Andre is a pastor, former attorney, and advocate. In this episode, Amber and Jason talk with Andre about his involvement in the criminal legal system, how he has healed, and the negative impacts that he and his family have experienced as a result for decades.Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/amplifiedvoices)
Amplified Voices - Andre
Intro: [00:00:00] Everyone has a voice, a story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted.
What if there were a way to amplify those stories; to have conversations with real people in real communities; a way to help them step into the power of their lived experience.
Welcome to Amplified Voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system.
Together, we can create positive change, for everyone.
Jason: [00:00:34] Hello, and welcome to Amplified Voices. I'm your host, Jason, with my co-host Amber.
Good morning, Amber.
Amber: [00:00:42] Good morning, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:44] This morning, we have a guest. Very happy to have him with us. His name is Andre. He's someone that we've gotten to know here in Connecticut. And he's going to tell us a little bit about his story and his experience with the criminal legal system.
So, good morning, Andre.
Andre: [00:01:04] Good morning. How are you doing Jason?
Jason: [00:01:05] I'm doing all right.
Andre: [00:01:08] And Amber.
Amber: [00:01:09] Good morning, Andre.
Andre: [00:01:09] Hi.
Jason: [00:01:10] So Andre, we're going to leave it to you to tell a little bit about who you are and your story, and you can start wherever you'd like. But I would like to hear a little bit about your life before your involvement in the criminal legal system.
Andre: [00:01:24] Ok. Before being involved in the criminal legal system, I had a not too bad of a background. I was one of those people who was a Pop Warner coach. I practiced law for years. I had actually even gone into ministry. And I think a lot of the things that I wound up doing, although those things were positive, those things led me to a situation which allowed me to get involved on the opposite end of the legal system.
What I'm saying is, practicing law is mentally and emotionally draining. It's always something to do; always time consuming. It turns out that pastoring a church, which is what I had done for the last five years before getting involved in the legal system, is equally as involved, if not more so. Uh, Probably more so.
'Cause people have a tendency to call you any day or any time. And while I was there, I had gone from one small church, probably holding around maybe 75 people in a building, to a new edifice where we could fit that small church into the sanctuary by itself. And we still had enough room for a complete basement, another building next door, a fellowship hall, a nursery, and a whole bunch of classrooms.
Jason: [00:02:45] Were you the chief clergy of this facility?
Andre: [00:02:49] I was the sole pastor of Mount Zion Baptist church.
Jason: [00:02:53] Okay. So, there was a lot of pressure on you. You were holding up the entire community and it was very stressful.
Andre: [00:02:59] I was doing a little bit of everything. From pastoring church, to selling the old building, to being a lead person in purchasing the new building, to being a contractor, to straightening out the new building, to ministering to the congregation through sickness, through marriage, through death, through whatever might've been going on.
Jason: [00:03:20] Wow.
Andre: [00:03:20] As well as, now that I think about it, taking several missionary trips to Africa.
Amber: [00:03:25] Wow, that's a lot of hats right there.
Andre: [00:03:28] It didn't seem to be that big of a deal until this came up. And I actually had a conversation with a counselor prior to ever being arrested. This matter had come up and have been really around for about almost two years before I was arrested.
During that time period, myself and my entire family had gone through a long, 'bout probably almost 18 months’ worth of counseling. And for the counselor, the first day I spoke with him he asked me a question. He asked me if I had been in recovery and I said, "Yeah, I was." And he said, "When's the last time you went to a meeting?"
And I really hadn't been to a meeting in about maybe two or three years. He said, "Well, that's part of the problem. You really didn't have anybody around that you would actually be accountable to." He said, "In ministry, you are the senior pastor. So, everybody comes to you."
Jason: [00:04:21] So Andre, how long ago are we talking about?
Andre: [00:04:23] Jeez, now it's more than 20 years because this event occurred in 2000. That was more than 20 years when all of these things were occurring.
Jason: [00:04:33] You had struggled with alcohol, is that what you're saying?
Andre: [00:04:35] Alcohol and drug abuse for a while, when I was early in the practice of law.
Jason: [00:04:39] Okay. And so, you had, you had gotten some help for that, with some meetings and then you kind of just fell away from the meetings and took on all this pressure.
Andre: [00:04:48] I had been going to meetings for about probably eight years. And at around the time this occurred, when I was pastoring the church, I had gotten so busy doing all of the different things that I was doing, with regard to the church and the practice of law, that I stopped going the meetings.
