Those with great privileges should always share them even in prisons.
By LEWIS DIUGUID
The Kansas City Star
I had a chance to do that on recent visits with men in state NAACP branches at the Crossroads, Moberly and Jefferson City correctional centers. The inmates at each site have similar goals: improve educational opportunities and provide rehabilitation and leadership so men will return as assets to society instead of liabilities.
Guests are invited to come into the prisons to inspire them with hope. The inmates need to know the community will embrace them when theyre released so they can become productive citizens. Ive gone into prisons in Kansas and Missouri on the mens invitation for 20 years.
In addition to speaking with the men, the joy also is in putting new visitors at ease. Lucille Lowe, a volunteer in corrections, and I went with first-timers Kansas City NAACP President Anita Russell and Board Secretary Mary Ann Grayson to Crossroads.
Inmates are encouraged when visitors come. I also met Norma Collins with the AARP at the state capital on her first trip to that prison. The Jefferson City Correctional Center NAACP Branch 4072 gave Collins an award for her advocacy.
In each case, my privilege was to walk people away from preconceived notions and help erase their concerns, enabling them to deliver uplifting messages. Russell told the Crossroads crowd about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and encouraged more to join. Grayson spoke of groups such as Catholic Charities, which help ex-offenders on release.
Inmates get older like everyone else. The AARP advocates for them, too, Collins said.
Newcomers voices combine with frequent visitors such as Joe Knaebel, chairman of Mid-Am Building Supply Inc. He encouraged those in Moberly to make a habit of connecting with positive people to stay productive.
The Rev. Elston McCowan with Star Grace Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis was with me at the three prisons. His faith-based message of hope was a hit.
McCowan quoted scripture, telling the ex-offenders its time to surrender hate, to begin to heal, love and come together. He encouraged them to remake themselves for their eventual release.
If you dont plan to succeed, you plan to fail, McCowan said in Moberly. If youre busy doing something positive, you cant do wrong.
Ask God to continue to make a way where there is no way for you. God means to project you forward. You can learn from your mistakes.
Wendell Daugherty-El, president of the NAACP Branch 4071 in Moberly, echoed McCowans words encouraging all to forge positive plans. That includes reading endlessly, getting high school equivalency diplomas and encouraging other men behind bars to do the same.
Daugherty-El said that like others in NAACP prison branches, he accepts responsibility for what he did to land in prison. The way to liberty is through taking advantage of educational opportunities.
Daugherty-El also recommended having a plan. But youd better have more than one plan, he said.
He praised the NAACP as a positive force in what otherwise could seem like a negative atmosphere.
Frequent visitors Annette Driver, a Jefferson City radio personality, Edna Harden, chair of Missouri CURE, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, offered kind words at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.
Harden, whose organization is dedicated to prison reform, shared a favorite quote: I truly believe our passion for freedom is stronger than any of these walls. Dare to struggle; dare to win.
Such words leave a lasting impression. Former inmates whom Ive encountered in stores, on the street, community events and taken to lunch have said outsiders intervention helped keep them on the right path.
That makes sharing the privilege, enabling others to be at their best well worth the time.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to email@example.com.