In this episode of Amplified Voices, Amber and Jason speak with Andrew, a pastor from Connecticut who has been impacted by the criminal legal system, both as a family member and as the victim of a crime. Andrew speaks about how the crime and the system has affected his family, congregation, community and more. He shares valuable insights and coping strategies for those who have an incarcerated family member during the age of COVID19, as well as for those who are living with the challenges of a criminal record in a world turned upside-down after incarceration. Finally he speaks about spirituality and the responsibility of individuals of faith to define justice as equality and love, seeking a path to redemption and reconciliation for everyone.
Andrew - Transcript
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] Good morning. Welcome to another episode of Amplified Voices. I'm Jason. I'm here with my co-host Amber.
Good morning, Amber.
Amber: [00:00:42] Good morning, Jason.
Jason: [00:00:44] We're very honored today to have our guest Andrew. Amber, and I both know Andrew. We've known him for quite a while. Andrew is a pastor in Connecticut.
Good morning, Andrew.
Andrew: [00:00:55] Good morning, Jason. It's great to be here.
Amber: [00:00:58] Good morning, Andrew.
Andrew: [00:00:59] Good morning, Amber.
Jason: [00:01:00] Thank you. Now, we're going to kick it off by asking you to tell us a little bit about your life before the criminal legal system entered your life and what it's like now.
Andrew: [00:01:13] Okay. Well, before all of this happened, I was your classic sort of liberal pastor who was sensitive to sort of big picture issues, but was completely and utterly clueless about the effects for individuals. I had been involved with ministry and prison. I really didn't think much about the criminal justice system except where it seemed to go in a non-liberal direction.
Jason: [00:01:44] Did you have a whole congregation?
Andrew: [00:01:46] Yes, I've had congregations in two different States. Was very busy with church work, sometimes at the sacrifice of my family, in terms of time. Clergy tend to work all the time. And be on call all the time, especially in my situation where I was a solo pastor in the churches that I serve. My focus was on sort of building a bigger church, making it more successful, not really bringing in issues that were outside.
There was a lot of resistance to any kind of political issues/causes. So I tended to steer right down the center line towards all the sort of standard, mainline church issues.
Jason: [00:02:33] Noncontroversial.
Andrew: [00:02:35] Stay away from controversy. Yeah, cause I would get bitten if there was say, a topic like gun control or, you know, election. The rules were basically don't say anything about that. I could have private opinions, but no public opinions.
I would be moved by various movies that portrayed what happened with executions. But generally speaking, I never really spent any time focusing on what happened to people who were arrested, incarcerated, released, parole probation, and what happened afterwards. I don't have any recollection of anybody in the congregations I served being an ex felon or having been arrested or anything like that.
So I was just, you know, a happy - well, relatively happy - go lucky pastor doing the work of Christian ministry as such.
It's an extraordinarily different situation at this point, because in 2011 on August the fourth, I got a call from Homeland Security. An officer from Homeland Security who told me "You need to come home right away."
And I said, "You're joking, right?" And the officer said, "No, I'm not joking." I said, "Well, why do I need to come home?" He said, "Well, we've taken your son into custody and you need to come home right now."
Jason: [00:04:01] How old is your son?
Andrew: [00:04:02] In 2011, he would have been 28.
Jason: [00:04:09] Was he in college? Post-college?
Andrew: [00:04:11] He was post-college. He had several attempts to launch, which didn't succeed. And he was overseas, came home from working overseas, and that summer he was looking for employment.
And we were really not aware that anything was going on or that there was a backstory that was about to break like a tsunami over our heads.
Jason: [00:04:37] At 28 you're a little concerned, cause he's not working, but you think everything's going to be okay because he's got a college degree.
Andrew: [00:04:44] Got a college degree has had some success in various areas.
Jason: [00:04:49] Was he living with you?
Andrew: [00:04:50] That summer he was living with us. Our second son was out of state.
Jason: [00:04:55] Okay.
Amber: [00:04:56] So, tell us a little bit about what happened when you went home.
Andrew: [00:05:00] I was in a state of shock, I think. Uh, I went home and had to sign a paper, which was presented to me by the Homeland Security Officer. And it was a document which detailed what had been taken from the house. They'd gone through the whole house. Searched it. My son was already taken away. I didn't see him at all when I went home. The Homeland Security Officer left pretty quickly after I signed the document and then I began to try to process what was going on.
