Saturday, March 30, 2019

How Members Of A Small Citizens Group Have Impacted Our Local Criminal Justice System

VJC has an open meeting at the Dean House (across Water
St. from Community Mennonite Church) each Monday noon.
Most of the following developments are the result of collaboration among many people and organizations, but the changes below are among those either initiated by and/or substantially supported by members of Valley Justice Coalition, a group of concerned citizens that has been meeting each Monday noon since 2014:

1. Tireless (and successful) efforts to promote alternatives to building a new jail.
2. The long inactive Community Criminal Justice Board becoming a group that meets quarterly, and is now open to public input.
3. The CCJB appointing an Alternatives Committee which included members of the VJC and chaired by Judge John Paul, which has made significant proposals for reform.
4. Initiating ongoing conversation about need for better mental health services in the jail, and eventually resulting in having the Community Services Board provide funding for a half-time, then a full-time, counselor.
5. Drug Court, which according to the DNR, began as “several community leaders raised concerns about the growing inmate population…” (DNR, 12/10/18)
6. A Day Reporting program at Gemeinschaft Home.
7. Increased citizen involvement in the Reentry Council and its Action Committee and subcommittees.
8. A survey done of over 80 members of inmate families to learn more about their concerns about jail policies.
9. 'WITH' hospitality center at RISE church for visiting family members and loved ones waiting to see inmates at jail.
10. Having significant influence both in the formation of Faith in Action and in its choice of criminal justice reform as its 2018 focus. 
11. Significant collaboration with FIA in the wording and implementation of specific objectives in their campaign.
12. Sheriff becoming more aware of, and sensitive to, community concerns about jail policies, resulting in his taking initiative in improving those policies, including the remarkable step of providing educational tablets for a pod of inmates on a trial basis.
13. A October 15 community forum led by Board of Supervisor William Kyger and attended by some 300 people, on the issue of considering hiring a community justice planner. This meeting would not have happened without the influence of VJC and FIA.
14. Numerous op ed pieces and letters to the editor by members of VJC on local criminal justice reforms.
15. Having criminal justice reform advocate Nancy Insco and Probation and Parole head Joshua Lutz of the Reentry Council added to the membership of the CCJB.
16. Advocating for accessibility and submitting data requests for incorporation in the new data system being acquired through a cooperative effort by Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and James Madison University. 
17. Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst stating she wants to change “the warehouse mentality to a greenhouse mentality.” (April 27, 2017, in the the minutes of the meeting of the State Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee.)
18. With James Madison University's Mahatma Gandhi Center, initiating and planning a December 4 meeting of community leaders with Virginia's Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, along with Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett, for the purpose of promoting parole reform, followed by a public meeting at JMU.

Anyone interested in local reforms such as the above are welcome to take part in VJC's Monday conversations and strategy sessions.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Practicing Good Soul Care/Whole Care

Graphic by Christ Community Church, Helena, Alabama

I remember years ago when then governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, former wrestler turned politician, made the off handed comment in an interview that religion was for “weak minded people who need strength in numbers.” His remark set off a furor of negative reaction all across the nation.

In the aftermath some 68 churches in Minneapolis-Saint Paul decided to respond in a positive way. They took out a full page ad in the November 19, 1999, Star-Tribune with the headline, “Strength for the Weak-Minded,” then listed the addresses of all 68 sponsoring congregations, followed by the words “Look for a workout location near you.”

Actually, Jesse (nicknamed “The Body”) had a point. All of us human beings are more than a little weak-minded at times, and have a need to belong to a good support network. For many, this will be a family of faith who are there for us when we are experiencing losses and challenges in our lives, and who help us become healthier and less selfish people.

You may have heard the statement, "The church isn't meant to be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners." But I rather like the metaphor of congregations being a "workout location" for those aspiring to be healthier day-to-day "saints" even better. Just as join Wellness Centers to gain better physical health, why not become a part of group of people focused on emotional, relational and spiritual wellness?

Just look for a good location near you.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Come Out To Support Gemeinschaft Home's Bold New 2020 Vision!

