People who have been directly impacted by incarceration gathered at the Kennedy King Park Center for two days of training to help them become advocates for others who face similar challenges.
The Marion County Re-entry Coalition (MCRC) invited JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) for the training Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, where attendees learned how to organize with each other, identify issues and effectively communicate with lawmakers while advocating for policy changes.
These are the types of discussions that usually take place among professionals who have already made this their career, so it was a unique experience to get a more diverse set of people together.
“We believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution but traditionally furthest from resources and power,” said Deanna Hoskins, president and CEO of JLUSA.
Hoskins, who has been incarcerated, said people like her need to be regarded as the experts when it comes to finding solutions for problems in the criminal justice system because they’re the ones whose communities are most likely to be devastated by money bail, over-policing and other issues.
Armica Gaspar was at the training to get a better understanding of how to help.
Gaspar, 42, grew up with a father who was in and out of jail and prison, which left her thinking she never wanted to marry someone who had been incarcerated.
She initially resisted meeting her current husband because he had an incarceration history, but those negative feelings eventually broke down as she got to know him.
“When you make a mistake and learn from it, and you don’t continue in that pattern of behavior, you’re able to become a better person,” Gaspar said. “Therefore, what you’ve done in the past doesn’t make you who you are in the present or future.”
Gaspar has been married to her husband for 11 years.
For Brian Mifflin, the training was the first time since his release from prison in 2006 that he was in a roomful of people who had a similar experience.
Mifflin, 35, is a rare story in incarceration tales because he successfully had his record expunged a year ago. That process took years and “a series of very fortunate events” — like having a fraternity brother who’s an attorney to help avoid legal fees — and made him appreciate how difficult it is to actually move on from your past.
“That story is rare, and I don’t think it needs to be,” he said.
Mifflin was at the training to create a plan to tell his story and help prepare people going through reentry for the challenges they’ll face.
Lena Hackett, the coordinator for MCRC, said the coalition will be able to support the ideas and future initiatives that came out of the training. If some participants wanted to form a group, for example, MCRC could provide a space for them to meet and other infrastructure work.
One reason people with lived experiences have been “a missing piece in the work,” Hackett said, is because they have their normal lives that can’t get put on hold. MCRC’s support could make it possible for them to do both.
The ultimate goal is for participants to organize around some local and state legislation, including bills concerning money bail and jail overcrowding.
JLUSA leadership will travel back to Indianapolis in six weeks to meet with participants.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.