I called the only local lawyer that the church was next to. Or I think I actually drove down there and I walked into the office and said, "I need to speak to somebody. My son's been arrested." I was very close to being out of control; probably was out of control. The lawyer that I spoke to immediately got hold of the lawyer that eventually became my son's attorney who did some homework and said, okay, he's going to be arraigned at the federal courthouse in Bridgeport.
So I came back home. I ripped my clergy shirt off, just buttons flying and everything, because I was so overwhelmed at that point. Ripped it off, drove like a maniac over to the courthouse, sat in the seats, not identifying myself. My son never saw me. He was so just ashamed and focused on what was going on, that he didn't even look up or recognize me.
That concluded. I went home. My wife came home. We just sort of were beside ourselves. We contacted our second son. And that night, the press began to call because there was a reporter at the federal courthouse, of course. And that resulted in my talking to some different news agencies where I expressed my support for my son, that kind of thing.
Jason: [00:07:16] Did you have a congregation at that point?
Andrew: [00:07:18] Oh, yes.
Jason: [00:07:19] And the news media got ahold of that fact, and that was blasted all over the place.
Andrew: [00:07:25] Yes. That was: who I was, where I worked - was part of the story.
I had called the head of the church board to just alert them to what was going on, not knowing where this was going to end or what the charges were going to be. Although I did learn that at the arraignment of my son.
Amber: [00:07:46] So, I just wanted to ask for clarification: You signed the paper. Your son was gone. You didn't even know where he was going to be arraigned. The lawyer that you spoke to had to kind of find that out for you. So, you're in this whole new state of being, where you just don't really understand exactly what's going on, and you show up at a courthouse and your son doesn't even realize that you're there or what's happening.
Andrew: [00:08:18] Right. What happened with the Homeland Security Officers - I said to him, "What do I do now?" And he said, "I'd call a lawyer." And yes, my son was in shock. We were in shock.
Jason: [00:08:31] Sounds like the whole community would then next be in shock. You know, you contacted the board, but all those people who've read the paper - all it takes is one congregant to find out.
Were they supportive?
Andrew: [00:08:43] The congregation was by and large, totally supportive. If I cut to a year later, when the sentencing took place - after all of what goes on between the pre-sentencing report, yada yada yada, visiting out in Central Falls, Rhode Island at the Federal Detention Center, Wyatt Detention Center there, which was a real strain to go out there and come back all the time, especially on Sundays, which was the time that we could visit.
Probably 20 members of the congregation came to the federal courthouse in Hartford, when our son was sentenced to support my wife and I. And sat through a recitation that my son had to make of what his crimes were, which was the most humbling, disgusting with the prosecution attorney, making him out to be somebody that I would never recognize - you know, this heinous, serial, plotting criminal type person.
But in between that time, because I was a church pastor in a mainline church, there's a hierarchy; and that hierarchy, as soon as there's some issue like this within a congregation, comes in. And this was 2011, so we'd progressed into the world of a whole protocol for how it's handled.
And that introduced us to the hierarchy, stepping into the middle of the congregation. Starting their own process to investigate. And to see if there were any evidence of anything going wrong within the congregation, which blew things up even further because of a prior incident that had not been reported and it just got incredibly complex.
Jason: [00:10:42] The other incident wasn't something about you, right?
Andrew: [00:10:45] No, it wasn't about me. It was about this particular son of mine and something that had happened in the parish in 2006 or 2007.
So the whole thing just spiraled out of control for me. The official from the judicatory or that was heading up the investigation was someone I couldn't stand previously and had been in conflict with previously. So that made it impossible.
Within two months of my son's arrest, after my wife had basically stopped eating for two weeks and then finally started again, she had an acute case of appendicitis, which was life threatening, in October of that year. And it was like, okay, so the whole world has collapsed around me.
To add to that, what happened at the end of that August - the date of that arrest - we had vacation rental in North Carolina. We went there. Our other son met us from Texas. And on his flight back to Texas he was escorted off the plane and taken to a room, shoved up against the wall, abused by the local police, and his computer was seized because of an internet crime.
Jason: [00:12:06] This is your second son?
Andrew: [00:12:07] Second son.
Jason: [00:12:08] They're twins, right?
Andrew: [00:12:10] Yes.
Jason: [00:12:10] So, your second son is the same age because they're twins.
Andrew: [00:12:15] Correct.
Jason: [00:12:16] What was his situation?
Andrew: [00:12:18] He was studying at that point.
Jason: [00:12:20] Okay.
