OBK met with the City of East St. Louis Planning Commission on October 19 and October 26 for a complete review of the project to establish a returning citizen’s home in the ESL community. The Board of Directors made the presentation and answered a number of questions from the members.
The City of East St. Louis Planning Commission approved the development plan on October 26 to build and operate a supervised housing program for adult males released from prison and on parole. The plan as presented detailed the security measures and monitoring procedures that would be in-place for the residents. The plan would include a green area to grow their own produce and provide food for community food pantries.
Our Brothers’ Keepers is seeking approval to proceed and assistance from the City of East St. Louis to find an acceptable site. A motion was made by Commissioner Ronald Davis, seconded by Vice Chairwoman Dona Bullock to recommend to the City Council to approve the concept and assist with the location of an acceptable site. All Commissioners present voted to approve the motion. Motion carried. The Planning Commission approval document was sent to Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, City Manager Courtney Logan, Council members Pro Tem Robert Eastern III, Latoya Greenwood, Roy Mosley and June Hamilton-Dean.
Prior to the Planning Commission meeting on October 19, Tina Phillips, Jesse Lofton and Jabari Conrad traveled to Marion, IL (October 17) to visit one of five returning citizens homes operated by LSSI-Family and Prisoner Ministry (Mike Davis, LSSI Ex. Dir., and OBK Board of Directors member). These homes are the model for how the OBK home would operate. The ESL group met with a “returning citizen” and was able to get a first-hand look at how the supportive housing and employment skills school has helped him to become a stable resident of the community. The ESL group also toured the LSSI offices and visited the computer classroom where the Employment Skill School (ESS) is taught to the returning citizens.
The Employment Skill School is a 40 day curriculum-based program designed especially for returning citizens who are seeking employment. The program includes employment readiness assessment and developing workplace skills and behaviors. The school also assists in career development services with periodic career counseling services.
In support of the OBK presentation to the Planning Commission and later the ESL City Council the following documentation was included that covered areas related to security measures and monitoring procedures that would be in-place for the residents.
- Mission of Permanent Supportive Resident Program
- Residence Operations Handbook – Programs and Rules
- Resident Mandatory Programs
- How OBK Came To Be – Origin and Development
Mission of Permanent Supportive Resident Program
Our Brothers’ Keepers Permanent Supportive Resident Program is a community-based program designed to assist the returning citizen (the resident) with housing issues and concerns. It is an alternative placement method that is structured to be a less restrictive housing option. It is designed to help the individual learn new behavior patterns that enables him to function in a society that demands accountability for his individual choices and actions.
Our Brothers’ Keepers provide a clean, sober, and safe structured environment for the resident. Our staff aides in the resource process, but the individual resident make the program effective for himself. OBK is committed to offering individual assistance and services to the resident without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, culture, religion, or socio-economic status. OBK strives to serve the resident with dignity and respect in regards to all cultural and ethical standards.
The desire of the OBK staff is to make the stay of each resident rewarding and productive. The staff works with the resident to help him develop individualized goals and aspirations. To achieve these goals, the program utilizes the OBK Program Coordinator, Peer Counselors and Outreach Workers to mentor and enable the resident to learn and exhibit positive behavior that helps him return to the community as a more productive adult. The resident can then implement restorative justice principals through the ability to give back and contribute to society.
During the client/resident assessment program, the resident is given the OBK Permanent Supportive Resident Program for Returning Citizens (Residence Operations Handbook) which includes rights, rules, and resident mandatory programs (Employment Skill School, Moral Recognition Therapy, Bicycle to Work, and Green Reentry Opportunities). These guidelines cover resident responsibilities and expectations that develop a sense of behavior and accountability for the resident in his daily living experiences.
Residence Operations Handbook – Program and Rules
- OBK Client / Resident Assessment Process
- Resident Home Rules (Part 1, 2, 3)
- Resident Mandatory Programs
- Resident Compliance to Programs and Rules
Resident Mandatory Programs
The resident is required to participate in mandatory programs that include the Employment Skill School, Moral Recognition Therapy, Bicycle to Work and Green Reentry Opportunities.
Employment Skill School (ESS)
The Employment Skill School is a 40 day curriculum-based program designed especially for returning citizens who are seeking employment. The program includes employment readiness assessment and developing workplace skills and behaviors. An open computer lab is available for employment searches and educational related activities. The school assists in career development services with periodic career counseling services.
Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT)
Moral Recognition Therapy is a systematic treatment strategy that seeks to decrease recidivism of adult criminal offenders by increasing moral reasoning.
Bicycle to Work (BTW)
The Bicycles to Work is a volunteer-based program where bikes are donated to the program by the community and allows returning citizens the opportunity to restore the bikes. They are able to practice their employment skills, learn some mechanics, and build their resumes for employment. Some of the benefits of the program are the recycling of an item that would otherwise add to a landfill. Bicycle-to-Work also decreases the amount of green house gases. Cycling does have a positive impact upon the health of the individual. The program helps train returning citizens with bicycle building and repair skills and produces bikes for returning citizens to use for self-transportation.
Green Reentry Opportunity (GRO)
The Green Reentry Opportunity program is a community gardening initiative that encourages returning citizens and their families to grow food in a community garden setting. Returning Citizens are required to perform community service and these community gardens provide them the opportunity to learn agriculture, practice employment skills, and build experience for their resume. All food grown in the gardens is donated to local food pantries and non-profit kitchens.
Community gardening improves the people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating interaction, encouraging self-reliance, and beautifying neighborhoods. The garden produces nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.
How OBK Came To Be – Origin and Development
Our Brothers’ Keepers grew out of the dreams of several ordained and lay prison ministers in the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois. After several years of experience inside the prisons of southern Illinois and with an ever-increasing awareness of parolees’ recidivism, they concluded that ministry only during incarceration is not enough. They decided that action needed to be taken to help the released avoid returning to prison.
Recognizing the need for a returning citizens’ reentry house in St. Clair County, retired Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman and Father Christian Reuter, O.F.M., undertook a four-pronged initiative. First, they communicated their idea to fellow Catholics active in prison ministry. Second, they contacted St. Leonard Ministries, an Episcopal Church establishment in Chicago, to begin learning about reentry centers to seek good mentoring. Third, they visited numerous parish organizations and Knights of Columbus councils to heighten awareness and enlist potential support. Fourth, they communicated the dream to the Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, to seek his advice and support.
This approach yielded immediate fruit. On October 17, 2013, a group of about twenty-five Catholic prison ministers, social service providers and potential volunteers, met at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows to hear representatives from St. Leonard Ministries and to begin the first stages of planning. A “planning committee” of six was formed to take the first steps.
For both theological and practical reasons, the committee members realized immediately that the reentry project must be ecumenical. At the suggestion of Bishop Braxton, they began reaching out to the Lutheran and Episcopal dioceses through their respective bishops. Very shortly they added to the team Michael S. Davis, Executive Director of Prison and Family Ministries for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). To eventually include participation of other churches and community agencies, the planners are also in dialogue with the Community Support Advisory Council (CSAC), United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), and other groups.
In its effort to reverse Cain’s abdication of responsibility (Genesis 4:9), Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois was incorporated in the State of Illinois under the General Not for Profit Corporation Act as of August 25, 2014. OBK also has received tax exempt status from Federal income tax under section 501 (c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code on June 25, 2015. In addition a set of OBK By-Laws and an OBK Policies and Procedures Handbook were completed. The OBK operations are handled by a professional Board of Directors and assisted by an Advisory Board. Whenever the obstacles have seemed too great, the OBK team has been inspired by the example of Pope Francis, who reached out to prisoners at the very beginning of his papacy.