State corrections commissioner expected to participate
By Charles Hallman
Minnesota Corrections Department Commissioner Tom Roy is expected to attend a community forum on prison issues this week. He accepted an invitation from a local advocacy group, says the group’s founder.
“It’s about educating the community, hoping to raise awareness and dismiss preconceived notions of what’s going on,” says Sharon Brooks of the April 24 two-hour forum scheduled for 6 pm at New Salem Baptist Church. Brooks started Peace of Hope, a group that helps people with family members in prison. “I don’t think a lot of people know what’s going on,” she said.
“I began Peace of Hope to help people like myself who have people incarcerated,” explains Brooks, “who may not be able to get transportation to and from the prisons. Prisons are at least 50 miles away, and many Minnesota prisons are much farther away than that.”
“We [Peace of Hope] brought our idea of providing information, motivation, along with transportation for those who have loved ones in prison, to Volunteers of America back in 2012, and they said they liked it but could do nothing to assist us. Just recently we heard they renamed our movement and launched it nationwide along with Sesame Street. In spite of this takeover, Peace of Hope will continue to serve our community that is suffering the effects of mass incarceration.”
Whenever a person is incarcerated, the entire family often is affected as well, notes Brooks. “Long sentences or short sentences, for minor offense or major offense, [these] are almost equal when your loved one is incarcerated.
“At Peace of Hope, we don’t question the family about the offense or even the time that [the family member] is incarcerated. Even a day, a month, a year — 10, 20 years — still is very, very hard on the family. Either way it goes, it takes a huge emotional toll.”
Brooks says she believes that prison officials “have not taken that into consideration seriously.” Thursday’s forum, as a result, offers community residents the opportunity to ask Roy questions about state prison policies, states Brooks, who has several incarcerated family members both in state and out of state.
“One of the main concerns of the policies that we are questioning is finances. When we send money to our loved ones, say $100, 10 percent automatically is taken out before it reaches the inmate. We don’t know why 10 percent of our money is being taken from us, and we haven’t been told why. We don’t know if it’s a tax. All we know is that it’s gone.”
Brooks says another issue involves outgoing phone calls: “Sometimes we can’t make it to those prisons, and a phone call does wonders,” she continues. “Those phone calls are very expensive — excessively priced. It equals my home phone bill for a month. Why is it so costly to talk to our loved one for 15 minutes?”
Also a concern, says Brooks, is the policy on visits. “We [Blacks] are more than likely to have more than one person in prison at any given time. We may have two people at the same time — a son and a father, or a mother and a sister. They have a rule that if you have more than one person incarcerated [at the same facility], you can only visit one human being at a time. Then you have to wait six months before you are allowed to visit your second person who is incarcerated.”
The forum “could be relevant” to the entire community, and she credits her pastor, Rev. Jerry McAfee, “for having the commissioner come and speak to the community that’s greatly impacted by incarceration every year,” says Brooks.
“I personally commend Rev. McAfee and encourage other leaders in the community to join us in bringing out this unspoken mystery regarding incarceration and its effects.”
New Salem Missionary Baptist Church is located at 2507 Bryant Avenue North, Minneapolis. The community meeting will be held on Thursday, April 24, from 6-8 pm. For more information, contact ‘Peace of Hope’ at 612-220-4678.