Andrew: [00:12:21] He spent months waiting for the penny to drop and for an arrest to occur. Which it did occur, and again, it was the classic over-policing sort of thing: guns drawn, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Jason: [00:12:38] Did they find something on your other son's computer that led them do this son?
Andrew: [00:12:43] I don't know that, but I know that in the state that he was living in he was visiting sites that were also monitored by the officers in that state. And that's what got him to the attention of those authorities.
Jason: [00:12:58] So your son's brought into the system. Your wife had this medical issue that was life threatening, that was scary. You're a wreck. You're on vacation. And now this happens.
Andrew: [00:13:09] Let me correct the timeline...
Jason: [00:13:10] Okay.
Andrew: [00:13:11] Because I scrambled it.
August the fourth, first son is taken away by Homeland Security. Goes into the federal system. By the end of that month, we've gone on vacation because there's very little that we could do at that point. We'd met with a lawyer for my first son. We had spent the money on the vacation, so we met our other son there. And as he returns home to where he's living, he's taken into a room. Questioned. Computer confiscated. Calls us in a panic, which is the first time we know anything's going on for him.
By the time we get home, we've got two sons that look like the world is ending, or feels like the world is ending for both of them.
We've been introduced to a whole different world. We've got money flowing out in order to stake lawyers to both cases; or to my first sons case. But we've also had to set up, in terms of the second son, and begin to find out just who it is that we can work with. We've done that.
And then the diocese, the judicatory, has gotten itself involved and we have them coming in and asking questions and stirring up issues.
And by October, my wife has very serious case of a burst appendix and the surgeon who's taken care of her said to me, "Well, we're not out of the woods yet, but it's looking good."
So it was the worst time that I've ever experienced in my life. I struggled to find support. And at that point in time, I had hardly any concept of the damage.
I thought the damage would be time limited. You know, you do the crime, you do your time, and then you go on with life. But only gradually in that year, did I become aware of what's going on in that world. I began to read, to try to educate myself. I was informed by the lawyers, just exactly what was going on.
I forget the time, but I think it was in maybe November of 2011, that the police in the state where my son lived, came in and arrested him. And then I had to fly down and bail him out and all that kind of stuff.
Amber: [00:15:36] So, I think you make a very important point about the realization; once you have yourself or a family member who becomes entangled in the criminal legal system - especially in certain areas of the criminal legal system - that it becomes chronic, as opposed to: okay, we're going to do this; we're going to get through this; and then we're going to move on. And we're going to have an opportunity for restoration and healing.
Because the repercussions and the collateral consequences go on and on, especially for particular types of crime. So whether it's, you know, after somebody gets out and they're trying to get a job, or registries, or all of those different things - It's just something that goes on and on and on.
And I think by and large, the general public has this idea that in America, you do your time and then you move on, and this is the land of second chances.
Andrew: [00:16:42] You're absolutely correct, Amber, in that, I think the general public is naive - has been naive - about what actually happens to people. There's no general understanding, I don't think, that this becomes a life sentence - not only for the individual who's been incarcerated and has to come out and is on the offense registry - but for the family. It affects the family, uh, all the way through.
I just had the experience yesterday of talking to someone who wanted to engage with me, in sort of a pastoral type relationship, over the internet. My name had been given to them through a program that they're doing through the head of that program.
So when I talked to them yesterday, I said, "Well, I want to let you know that there's some history that I've been through." And their response was, "Oh. Yes, I know because I Googled your name and the news story came up about the arrests, and your sons and all of that kind of thing. And so, even just yesterday, it continues to affect my life.
Now, thankfully, this did not dissuade this individual from wanting to work with me. But in other cases, the same thing has happened; people who have Googled my name and they've said, "Oh, well, we don't want to be involved with him."
So it becomes a life sentence.
Jason: [00:18:18] That's not the only way it affected you professionally though, right? Can you talk a little bit about ways that it affected your professional life?
Andrew: [00:18:26] Yes. The judicatory came and their approach, following my first son's arrest, was to hold congregation wide meetings, ask questions - which, of course, began to dig up histories. What some people thought that happened; didn't think it happened; concerns that there were; and in particular, an incident from 2006 that had been agreed upon that it wouldn't be reported from my first son's behavior, which was inappropriate.
That began a process, which I was informed of at the time that I was at the hospital, caring for my wife in October of 2011. To be informed that I was going to be investigated by the judicatory for conduct un-becoming clergy. Which meant that there was a whole new two layer of involvement.
And I don't really know how some people make their way through an event like this, unless they have some really good support from people. Thankfully, the congregation, especially the leadership was incredibly supportive of me.
