Carol Woods Residents Making a Difference
May 10, 2019 -
The U.S. pledge of allegiance, which most of us recited daily in our elementary school years, ends with “and liberty and justice for all.” But as our history demonstrates, we have fallen short on that pledge, especially the “for all” part of it. Economic, legal, and social barriers make it difficult for many citizens to work, care for their families and build stable lives. Many Carol Woods residents arrived here having been involved in efforts to remove some of those barriers, and they have continued that work while living in this community.
Many people in our prisons become repeat offenders because the system fails to prepare them for productive lives after they have completed their sentences. In the 1950’s, Elton Trueblood, a Quaker theologian, began the Yokefellow Prison Ministry based on the premise that oxen yoked together can accomplish more than a single animal. Its trained volunteers focus on listening, encouraging, sharing with those in prison and helping them develop the social support and skills to survive the incarceration and reenter society at its conclusion. Carol Woods resident Hank E. began his prison ministry in Sing Sing in 1992 in New York and is now a Yokefellow with Orange Correctional Center (OCC), a minimal security facility in Hillsborough. Resident Janet F. has been involved at OCC for over 15 years and is particularly devoted to Children’s Place, which organizes a Parent’s Day at the Center twice a year. Resident Gates V. has worked with OCC residents for 14 years and has served for ten years on the board of Alamance-Orange Prison Ministry. Paul and Joyce M. have worked in literacy training, and they transport prisoners to doctor’s appointments and to church activities of their choice.
When prisoners are released, two or three people trained as sponsors work with them to help them find a job, a place to live and start the process of re-integration into the community. The IFC Community House is often the first stop for newly released men. Another is the Oxford House project, which assists residents with substance abuse and other issues that impede the transition back to society.
OCC has a work-release program that can offer opportunities for 40 prisoners at a time.Some OCC residents continue their employment after they are released. Gates recounts a couple of success stories: one prisoner became a paralegal and another one an IT person after taking multiple Microsoft courses.
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
Resident Jan D. also worked with the prison ministry, but she decided that she wanted an opportunity to make a difference on the other end of the age spectrum. Seven years ago, she became a mentor to Christy, a fourth-grader. The Blue Ribbon Program is designed to improve the achievement of students of color. Each year, 20 promising young people are provided mentoring, advocacy, tutoring, social and cultural enrichment, leadership development and college and career preparation. Jan feels she has been able to offer Christy a richer variety of activities than she would have had otherwise. Now 16, Christy has been accepted for the Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College.
Restorative Justice Durham
In 2017, the Regional Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham created Restorative Justice Durham. This group strives to repair the harm of crime and restore the relationships that were hurt by wrongdoing. The restorative justice practice in Durham is in partnership with Durham County’s Criminal Justice Resource Center, Durham’s Misdemeanor Diversion Program and the Durham District Attorney’s office. Mostly young people volunteer to participate in restorative justice as an alternative to criminal prosecution of their case.
Restorative Justice brings together the person harmed and the person who caused the harm. Resident Gordon W. is one of the volunteers who serves as a mediator in this intensive process that addresses these questions: 1) What happened? 2) What did you think and feel at the time of the incident and since? 3) Who was affected? 4) What needs to be done to make things right? The goal is a Repair Agreement through which the person who caused the harm takes responsibility for repairing that harm. Gordon notes that one benefit of restorative justice is that it allows those who complete the process to avoid a criminal record.
ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice North Carolina
Our state newspapers have investigated and reported on our for-profit bail system that incarcerates many people who are not a flight risk but who cannot afford bail, which makes it impossible for them to work and care for their families. This disproportionally affects the poor and people of color. As part of an initiative to overhaul the criminal justice system, the American Civil Liberties Union sends volunteers to observe and collect data at bail bond hearings in district courts across the state. Residents Lewise B. and Jim W. are part of the volunteer team who observes and gathers data, such as the circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s past conduct and amount of bond at bail-bond hearings in the Hillsborough District.