Jason: [00:05:04] So you were putting on everybody else's mask first.
Andre: [00:05:07] Yeah. That's what it sounds like in hindsight, but when it's going on, it's just doing everything that you think you're supposed to be doing. As I said before, the counselor that I spoke to told me that the major reason I didn't have anyone to be accountable to. And as a result, I actually started going to a ministers meeting where the first thing that I was told was they asked me about all the things I was doing at the church.
And so they said, "Well, did the church exists before you got there?" And I said, "Yeah, it's been around almost a hundred years." They said, "Well, you know, I really think the church will be there when you're gone too. So maybe you should just do what you're supposed to do and not do what everybody else is supposed to do."
Jason: [00:05:45] Let's go a little forward. So, what happened? How did you get into trouble?
Andre: [00:05:49] Got into trouble because, and I didn't know it then, mentally, emotionally, uh, spent, I wound up having to deal with emotions and feelings I never had to address before. Family member had done some things that were... I just didn't know how to deal with them, and I was shook up. And unfortunately, my irrational mind told me that one of the ways to deal with, well, you're having sex with other folks, you might as well have sex with me.
That seemed then like it made sense, but now I can't believe how stupid that was. That was the worst decision that I think I could have ever made. And the most harmful, not just to me, but to everybody around me. It has affected my entire family because of it.
Jason: [00:06:33] I'm sorry to press a little bit. So, you had sex with...?
Andre: [00:06:37] An adult child.
Jason: [00:06:39] An adult child. Just to be clear, so you were married, you had children. How did that turn into an arrest?
Andre: [00:06:48] Uh It turned into arrest because the mom or my wife talking to her family, which is something I think she should've done, one of the persons she talked to was her mother, which is normal. But unfortunately, her mother, or fortunately, however people want to phrase it, um, the mother had made a decision that she didn't care what happened. She was going to do all she could to make sure that I go to prison.
She, from what I understand for the next two years called everywhere she could think to call to see if they would press the issue. And after two years, the state of Connecticut decided they would.
Jason: [00:07:22] Okay
Andre: [00:07:23] I was charged with incest.
Amber: [00:07:25] So, tell us a little bit about the process in terms of the arrest. Was there any help that was offered? Let's unpack that a little bit.
Andre: [00:07:37] No, there was absolutely no help of any kind that was offered. Like I said, we had finished counseling that I had dealt with between myself, our family, and the counselor. And then when the arrest occurred, it was one day, it was a knock at the door. Go through the doors is the police, I'm arrested, taken to the County jail and then extradited here to the state of Connecticut.
When I got here, there was no counseling, no nothing that occurred. I was up at the state police barracks for probably, um, almost a day. And then I was transferred to Hartford Correctional Facility. The whole thing was one of the more jarring experiences I've had from being in the county, locked up in Union County, New Jersey, where, when I go in, I was actually put in solitary confinement, which is right in front of everybody, with one of those top outfits essentially, with no under anything, but you just there.
That was a really difficult situation. To going up to a cell with a gentleman who, when I introduced myself, he looked at me and growled and never said anything. So, I was like, well, this is not going to be good. It was ugly.
Amber: [00:08:54] So that sounds pretty terrifying.
Andre: [00:08:57] It was extremely. Um that's a situation that I, I mean, that's just not what I was accustomed to. People growling at you when you go to introduce yourself, you know, he just looked at me and (growls) I'm like, "Oh my goodness, whoa, this is not going to be good." So, I just stayed on my portion of the cell, which was not a whole lot, unfortunately.
Jason: [00:09:18] So at this point, you're there; you had been arrested, but you hadn't been convicted yet?
Andre: [00:09:24] No, I hadn't been convicted. Again, I went up to Hartford correctional and my initial instinct was, because of a bunch of legal things that were going on, my mind was actually to go ahead and try and fight it. Not saying that the event has never occurred, but that there was some issue, in my mind, with the way they were pursuing it legally. The odd thing is I was in a situation where the prosecutor at one point was able to talk to me. And the prosecutor said a couple of things that was a little weird. One, that if it was up to her, she would bring me up for tax evasion. Because as a pastor, she didn't think that we as pastors have the right to have a housing allowance.
Then she said that she's going to do anything she can to destroy my family. And I'm saying to myself, what the heck is going on? I mean, my family wasn't on trial. My family hadn't committed an offense, I had. But her statement was, she was going to do anything she can to destroy my family.