At the Park View Mennonite Church

Hear about how Gemeinschaft Home is about to enter a new chapter in its service to our community. Also, enjoy some great Bowl of Good food and hear original songs and real life stories from Gemeinschaft residents and alumni. There will also be a video presentation and a special tribute to the late Gerry Rush, who served as treasurer of the Home for many years and was one of its most avid supporters. 

Please sign up by phone (434-1690) or email by 4/1!

P.S. Gemeinschaft has just received a grant from Merck for a third of the cost of a solar project for the Home that will save $5000-6000 a year for the next 25-30 years. You can contribute here or at the dinner!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Senator Deeds Addresses Mental Health Concerns At Local Forum

This is a rare opportunity to hear Creigh Deeds' story and his passion for
improving mental health services in Virginia.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Bible Leans More Socialist Than You Think

When it comes to wealth, God clearly favors equality 
I find it interesting how much attention the Bible gives to the issue of equity and justice with regard to how wealth is to be distributed. In the first five books of the Bible, the Torah (or Law, which means it contains more than mere suggestions), Israelite citizens are commanded to redistribute their land every fifty years (Leviticus 25), and to cancel all debts every seven years (Deuteronomy 15). The purpose of this is so there will be "no poor among you." 

This same phrase is used to describe the sharing of goods in Acts 2, associated with the founding of a new community of a Jewish Jubilee in which there were "no poor among them." 

Then's there's the forever "new heaven and new earth" where God finally rules supreme, and where all hunger, thirst and poverty are wiped away and all are blessed alike. To me that looks like an ultimate form of God-ordered socialism. 

And here on earth, families are God-ordained units that, as representations of heaven on earth, have everyone producing according to their ability and everyone receiving according to their need. 

Shouldn't the church seek to be that kind of God-governed outpost, demonstrating what it looks like when God's will is being done here on earth as it is in heaven? 
See II Corinthians 8:13-15.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Son's Tribute For His Father's Funeral

Brian's father Allen 1937-2019

Brian Brubaker is the oldest son of my friend Allen Brubaker, whose memorial service I attended last Saturday, along with hundreds of others.  Brian, who was painfully absent due to his serving a sentence at the Augusta Correctional Center near Craigsville, has demonstrated a remarkably changed life, and has been a great blessing to his family and to countless others.

He wrote the following touching tribute to be read at the service:

Dear Friends and Family:

It brings me deep sorrow that I cannot be present today, but since I have received much mercy and grace from my father for the circumstances I find myself in, I want to at least honor him by telling of his ministry to me.

In recent years I’ve gotten to know my father better. He has helped me learn that none of us is perfect. Whatever his own slight imperfections were, I value them because they brought him to know his need for a savior and he passed that onto his children. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited as being one of the early authors of the thought that our brokenness is what lets the light in. I know my father had Christ’s light living within him, and he will now be forever alive in Christ.

My life has been a desert the last ten years, but my father truly lived Isaiah 35 as he reached out to me and brought me the light of Jesus.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad. The desert shall rejoice and blossom. Like the
crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…
… Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a
fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear, here is your God... he will come and save you.”

In some ways this is happening already for me. My father treasured the body of Christ, and worked his whole life for it. And now I am reaping the benefits of that work, because many of you here today have become Dad’s friends. Your visits and kindness to me have sustained me and have answered the promise of Isaiah 35.

May all our pain, fear, and discomfort be lost in the love of Jesus.

Your Kingdom Highway Companion.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

WITH Offers Hospitality For Jail Visitors

The RISE church location is in the former Ragtime Fabrics building, just across the corner
 from the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Jail.
Friends and family members of inmates at our local jail sign in early on Saturday mornings for their weekly visit, then typically have to wait for up to an hour for their turn to spend time with their loved ones. Space in the jail lobby is limited, so many wait in their cars or on the jail steps.

For some months now, interested volunteers who have created a local effort called WITH have utilized space made available by the nearby RISE Church to welcome folks in for snacks, coffee, tea and a warm place to hang out and talk during their wait. The number of guests has ranged from six to over twenty, and more have been showing up as word gets around.

WITH provides an atmosphere that is informal and invitational.
Guests often welcome the chance to talk about some of the stress they experience having a loved one incarcerated. In one case a woman from Maryland had been released from jail at midnight on a winter night and had nowhere to go and no way to get back home. After spending the night in the jail lobby, she met a volunteer who invited her to come by for coffee and conversation. WITH volunteers got some money together for a bus ticket for her to get back to Maryland.