But we were so utterly shaken and devastated, that issues of, it might be better not to go on living, certainly come to the fore; of just getting in a car and driving away and hiding somewhere.
But the power of love for those that I care about demanded that I not be selfish. But that I become strong and maintain some form of leadership; some form of sanity for the sake of all the others who became co-victims, if you will, of all of these different things.
And that's what sustained me through this time, along with, fortunately, a deep faith that had grown deeper in the previous years, unbeknownst to what it was going to be tested by, but had been able to grow deep enough.
We had good legal representation, painful though that whole process was, and expensive though that whole process was. And thankfully, both of my parents were dead by this time, so I didn't have to deal with the embarrassment, dealing with them and trying to assure them about the future. And we had the fiscal resources to be able to hire legal representation for both of our sons.
I really nearly lost it several times emotionally.
Jason: [00:21:17] You know, Andrew, we're on a podcast, so people aren't seeing what Amber and I are seeing. And the weight; what you've been through and the emotional toll. I mean, if you want to pause, if you want to stop for a few minutes, we can.
Andrew: [00:21:33] It's okay. You know, I didn't know whether I'd wind up with the emotion flowing. I've managed to stuff it pretty deep, but...
Jason: [00:21:45] I'm going to interrupt you again, cause I'm just going to tell you that: I've gotten to know you and I love you, and I'd give you a hug if we were together. And I know what a caring person you are; a spiritual person. You have faith. And you've been put through so much for so many years and for so long. So yeah, take a moment.
Amber: [00:22:19] So Andrew, I really want to say, on a personal level; as you were sharing, I can really relate to your thoughts. Because I remember what it was like when I entered this world and I was so devastated by what was happening to our family. I had the same feelings.
Andrew: [00:22:43] Right.
Amber: [00:22:44] I didn't want to get out of bed. And I didn't know who loved me, who hated me. It was just so overwhelming.
And, you know, being in leadership positions and having different groups of people, some being supportive. The media. Friends. All of those emotions.
And I'm so inspired by what you just said, because you do come to a point where you say to yourself, with the help of the support network that you have around you, "I have to be that light."
And that's exactly what you did. Because what you were going through, you realize at some point, this is not something that is unique. There are other people that are experiencing this harm that happens, that just piles more harm upon more harm, and ripples out to the whole community and family. All of that is just devastating.
And you come to a point where you're like, people really need to know about this. You realize because you were living that life prior to this involvement that you just didn't even think about it, or you thought it was something else, or you believe the sensationalized media of what different things are.
Andrew: [00:24:05] Right.
Amber: [00:24:06] And at the end of the day, one of the wonderful things about what we're doing here, is that people need to understand the human aspects of this and why it matters.
So I'm so thankful to you for sharing because the raw emotion is very real.
Jason: [00:24:25] So, somewhere along the way, you decided to get involved in some advocacy work and you decided that you were going to speak out. I've seen you testify at least twice. Now I know you've submitted written testimonies for different bills, in Connecticut.
How did you come to the point where you decided this is something I want to get involved in?
Andrew: [00:24:46] What happened was: as the events that I've described with my two sons moved from pretrial to sentencing in both cases and both my sons were incarcerated, I began to understand the implications of what had happened. I began to be involved with different groups. Understanding what was going on, I began to think about how, for instance, my second son who had two year sentence, that was much closer so I needed to start thinking that through. And then I began to hit these walls and read these stories. And understand a bit more about what a life as a registrant was going to look like and the absolute harm that it does to the industry troll in the near impossibility of finding a job.
Jason: [00:25:45] Your sons were at a point where they were educated, but both having some difficulties getting employment. So having this on their record and being on the registry, it's a seemingly insurmountable mountain.
Andrew: [00:25:58] Right.
So what the issue was for me is: do I surrender to the hopelessness of the situation or do I try to address it? And I had to address it both for myself in terms of understanding. But then I became aware of the fact that even though I had been a good citizen and gone and voted, that wasn't enough. There was a whole legal system, political system that was out there that we, the people, "Hello, here I am", we the people have, because of silence, been complicit in its establishment and its construction.
Jason: [00:26:41] So, if you could back in time and talk to your younger self in those congregations, would your approach be different?
Andrew: [00:26:48] Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It is different now as with congregations. Yes, it would be. I would recognize the need for more than just being a good citizen and going and voting, and recognize the system.
It is an incredible embarrassment to me that people of faith are ignorant or asleep around matters of justice.