And it turns out that my daughter and my now ex-wife, had actually asked her to leave our family alone. And they said, "We've been through counseling. We've worked our way through this, leave us alone so that we can just go ahead with our lives." And she didn't like that. And she apparently made a derogatory statement to my daughter, who, from what I understand, kind of cursed her out.
And the woman took it personally. And she, said she made up her mind, and she, you know, "I'll do everything I can to destroy your family."
Jason: [00:11:09] I want to explore that a little bit more in a minute, but one question I have for you is: at what point did you confront yourself? You know, like, how did I get here? How did this happen? I mean, you've got a law degree and you're a pastor. You know, the police show up at your door, you know you're doing something wrong, your wife's confronting you.
At what point did you kind of look at that and say, "Something went off the rails here and how do I fix that?"
Andre: [00:11:32] I had confronted myself before that ever occurred, because, remember, we had been going through counseling for 18 months to two years.
Jason: [00:11:39] So between the time that this was going on, you were actually in counseling to stop what you were doing.
Andre: [00:11:46] Yes, the counseling was with regard to the sex offense.
Jason: [00:11:50] I see. Okay. So you're dealing with it in a way to get help, and the legal system comes in and says, "We're gonna destroy you."
Andre: [00:11:59] Yeah, pretty much. That's essentially what happened and the sad thing about it is: my wife managed to scrape together, from different accounts, money for an attorney, paid the gentleman $5,000 as a deposit.
And I have no idea how or why, but he actually had a conversation with a cousin of mine who was then playing professional football, who told him, "Look, I'll pay the bail." And he told my cousin, "No, don't pay the bail, because he's going to have other charges that's going to be coming against him and then you'll have wasted your money."
And then he told my wife that he's going to do all he can to make sure I never go back to the state of New Jersey. And this guy had actually received money to represent me. And that was his view.
I think that was one of the things that allowed the prosecutor to feel as free as she did with saying she was going to do everything she can to destroy my family. Even to the point where we were in court one day and she laid out, opened up her file, and put it in front of this woman. It turns out the woman was a newspaper reporter. So the woman's going through the file looking at whatever she was looking at so that she can put an article in there.
I found out later that there were articles in newspapers. Texas, and Louisiana, and Florida, Alabama, all over the place. I guess she was trying to see if anybody else had had anything go on and nobody ever had anything, so.
Jason: [00:13:30] So you've got New Jersey and Connecticut involved. Were you living in New Jersey? Had it happened...
Andre: [00:13:35] I was living in New Jersey.
Jason: [00:13:36] The offense happened in Connecticut and then you were living in New Jersey, and they sent you back to Connecticut. Is that correct?
Andre: [00:13:42] Yes.
Jason: [00:13:42] And so did you have family in New Jersey while you were in Connecticut going through...?
Andre: [00:13:47] Yes, my family is not here. My family is all in New Jersey. Well, they're actually all over the place now that they're all grown.
Jason: [00:13:54] Okay. You touched on, you know, someone's trying to destroy you. That's the-
Andre: [00:13:59] Prosecutor.
Jason: [00:14:00] The prosecutor in Connecticut.
Andre: [00:14:02] The prosecutor in Connecticut and the initial attorney that I had representing me in Connecticut, was the same way.
Amber: [00:14:10] So do you feel that some of that came from the stigma around the type of offense?
Andre: [00:14:18] I'm sure it is because at one point the attorney who was supposed to be representing me, who made the statement that he is going to do everything he can to make sure I never get back to the state of New Jersey, who told my cousin not pay the bail to get me out. He said, "Well, I have daughters too."
Jason: [00:14:37] You don't feel like you got good representation is what you're saying.
Andre: [00:14:40] No. As a matter of fact, every time he kept telling me that he was going to apply for a bail reduction, and we have been in court maybe four times and he had not done it. And I had told him, "Look, the next time we get in there," when I spoke with him, I said, "Look, either you're going to ask for a bail reduction or I will ask for the bail reduction myself."
And we got in there. And he was beginning to ask for the bail reduction and the judge said to him, "When you're asking for a bail reduction," he told him specifically what he should not ask for. And unfortunately, when he opened his mouth, he did exactly what the judge told him not to do. And the judge denied the bail reduction.
Jason: [00:15:21] So how much do you think race has played a role in terms of how you've been treated up to this point?
Andre: [00:15:26] At that point, I didn't know, because I didn't know anything about people who have been involved in sexual offenses. I didn't know what happened in terms of race. I didn't know anything about that. The only time I really got a chance to look at that was, really, afterwards; after I was actually out and I was listening to people who had committed offenses and seeing the differences in how we were treated.