Orange County Justice United
Founded in 2015, Orange County Justice United comprises of 20 local member institutions, religious congregations, neighborhood associations and non-profit organizations. The organization focuses on building bridges across divides of race, class, faith and the I-40 corridor that separates northern and southern Orange County. Residents Paul L. and Hank E. have been active participants since its inception. The group’s successes include:
- 2015: Increased bus service to the Rogers Road area and addressed serious health, safety and management issues in the Gateway Village Apartments in Hillsborough.
- 2016 and 2017: Received an agreement from District Attorney Jim Woodall to institute a deferral program for unlicensed drivers within the Latino community who have completed a rigorous driver’s education program. The goal is to increase public safety and reduce the fines for unlicensed, yet otherwise, safe drivers. Between 2008-2015, Latino drivers paid over $1.8 million in fees and fines in Orange and Chatham counties for driving without a license.
- 2018: Received support from Grubb Properties (Glen Lennox Apartments) to pilot an affordable housing program for 10 housing units to be leased through Community Home Trust. Also, worked with many other organizations to secure a $10 million bond for affordable housing in Chapel Hill.
Orange County Living Wage
Founded in 2015, Orange County Living Wage is a volunteer-driven nonprofit that works to promote a living wage. As a result, 180 employers now provide a living wage of $14.25, or $12.75 with employer-provided health insurance. New resident Dick C. and Lewise B. have played an active role in this effort (Dick also worked in Durham County). Carol Woods was one of the first businesses to sign on.
Affordable Housing in Chapel Hill
In 1992, Jane and Adam S.realized the need for more affordable housing in Chapel Hill so that people who work in Chapel Hill can afford to live in Chapel Hill. By working with the town of Chapel Hill, they were able to secure federal funding to help develop Culbreth Park, a neighborhood of 50 affordable homes on land near Culbreth Middle School. Ten of the houses were Habitat homes built by volunteers from Chapel Hill churches together with the future owners of the homes.
The Jane and Adam have continued to be active on affordable housing issues. Jane served for several years on the Board of EmPOWERment, a community organization devoted to creating affordable living options for low-income residents, building community and promoting economic development. This past year, the couple worked on the successful referendum that authorized $10 million in bonds for more affordable housing. With others, they have expressed their concerns to the Town of Chapel Hill regarding the continued displacement of mobile home parks by large apartment and commercial developments, a practice that reduces the stock of affordable housing.
In addition to individual efforts Carol Woods as a community is promoting efforts to increase affordable housing in Chapel Hill. Annually, we support the Community Home Trust which currently has 318 affordable homes.
Moral Monday protests began in 2013 with marches in Raleigh and other North Carolina cities, focusing on such issues as redistricting and voting rights; weakened environmental laws related to air, water and soil quality; cuts to social programs; teachers’ salaries; etc. As the protests grew, more than 900 people were arrested. On May 21, 2018, resident Ruth Z. became one of those people. She decided to plead guilty and to seek active jail time.
The first judge said he had never sent anyone to jail for second-degree trespassing so he sent her to the next courtroom, where she was pronounced “guilty” and sentenced to a day in jail. She was given a striped prison jumpsuit, orange socks and water shoes. She was then taken to a prison clinic where a male nurse was reading over her medical information and a young officer was quietly sitting in the room. Ruth took the opportunity to tell them she was there for protesting voter suppression and racism. She said the “emotional energy in the clinic was palpable. The black male nurse and the white female’s eyes welled up with tears as we shook hands.” Placed on the diabetic floor, she had an opportunity to engage with two of the female guards. “They wondered why someone at my age would be there.” All four people with whom she interacted appreciated her willingness to spend time in jail for her convictions. In fact, they thanked her many times. She ends her story with, “What better way to be a force for reconciliation and change?”
--Carol Woods Residents Sindy B.and Nancy M.