Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in EBR, The Walls Project has been hosting weekly video calls with leaders of nonprofits, foundations, city government, and local businesses from a
cross the parish. The intention of these weekly community check-ins is to share information and resources to help the Baton Rouge community respond and recover from the pandemic. Weekly topics range from access to basic needs such as food, medical care, and safety to thought-leaders' insights on equitable opportunities for youth enrichment, nonprofit financial solvency, surge in unemployment, and the disproportionate impact on impoverished neighborhoods in regards to accessing fresh food.
Economic Development in Neighborhoods of Poverty: Reentry Employment Resources
Meeting Notes Prepared by Samantha Morgan (Walls Project)
We are recognizing today as Second Chance Month and that means so much because that moment you get arrested, your life changes in a way that means you have to jump over a whole series of challenges that sometimes are lifelong and almost insurmountable. There are certain types of charges that are expungeable. They meet certain standards that can qualify for an expungements. One of the major nightmares of expungement, for the wealthy this is the equivalent of a chip, for the low wealth, that might as well be a hundred foot wall, so this week, with all the confusion and all the nightmarish things that are going on in the Capital, there are thousands of deals currently being pushed in the legislature. At the same time this community was struggling with the death of a three year old, and still wanting permitless carry, in the midst of that is HB 707, which is trying to make expungements automatic, passed out of the House and that was nothing less than a miracle. But it was also partially because we have taken these conversations out of small spaces and made them communal. Change does not come because people want it, it comes because people work for it.
I'm also over the Neo Coalition, which stands for New Endings and Opportunities, formerly Clean Slate. We are rebranding because we're not just focusing on the one bill of HB 707. We had over a hundred bills that have to do with eliminating barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals. It is our goal to eliminate barriers through the criminal justice system and the criminal legal system, because we realize it’s not always justice for all. We do three public legal clinics each month and we have them statewide. Most bring in 100-200 people. Attorneys provide the services free of charge. While we have HB707, the filing fee is $500 per case. It’s the highest in the nation. It’s different processes for each parish. Once 707 passes, the law won’t change the number of individuals who will get expungements, it will just make it free for people. We believe everyone deserves a second chance. For so many people this affects their ability to get housing, jobs, licenses. They have so many barriers. We’re just trying to reduce them.
I've been volunteering with reentry organizations for about ten years, so I'm relatively new to the fight, knowing that some people have been in this fight for thirty or forty years and they have seen progress. There's several things happening in the state that impacts employment. In particular, for those who are formerly incarcerated. And I now work with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and one of the things we did when I was at BRCC as the regional coordinator was a federal grant called the Carl Perkins Grant. That grant impacts career and technical education across the state. Perkins now aligned anybody receiving fund with those boards operating across the state, so the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act was formerly the wibs, which is a workforce entity that engages the different community groups and special populations across the state. They’re all in regions. The workforce commission has divided the state up into regions. Three years ago, Perkins was aligned with the weola act, so there are special populations we are mandated to serve. Those populations include justice-involved individuals. The one thing is that you can be in that population as well as others. People with disabilities, disadvantages. Etc. Sometimes you’re in two special populations that must be served by federal dollars. As a community we have to hold these communities accountable for those services. We’ve developed a tech platform, a portal. That has all kinds of resources and careers. They need a safe space to go to to access those resources. They don’t want to go to a college and tell them their business. They should not have to say that. We’ve created a safe space for them to ask those questions and see what’s available. There’s nothing on a college form that asks if you’ve been incarcerated. You just have to see what’s available. What we’ve done is created a platform that creates that safe space. We’re developing this platform throughout the state. Even though Baton Rouge is the second largest population of incarcerated individuals, we have issues across the state for formerly incarcerated persons. In addition to that they can actually apply for jobs. The second thing I want to let you know about is we need correct information. We need good information. We don’t need misinformation. Reentry Alliance for Louisiana’s mission is communication. Nine years ago we realized that people were working in silos and they are really working hard. We needed a backbone, so this is the backbone and we really try to put it out there for the community. And lastly we have our symposium coming up. Join us on the 19th. We have a great panel.
I'll start off with saying One Touch Ministry has been doing this reentry work for 24-years now, but Second Chance month really started back in 2017 and that's when they were talking about making it an awareness type of month. On March 31, President Joe Biden made a proclamation to make Second Chance month be in April 2022. That proclamation states things we’ve been working on for years and years. I believe the second Chance month is bringing forth awareness like never before. A lot of you on this call may have not known it was going on in 2017. For those of us doing this work, it give us more support. When we’re talking about housing, there are barriers people will face. With sex offenders, there are so many barriers they face. They can’t come out unless they have an address, which means they have to have the funds to rent a place to stay. The organizations doing the work to help these people and aiding them makes a big difference. I haven’t walked the walk, but I have been waking alongside those walking the walk. If you don’t mind, JI. Can you talk?
I was brought up by Verna. What she did was help me through the application process. I never met her until the day I arrived from Dequincy to Baton Rouge. She picked me up. What she’s provided the last year is stability. She opened doors up to me. She was making me accountable for what I was doing when I came out. When you get out, you don’t know what to do. Your family is there, but sometimes they will mislead you. Sometimes they will enable you to relax. They don’t give you the accountability. Mrs. Verna has made herself available for one on one counseling. As I’ve come out I want to work with her to go back in and help others come out successful. This has been one of the toughest journeys. This wasn’t my first time, but this was the first time I’ve received so much help to where I was able to get to where I am today. I am a person who is living every day with faith. I told her she is an angel sent from God. I have a place to live, a place to stay, I have a savings, I go to church, I’ve been able to get relationships back.