And yet if you take the scriptures, the book that we stand on, and you look at them. Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require to you? To do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with your God." Well, that's not just an option. That's a demand.
Go to the Christian scriptures. And what do you find again and again, and again? An issue of justice is raised as referenced back to the Hebrew scriptures.
Jason: [00:27:49] In Hebrew, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdoff", which means "Justice justice you shall pursue."
Andrew: [00:27:54] Yes, absolutely. And yet we're all self interested in sort of building our own spiritual comfort homes and making life better.
Jason: [00:28:05] It's funny to me that when they Google you, some people turn away from you because of what you've been through. And I think personally that what you've been through and the transformation and your lived experiences have made you a more complete human, with deeper understanding. Because you've had those experiences you could actually help more people. People should be more open to seeking you out.
Andrew: [00:28:28] Deeper. Better. Clearer. And a God who is different from the God that I thought I was a part of. A God who has a greater statement of judgment for injustice and a greater hostility to indifference and failure of compassion. A God who, if that God is for life, is for life all the way through. There's no exceptions. It's not okay to be for life in one area but to be complicit in racism, for instance.
It's not okay to be about this part of the good news and forget about prisoners and an unjust country, in terms of its legal system.
To have a registry, which has no value to it in terms of public safety, except for giving the impression that we're doing something, that actually causes social, economic, familial death.
So, the registrant's: one of the things about these sorts of things is that, you and I, all of us, anyone who's listening to this podcast, is affected if we do not recognize this, and simply accept it. We are diminished humans; diminished people of God, if we allow a whole race to be subjugated through all of these various means. We are diminished by allowing injustice to exist for a whole class of people and not even bothering about it. "Oh it's, no, no. We can't touch that." We are diminished.
And so, in order for us to be alive, we have to stand up, use our voices, use the mechanisms that are available. Not everybody's going to agree, but where we agree, we unite and we go forward.
Jason: [00:30:35] Amen.
What I've seen is a lot of groups now are coming out, even religious groups are coming out, because of what happened with George Floyd and the protests. A lot of people were in quarantine, so they paid attention when they might not have paid attention. So we have all of that going on right now. And the big focus has been on race, which is very much needed.
But going back to our conversation about registry reform, I don't see any of that included in any of those efforts. So it's still "the other", and it's still an untouchable subject in many regards.
Andrew: [00:31:11] Absolutely.
Amber: [00:31:12] Some of the things that I've seen, is it really depends individual to individual, different spiritual backgrounds, different congregations, different denominations, things like that. I think that it's key for anybody in any organized religion, whatever your chosen religion may be. We need to tackle, not just the individual cases and individual responsibility, which is a big thing in religion.
So it's like, okay, if that person just found God or, you know, the universe or whatever, whatever spiritual entity, then they would change and we will fix all of our problems. What organized religion has largely, and I'm not saying everyone, has largely ignored, is our complicit nature in the system. The systems that represent such injustice.
Andrew: [00:32:04] Right.
Amber: [00:32:04] We need to tackle those systems. And I say this all the time: You can pour extremely good people of all races and backgrounds into a bad system, and you will still get a bad result.
So, I would really like to see anybody who has any type of spirituality - which most are built on the idea that human lives have value and most have love at the center of them - that if we stick to that, as you said, so eloquently, and we believe that all lives have value regardless of where they are, if something has happened to them, if they've committed a crime. How do we get back to that restoration?
And I think it's the system by and large, that has been ignored, whether it's racism, classism, social control, registries, everything that really surrounds the system that is built on tearing people down and not restoring them.
Andrew: [00:33:02] The harm that is done in the name of addressing the harm of a crime, is so out of control, that we have to wake up to the fact that it does not promote anything to do more harm to the people who have committed the harm, as opposed to rehabilitation and restoration.
Jason: [00:33:25] I know something that most of our listeners won't know, that you have a story to tell about being on the receiving end of a crime.
Andrew: [00:33:35] Right.
What happened for us a year ago just about, was that two young men, one of whom was 15 we found out, came into our house and held us up at gunpoint. We weren't harmed, thankfully. Could have been much worse. Both of our cars were taken and wrecked and other sorts of things. But the one young man that was caught by the police turned out to be a 15 year old from West Haven.
And it really presented to me the question of what's justice look like for this young man? There's no opportunity - I raised the question about a process of restorative justice. There's no way into that. It's only a question about how long are we going to incarcerate this individual?