Jason: [00:15:51] Say more about that.
Andre: [00:15:53] I had a conversation with one gentleman, it was a white gentleman, and he said, "Well, I never spent a minute in jail." Matter of fact, a number of them said "I've never spent a minute in jail." But apparently he had enough finances to be able to get an attorney who, I don't know how they worked out their system, but I mean, I'm sure, even in my instance, it could have been the same way if I had an attorney that was willing to fight for me. I didn't know any attorneys here and I got the one that I thought would be good to handle it, but, um, apparently he wasn't.
I think the biggest issue, more than anything else, is it's two. One, the people that they wind up arresting will be the people that they choose to arrest. There are some Caucasian people, some white people who never get arrested. They allow them to go through various treatment, et cetera, et cetera. And that's fine because I think in a lot of instances, what people need is to go through some counseling, to find out exactly what's going on with them so they can move on.
It may have been a crime, but at some point, everybody is going to do something that's wrong. The question is, how do you deal with it when it happens? When you're in an instance where for instance, I'll never try to condone my actions because my actions were definitely wrong. No question about that period.
But after we had sat down and gone through counseling - individual counseling, as well as group counseling. And I mean individual for me, individual, for the wife, individual for the children, group counseling with me and the wife, we had gone through a lot of stuff over the year and a half.
You would think that the state of Connecticut would not be interested in adding to its already overloaded burden of finances by taking on the responsibility of trying and then putting somebody in prison that they would have to care for all of this time. A person who's not even a resident of the state of Connecticut, and the other person involved wasn't a resident of the state of Connecticut. It just happened to happen in Connecticut.
Jason: [00:17:48] After you were convicted, how long did you spend in prison?
Andre: [00:17:51] I spent six years between, well, I spent about a year and a half, almost two years, in Hartford corrections because my mind was to go ahead and attack it that way. Unfortunately, with the legal representation that I had, a lot of things, a lot of opportunities that I had to fight the issue, had gone because he just squandered that time; not following any motions, not doing anything to really try and represent me. So a lot of the opportunities I would have had had disappeared and I wound up actually having to get another attorney to represent me to go on through with that matter. But I think I went to prison in 2004 and I got out in 2010. So, I was in there for six years.
Jason: [00:18:38] Okay. Six years after the year and a half that you spent waiting to be convicted.
Andre: [00:18:44] Yes.
Jason: [00:18:45] So you had essentially seven and a half years of your life. Plus, you had a few years where you were in therapy before that. It was a long haul for you.
Andre: [00:18:54] It was a long haul and the really sad thing is, even while I was in there, while when I was in Osborn, but while you are there in Osborn, they mandate you walk on the yellow line going through the hall. But they could not mandate that you go to group therapy to deal with the issues that you might have been confronted with and led you to where you were.
And even though they did not mandate it for me, I chose to attend classes, dealing with sex offense issues. Successfully completed first and second parts of that particular group that I was in. And of course, when I got out in 2010, I had to go back to the group anyway, the same groups that I'd already taken to go through it again, and successfully completed it again.
Jason: [00:19:38] We've heard stories of people who go in and they don't get any type of help. Do you feel that the program did help you or did it give you a chance to demonstrate that you were improving? I mean, what did you think about that program?
Andre: [00:19:50] The program I think was beneficial to me in a couple of ways. One, it kind of reinforced a lot of the things I had already learned through counseling. This program actually also allowed me to be in a spot where I learned a bit more about how to deal with emotions, because I was actually talking about things that were related to emotion.
At one point, I'm sitting in a cell and I started crying and I couldn't figure out why I was crying so much. And, um, when I was talking to the counselor about it and he was watching it. He said, "You actually seem like you are reliving emotions that you never experienced as you were growing up."
And in truth there were events that occurred as I was growing up that I didn't never even think about. Emotions - I didn't think you had time to, for instance, I wound up being stabbed twice, shot at. One time when I was stabbed my heart had stopped beating. And, um, the doctor says that he had asked for the time of death and then the heart monitor just started beating again. And I never processed those things because the way I grew up, we did not grow up dealing with any emotions other than anger and happiness. So, I didn't know anything about other emotions, and I think that was a large part also of the offense.
Jason: [00:21:08] Thank you for sharing that. I mean, Amber, doesn't that sound familiar?