In April WITH hopes to open its doors for the Saturday evening visitation time as well.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

This RT Article Needs To Be Shared Everywhere

The Riverside Regional Jail, like our Middle River one, houses inmates from surrounding
jurisdictions. Meanwhile Middle River Regional Jail is considering expanding, while
Riverside now has room to spare.
The Riverside Regional Jail has relied on Chesterfield County for a significant part of its inmate population, but the Chesterfield Jail's numbers are projected to drop by 34% this year, leaving the RRJ hurting for operating funds. 

Chesterfield and now Rappahannock are two Virginia jails that are utilizing the McShin Foundation's heroin treatment program, as noted in the article below (used with the reporter's permission):

Drop in inmates at Riverside Regional Jail fuels a budget deficit of millions of dollars
By Mark Bowes
Richmond Times Dispatch
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Riverside Regional Jail will operate with a $2.4 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, due largely to a substantial projected drop in the average number of inmates the facility will house and climbing pharmaceutical services.

Riverside receives nearly half its funding or about $20 million, from the revenue provided by the seven localities in Central Virginia that use the jail.

Chesterfield County supplies nearly half of the inmates, and because that number is projected to drop by 34 percent, the county's share of the budget will fall from $11.9 million in the current fiscal year to a projected $8.4 million in fiscal 2020.

Chesterfield's sheriff, Karl Leonard, attributed the county's drop in part to rehabilitation programs his department has created for offenders with substance abuse problems and more inmates being diverted by county judges into diversion programs rather than sending them to jail. In addition to inmates sent to Riverside, Chesterfield runs a separate county jail that houses roughly 300 inmates.

"Our rehabilitative measures are having an effect," Leonard said. "We're seeing less repeat offenders and our overall numbers are going down."

The jail's 14-member governing body last week passed a $42.6 million operating budget -- with two dissenting votes -- that includes a projected deficit of $2,463,450. The board voted to fill the gap with "rainy day" reserves.

(Email for a complete copy of this article)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Our Local Granddaughter's Way Above Average Life Science Project

Six newborn chicks got a lot of attention at the science fair.
Madelyne, our 7th grade granddaughter, was one of over a hundred students from Harrisonburg City Schools who took part in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Science Fair held recently at our local mall.

Madelyne has long been interested in chickens, and has kept several laying hens in her back yard for some years, both as a hobby and as a way of providing some eggs for the family. So for her science project she and a friend bought some fertilized eggs and a small incubator and managed to have six baby chicks hatch just in time for their exhibit.

What made this unique was that, to the best of my knowledge, theirs was the only exhibit that had anything to do with the life sciences, the study of plant, animal and human biology.

That surprised, and in a way concerned, me. Shouldn't more of our offspring show an interest in the care of plants, trees, birds, animals and other organisms critical to our survival?

Of course, things like robot technology, applied physics and computer science also have their place, but who is going to grow our food?

Hopefully we'll always have enough people like Madelyne who can provide us with fresh vegetables and some good eggs from her back yard free range chickens.

Here's a great 2011 link to more on our grandchildren and nature.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Be A Solar Sponsor: And Help Gemeinschaft Save $5000 a Year!

Today, Give Solar is kicking off our campaign to help Gemeinschaft Home to go solar!  In May, Green Hill Solar, with the help of solar barn raising volunteers, will install a 26.2 kilowatt solar system on the roof of Gemeinschaft.  The solar array will help Gemeinschaft save $5000 per year for the next 25-30 years.

The mission of Gemeinschaft Home is to provide cutting edge therapeutic services to nonviolent offenders who have been released or diverted from incarceration in support of a transition to healthy community living. They have been playing a crucial role in this community since 1985.   

Will you help Gemeinschaft go solar?  We are looking for 300 people to donate $20 to $30 to help make this happen.  In addition, we are looking for sponsors such as businesses, churches, and community organizations.  Sponsors are asked to give a larger donation to help make this project possible.  The total fundraising goal is $28,000.  Through grant funding and early contributions, we have already raised $11,000.

Thank you for your support of Gemeinschaft Home. Donate here. Together, we can do this!