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January 02, 2009

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Sonny Rudert

I know firsthand of the fine work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In 2006, I returned to the greater community via Dismas House after having spent twenty-three years in prison. The world I returned to was a completely different world than the one I'd left. I cannot imagine anyone making a successful transition back into mainstream society without Dismas House or transitional programs like it. Re-learning, and in some instances learning anew the particulars of navigating social and economic systems requires a skill-set that one usually develops incrementally. Unfortunately, when an individual returns from prison after many years he or she is confronted with a world of change that literally overwhelms the senses. Transitional services like those offered at Dismas House are especially important to our community when you consider that our present correctional system is minimally invested in the re-entry phase of incarceration, despite the fact that 97% of the incarcerated will return to society. A lot of our tax dollars are spent locking people up and supporting extenive terms of confinement (about fity cents on every New York tax dollar), but very little of these funds are invested in providing transitional assistance. This is why the work of Dismas House and similar programs is so necessary for our greater community. To believe in a better world, a better tomorrow for us all, is to believe in the power of positive transformation of the human spirit. Holding these beliefs--and putting our wallets not just our words behind these beliefs--is the type of pro-active social responsibility that builds a better, safer community for all of us. While we recognize it is always the responibility, and personal choice of each person to make positive changes in his or her life we must eqally recognize that it is incumbent upon all of us, as collective members of the greater community, to support and welcome these positive changes, and in so doing, join in the efforts of programs like Dismas House that foster intangibles like good decision-making and taking responsibility for one's life. Community-building is a lifelong process that makes neighbors out of strangers; it removes the exclusionary fences of "them"s and instead opens gates to each other as "us." To do this we must all recognize that there is a time for prison and a time for release. For the betterment of the world in which we live we must become as zealous about bolstering the positive efforts of those who return from prison as we are about locking away those who transgress against us. Public safety is a naturally occuring bi-product when we are all a part of each other's lives, invested in positive outcomes, known by, and accountable to one and other.

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