Amber: [00:21:11] It does sound pretty familiar in a lot of the people that we've talked to. I think it's important for people to really note, as we unpack some of these difficult conversations, that trauma really begets trauma.
Andre: [00:21:27] Yeah.
Jason: [00:21:27] Andre, thank you so much for sharing that. And that's really what we want to get at when we're doing these podcasts is talking to people and having them look beyond the instance and the worst thing you did. Right? I mean, there are things that happened to you before you ever got to that point. And if we address them and we start looking for those in other people and looking at people as humans, we can help them before they ever go on to commit offenses.
Andre: [00:21:50] And that's so very important because as I saw that about me. I started to watch the other folks that I was around in prison and in groups. And I would say if you ask 10 of those men to give you 10 emotions, maybe one could name 10 emotions. And then if you ask that one to explain what that emotion is, he probably could not. And that is a really, unfortunately a dangerous and detrimental situation.
I actually wound up doing a workbook Understanding and Experiencing Emotion. And this workbook has never been published, but I did it basically because I needed to make sure I understood that process of working through emotions myself.
Amber: [00:22:39] So Andre, what you're saying is that you created a workbook, meaning you developed a workbook for people to utilize?
Andre: [00:22:46] Yes. And as a matter of fact, probably most of the people in prison would get a great benefit from it. I think, most people in general would. For years, I thought that I had a normal childhood. I didn't even realize that the stuff I was experiencing was so traumatic. I mean, even when they had the riots in Newark, I was there and me and a couple of friends, went out to Springfield Avenue, and the national guard came down and he stuck a gun in my face.
I was probably about eight or nine years old. The gun that he stuck in my face the barrel, it looked like it was eight inches wide. And I know it wasn't that big, but it looked that way to me. And, uh, the man said, "Go home." And I don't remember going home, but I remember being in a house. So there was a lot of stuff that was going on that I really had never processed because I didn't know anything about the emotions or processing emotions.
Jason: [00:23:36] Wow.
Amber: [00:23:36] So Andre, while you were in prison, did you ever participate in any other programs? Sometimes we hear that people are actually denied programming because of the type of offense that they've committed. Did you experience any of those things?
Andre: [00:23:53] I was not denied any programs. I actually participated even while I was at Hartford community corrections, while I was there, I was in the drug program. I also sat there and helped to develop a steps study group for people in the drug program while I was there. I participated in the Fatherhood Initiative program, Beyond Fear, Kairos. There were a number of programs that I was involved in and each of those programs, to an extent, had a large part to do with emotions and how to process them.
Kairos was the spiritual program and I attended church while I was in there. And I think, had it not been for the spiritual aspect of my life, I don't know that I would have made it through a prison situation because it's not meant for human beings to be in those kinds of situations.
While I was there, because people knew that I was an ordained pastor, I had, you know, people came to talk to me all the time. I had one guy that came to me and he said he'd never committed a crime in his life. He had just gotten married and he was so worried about how things were going to be. He figured he'd just kill himself. And so I wound up talking to him about that.
There was another guy who had been in there for a couple of decades and due to get out. So, I guess he didn't have any family outside and he was having physical health issues. So, she actually did hang himself. The odd thing is that the date he actually hung himself, I had noticed that he was so, just, away from everybody. I made it my business to make sure I said "Hi" to him and just a smile at him when I saw him.
And then when I went up to the cell a little while later, you hear the alarms go off and they found him hanging in his cell. You know, that's not the environment that people should be in. You know, that's an extremely, extremely tenuous environment. I walked down the hall and all I could do was just bite down on my jaw because. Why am I here? I can't, that's not an environment for human beings. It's just not.
Jason: [00:26:00] Yeah, I'm sorry you went through that. So, let me ask you one question. Given that all these things that are going on right now with COVID and people needing to social distance, I know you see it with some of the work you're doing in the shelters now. What are your thoughts in terms of how in the facility they could socially distance and what that risk is like for them right now?
Andre: [00:26:19] It actually is not possible to socially distance in prison. In each of the cell blocks, which is the separate units - they have units A through G and then the Q's at Osborn, but you have two people to a cell, generally. You eat together, you do recreation together, it's very limited. And probably worse than anything else, the system in there is just re-circulating the same air that's in there. There's no air coming in from outside to cleanse that air. You are just recirculating the same air over and over again.
And unfortunately, at Osborn, because the place was so old, there are large parts of Osborn that's loaded with asbestos. And so you're constantly breathing in all of these irritants and pollutants.
