance and thus do not have access to medical or behavioral health care. Prison may be punishment by design, but people who are re-entering civil society ought not to be punished anew by neglect, indifference or, worse, contempt.

In other words, punishment should be in accordance with its three purposes:

  • Protection of the common good
  • Restoration of public order
  • Conversion or rehabilitation of the offender

Those coming back into the community from prison are not disqualified from salvation, nor are they undeserving of the mercy the rest of us so often enjoy. Re-entry is a Christian idea and that means assisting returning persons to restore their lives to a healthy and virtuous place.

Pope Francis visited inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia and said:

“Christ teaches us to see the world through his eyes, eyes that are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but eyes that want to cleanse, heal and restore.”

Reference:  Jim McGreevey, New Jersey Reentry Corporation (www.njreentry.org)

                   Published: AMERICAMAGAZINE.ORG

The month of October is very busy as the Board continues the search for a physical office location in East St. Louis to provide the returning citizens with service programs as they reenter their community. We are also working with the Illinois Department of Corrections, Adult Redeploy and other agencies to continue the dialog about resources and service programs that will be implemented.

OBK is meeting with other Metro-East agencies to network about resources available both in terms personnel, connecting programs and possible funding in the future. This includes meeting with the following organizations:

  • St. Louis Community Foundation (GiveSTLDay) is working to facilitate philanthropic and community partnership that inspire regional good. Since they work with public foundations this allows OBK to showcase their program services and client progress. This networking within the St. Louis Community Foundation also includes working with the Gateway Center for Giving that covers private foundations.
  • Clark-Fox Family Foundation is committed to supporting organizations that work for a more equitable and racially just society. OBK will be partnering with Clark-Fox to present their Power Point presentation “Mass Incarceration Ecosystem Mapping” so that the OBK programs can be highlighted.
  • Concordance Academy is focused on assisting individuals returning from prison. Their main focus is on community & life skills, behavior health & wellness and education & employment. OBK will help with their mentoring program for clients that settle in the East St. Louis community.
  • St. Louis University through their “Transformative Justice Initiative” is working to improve system health and safety, and reduce the high rate of recidivism and provide for the successful transition from the prison setting. The St. Louis University criminal justice group is a valuable resource to our OBK programs.
  • East St. Louis Connection to Success is working on helping families overcome poverty with a special emphasis on those who are re-entering society. This will help OBK to help find job opportunities for returning citizens.

At their September board meeting the Directors of Our Brothers’ Keepers made a strategic decision to move forward their plans for prisoner reentry in East St. Louis. Readers of this newsletter know that for several years our fledgling ministry has been focused on property acquisition and construction plans. It has been a long and arduous process, with both advances and setbacks, to do so legally and properly.

Since quality reentry services are so urgently needed, a decision was reached to place first priority on providing the program for returning citizens and that this outweighs any considerations of land and buildings. Accordingly, both in its fund-raising efforts and in its ministry planning, OBK will give its first attention to delivery of case management, employment readiness, personal counseling, and other services vital for the return to society. It is estimated that about $100,000 must be raised to launch the first year of operation.

The search for a physical location goes on as we continue our conversations with the officials and citizens of East St. Louis. Perhaps it is the Lord’s will that Our Brothers’ Keepers experience their own homelessness before attempting to solve that of others.

OBK Board of Directors