The water there was so bad that there was signs posted around, if people looked, and I was one of them people that like read stuff. So, the signs tell you that they found feces in the drinking water and none of the CO's would ever drink the water there. They would all come in with a water cup or a water bottle. But that's what we, as inmates had to deal with. Drinking that water and knowing they are knowing that it had feces in it because there was signs up where the health department has examined it and that's what they found.
Jason: [00:27:41] Ugh. That's awful. Can we fast forward a little now, to: you were starting to tell me before that when you got out, you were in parole and they forced you to go through the same treatment you had already successfully completed.
Andre: [00:27:57] Yeah, got out, went through the exact thing treatment that I had already gone through. They said it's "because now you're in a different environment. You might deal with it differently." Okay, fine. So, we go through treatment.
Jason: [00:28:10] Now was this a program where you had to talk about dynamic risk factors, where you had to do to your...
Andre: [00:28:15] Yeah.
Jason: [00:28:16] ..entire autobiography, where you had to talk about everybody in your life and the whole thing?
Andre: [00:28:22] Yeah. You had to go through the entire thing. The exact same stuff that you went through while, well, if you went into the program that was in the institution, it is the exact same program. The exact same information that you're covering; going over the dynamic risk factors, why this stuff may have occurred, what you were experiencing, the entire thing, and then write up a story about it.
Jason: [00:28:44] You had to pay for it.
Andre: [00:28:46] You did have to pay for it and apparently there were a number of people who were unable to pay for it, and I would have been one of those, because I did not have any job. Matter of fact, I could not find a job for five years having three different degrees. So that was an experience in and of itself.
But, um, you had to pay for it and there was some people who could not; who wound up going to prison, going back to jail, being violated because they couldn't. And then the courts told them that they could not imprison people for not paying those fees. Those things had already been paid for by the state. I guess they were trying to figure out some way to get reimbursed. It was just crazy.
Amber: [00:29:24] So Andre having to go through that same treatment program again, did you find it as additional healing or did you find it as a mechanism to really rehash things after you had already experienced healing previously?
Andre: [00:29:42] It forced you to have to dig it up, rip the scab off, go through the bleeding and everything all over again. But the way that I wound up processing that is. As I was in there and I saw there were people struggling with emotional issues and other issues. So instead of me focusing in on how I was feeling and having to go through that all over again, I focused in on trying to help them to recognize what they were going through. That was the best way for me to process it.
And then I was initially in Torrington. Then when I moved from Torrington to the Hartford, I had to go through it again. It was just amazing, I mean, I don't understand.
If you actually have gone through the program once; if you've gone through the program twice; then at some point they have to begin to understand that, either you've gotten everything you can out of that program, or that program is not benefiting you and they need to look to other ways to address the issue. And there are actually other ways to address it, but in large part, they choose not to.
For instance, they don't want to do anything regarding restorative justice. I know my victim had, on a number of occasions, even while I was in the prison, because the judge had placed in the sentencing order that nobody could do anything to prevent us from being able to spend time with each other. And so, she tried to visit in the present and they refused to allow her to. When she reached out to the victim’s advocate, they treated her as if she was an offender. And instead of treating her as if she was a victim.
The same thing occurred when I got out. Nobody would try to do anything to help, to try and bridge the gap that had been created within the family, between me and her all between me and the family, because of that time in prison.
And then she actually was denied an opportunity to come to the parole hearing. She was trying to find information about it. She sent me a letter to get to them because they just would not tell her when the parole hearing was. And she has a right to be at the parole hearing, but they would not tell her, did not tell her.
And while we were in there, there was some derogatory comments made about her, which is one of the reasons why I won't say who was involved because people have a tendency to mistreat, even the person who was victimized by re-victimizing them again.
Jason: [00:32:10] Andre, do you have a relationship now with your wife, with your daughter, or with your other children?
Andre: [00:32:16] With all of my children, I have a relationship with all of them. I have actually gone to three of their college graduations. I've gone to, uh, one graduation where my child graduated from a professional school and I was there actually able to participate in that.
The weird thing is, and dealing with different probation offices, restrictions changed depending on where you go.
My second daughter's mother passed and I was not allowed to go to the funeral because they said, "Well, there might be a child there." Unbelievable. I mean, it's matter of fact, that particular daughter is still working for probation department in the town where she lives. And at that particular time, she was dealing with persons that had committed sex offenses.
So I was really distraught, but it was nothing I could do. I felt bad, you know, um, that she's there without her mother and they will not allow me to even be there at the funeral. Mind you I've been to the same town where she lives probably four or five times, you know, but for the funeral I could not attend.
Amber: [00:33:27] So just to be clear, the restriction was, or what you were told was to avoid coming in contact with a child, when in fact your offense was not against a minor.
Andre: [00:33:41] Exactly.
Jason: [00:33:42] Amber has used the term broad brush.
Andre: [00:33:45] Right.
Jason: [00:33:46] You're looked at as the worst of every single other person who's ever done anything. You're a monster, uh Andre. Sorry to tell you.
Andre: [00:33:55] You can live next door to a person who has been convicted of murder. You can live right next door to them, and you wouldn't know. But if you live next to somebody that committed anything classified as a sex offense in the state of Connecticut, you'll know who it is. A matter of fact, you may have somebody put notes in everybody's box saying who you are. It can be rather vicious.
So in 2010, you were released, you were put on parole. You've been on parole. Probation. You're no longer under supervision. When did supervision end?
I'm actually still under supervision. Probation was for 10 years. But when I got out, I was out on parole initially, which is why there's still time for supervision.
Jason: [00:34:41] And you are also listed on the sex offense registry scheduled to come off in August of this year.
Andre: [00:34:48] Correct. Because apparently, they calculate it from the day I came out, which is the 16th of August to 10 years after that, which will be the 16th of August. And every time I've tried to get a job that has stood in the way. Even with the people that I'm currently working for, I believe they allow me to have this particular job because the supervisor in this place knew me from a lot of the volunteer work that I did. Because I could not find a job anywhere, I did a lot of volunteer work. I worked in the HIV community significantly on both of the major planning boards. I worked as a member of the board of directors for a couple of nonprofits, as well as a couple of a multi-million-dollar corporations.
And sadly on one of those instances, I was told, "Well, you know, somebody, particularly a legislator, might find out that you were on our board of directors and they may try and withhold funding from us. Can you resign?" And mind you, this is right after they asked me to be the vice chair of the board of directors, you know. So, I was like, wow.
Jason: [00:35:54] You've told me that a lot of groups have reached out to you and said, "Hey, we want you to do a lot of work for us behind the scenes...
Andre: [00:35:59] Right.
Jason: [00:36:00] ..On a volunteer basis." So, everybody wants you working with them, but nobody wants you to be visible and nobody wants to pay you.
Andre: [00:36:07] Every organization that I went to volunteer with within the first year, I wound up chairing that organization. And the Statewide Planning Body, the Hartford Transitional Grant, or the County Planning Body. As a matter of fact, not only chaired them once, but instead of them allowing my term to end, they asked me to stay on for a whole other term in both instances, because they knew I had the capacity to do the work and I didn't mind doing the work.
But when it came time to actually get a job to care for myself, everybody's seemed to not, "Well, you know, we don't want to do that, cus, uh, you know, he's got a" and they won't say this, but you know what the real deal is. "He committed a sexual offense. So, um, we can't hire him." I'm like, please, the place that I'm working for now, there's been at least four positions that I've applied for that I am well overqualified for and much more qualified than the people that wound up getting those positions. And I did not get them because they didn't want to have to deal with the fact that somebody might say, "Oh, look, you have a person that has committed a sex offense in that position," you know?
I mean, even the job I have now, I'm just barely able to survive with this job. It's a full-time job. It's got benefits. However, the amount of money that's generated from it makes it extremely difficult to live, you know. Struggling to make sure that meds are purchased, or food is here, and rent is paid, you know. It's horrible.
Jason: [00:37:41] If you had either not committed this offense or you had committed some other offense that wasn't sexual in nature, (do you think) that you would be in a different financial position right now.
Andre: [00:37:50] There are other persons that have committed crime in the state of Connecticut right now that practiced law before their crimes that are practicing law right now. There are other persons in the state of Connecticut who are able to, matter of fact, it's so bad with the stigma hanging over your head, that all one of the governors of the state had saw all the volunteer work that I was doing, and he said, "Look, you really should be working in a good position." So, he asked one of his friends, "Look, try to help him find a job." That friend could not even help me to find a job, with all of the people that he knew, because of that crime. Mind you is more than two decades old and it's still occurring.
Jason: [00:38:36] So the last time you committed an offense, we were talking about Y2K?
Andre: [00:38:40] Yeah. Yeah.
Amber: [00:38:42] And so everything that you've done since that time seems to have been a lot of introspection, a lot of healing, a whole lot of volunteer work. And so when we're looking at, you know, the complexity of life, the complexity of a whole person, it seems like there's been a lot of good and some worst moments in your life.
Andre: [00:39:07] Probably the better moments for me is when some of the organizations I participate in are able to accomplish things that are beneficial to other people who are on the bottom of the scale of everything. Within the HIV arena, making sure that they have peer support programs in place, I was instrumental in changing the directives and then making sure that funding was in place for persons to do peer support work. Because I believe that a lot of times people are able to get more help when they're dealing with somebody who has gone through some similar things, even within the criminal justice arena - the Criminal Legal System.
Jason: [00:39:47] So Andre, before we close out, are there any organizations that you're working with that you want to give a plug for or anything else that you want to give a shout out?
Andre: [00:39:56] There's several organizations that I've worked for. The group Katal, there are many. But I think probably more than anything else, as I said, the biggest group that helped me has been the group dealing with God. Making sure that I developed that relationship with God. And it gets to be rough because depending on again, who your probation officer is, they actually do things to prevent you from being able to develop spiritual aspect to your life, which I think is crucial in any situation, which can take you out of dangerous situations or caustic situations to be able to help to move you on. And even to give you a hope that otherwise, you don't get.
Jason: [00:40:36] We kind of glossed over it, but your employment right now is with a homeless shelter.
Andre: [00:40:41] Yes. I worked with the largest all male shelter in the city of Hartford. It's McKinney shelter. And I get a chance to see in McKinney the same hardships: persons who may have come out of prison, persons who are down on their luck. And I'm not saying everybody is a criminal because everybody is not a criminal. There are some people who just ran into some difficult times, they wound up in a shelter.
But unfortunately, in a lot of instances, particularly if somebody has committed a sex offense, they do not really give you any kind of help. I've actually approached a couple of the organizations that deal with fair housing in the state of Connecticut and asked them to see if they could help in some of these instances. And to this date, I really have not received a response back from people that I know are there for that specific purpose. Because everybody feels that that is the Scarlet Letter. And then they come out and they try to do something in support of it, then everybody else is gonna begin to ostracize them as well. So they are very reluctant to do anything to help anybody who has been convicted of a sex offense.
Jason: [00:41:50] Amber, do you have any last questions or Andre do you have anything else that you want to share that we haven't touched on? I'll start with Amber.
Amber: [00:41:58] So Andre, I just wanted to thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation with us. I know that for most people, some of these topics are very difficult and it seems like over a long period of time, you've done a lot of work in terms of understanding what happened and working towards healing and doing some really great things in the world.
And, um, I thought it was interesting that you talked a little bit about the homeless piece of it, and that's kind of a current area that you're working in. We do hear a lot from folks who work with the homeless population, that it's not necessarily that somebody doesn't want to help. This system really just makes it very difficult to help, so I'm glad you kind of shone a little bit of a light on that.
But most of all, my final comments really are: thank you so much for being willing to share your experience and kind of lay it all out there, for things that people sometimes just don't really want to talk about.
Andre: [00:43:04] Thank you for inviting me.
Jason: [00:43:06] Andre to close it out, tell us something good that's going on.
Andre: [00:43:09] Right now, I guess, out of bad, sometimes good things happen because it's been so difficult for me to try and rent apartments. I actually started in a little house that I rent because there's nobody around here. But because the low amount of money that I get paid, I was able to get into a program that helped me when it comes to purchasing a house. So, God willing, by the end of this month, I will be in a position to purchase a house over in Waterbury area. That's a blessing.
And it's funny because a lot of people look at me and they're like, "Well, how is he able to do this, cus he's one of them?" and then I can look at them and say, "Well, because God loves me." So that's the best thing I can leave you with.
Jason: [00:43:55] Well, you know, Andre, I don't think our paths would have ever crossed if we didn't have this in common in terms of having a past sex offense. And I just want you to know that I'm glad that I've gotten to know you, and I'm glad that you agreed to be on our podcast. You're doing some work that you should be very proud of.
So thank you for coming on today. Thank you for being with us and that's pretty much it. So thank you, Andre.
Andre: [00:44:20] Thank you both for inviting me.
Jason: [00:44:22] You got it.
Until next time, Amber.
Amber: [00:44:25] See ya next time, Jason.
Outro: [00:44:36] You've been listening to Amplified Voices, a podcast, lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the Criminal Legal System. For more information, episodes, and podcast notes, visit amplifiedvoices.show.