And I had one wonderfully humanizing moment when I was at the court when he was due for a hearing. And I discovered that his grandfather was present and I struck up a conversation with the grandfather, identified myself as the victim of his grandson's crime and said to him, you're a victim too. Because the families wind up victimized by a family members crime. And I said, my heart goes out to you and to the rest of this individual's family.
The thing that struck me more than anything else was a turn of phrase that I learned from somewhere, I don't remember exactly when. But instead of asking the question of this individual, "What's wrong with you. Why would you come in this house with a gun and hold us up?", Is to ask, "What happened to you? What happened to you?" That's the question that was never asked in terms of my sons. It's a question that was never asked in terms of my own experience, if you will, what happened to you? It was only a question of how much have you done? What should be the punishment?
And so I keep this young individual in my prayers. In my victim's impact statement that I've written, the last thing that I say is: My heart's desire would be not for this person to have the rest of his life ruined and to have no productivity, no ability to be able to contribute to society ever, but that he be able to receive what he needs to restore his life to a semblance of sanity. And I would look forward to any opportunity for a process of restorative justice. For a conversation between us that isn't simply, I'm the victim, you're the perpetrator.
But we are human beings.
Jason: [00:36:31] So, that's your life now. And you have one son home, but on the registry.
Andrew: [00:36:37] Yes.
Jason: [00:36:38] That's the second one that was arrested or the first one?
Andrew: [00:36:40] The second one.
Jason: [00:36:41] So the first one that was arrested is still in a federal prison in New Jersey.
Andrew: [00:36:47] Right.
He received a 15 year sentence and went from Wyatt Detention Center, in Central Falls, Rhode Island through New York city at the time of hurricane Sandy, and has been at Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution since then. Which we can't visit because of the pandemic.
We last visited him in February of this year. I don't know when we're going to be able to visit again.
that must be really hard.
Jason: [00:37:17] How about communications through phone calls and things like that?
Andrew: [00:37:20] One of the good things is that phone calls have been made free so that he can call us without impact on his commissary account.
Jason: [00:37:29] And what are you hearing about the treatment related to the virus?
Andrew: [00:37:33] It's chaos.
There's an absolute lack of information. People disappear. And the question is, well, did they test positive for the virus and so they were over in the quarantine unit? I mean, it's just.
The most number of cases there were in what's called "The Camp", which is a very low security area. He's in basically medium security.
Jason: [00:37:57] How many years has he already served?
Andrew: [00:38:00] Nine years.
Jason: [00:38:01] Nine of fifteen. We're in the middle of a pandemic. He has a place where he could go if they want it to be.
Andrew: [00:38:07] They're not letting people out.
No, I'm just saying, though, they could. And release him into your custody and you'd have a little more peace of mind.
The federal prosecutor was very clear that this was going to be an example to the entire country, his sentence. And so the likelihood that something's going to happen to benefit him, I think is next to nothing.
Jason: [00:38:36] Have either of your sons gotten any help in terms of dealing with whatever underlying issues there were?
Andrew: [00:38:43] Son number two, no. Son number one, I've arranged for someone to be in touch with him via email and regular mail to work with him. But that's just happened this year.
Any programming that might take place would take place at the end of the individual sentence. So you're snapped up. You're incarcerated. There's no programming. There's no emotional support whatsoever.
They're so-called counselors, but I mean, it's basically a check in, "Okay, you're not going to kill yourself? No? Okay. Out of here." And so, you're left basically to try to manage what's gone on in your life, on your own.
Fortunately, my son who's in federal has a strong faith. He has people of strong faith with whom he connects and that's been helpful for him.
Amber: [00:39:42] So Andrew, I want to ask you to maybe share a little bit with folks listening, who may have a loved one who is incarcerated.
You talked a little bit about COVID-19 and communication and things like that. What advice would you give someone who has an incarcerated family member, in terms of coping with someone who is away for an extended period of time and keeping those connections alive?
Andrew: [00:40:06] What's most important for family members of someone who is incarcerated is to keep the communication regular and as supportive as possible. If it's at all possible to make sure that there's enough finances available to the individual because of the oftentimes need for the individual to get their own protective stuff, that they make sure the commissary is got enough funds to do so.
I don't know that there's any visiting going on anywhere within the systems. So, what I've tried to do is to, instead of using visits to see us and so forth and so on, is to do more taking of pictures and sending pictures in the mail to my son. Cause I can't send them through the email program that's available in the prison
Um, pray. Be hopeful. And if there is indication that there's someone who's compassionate, who is responding to individuals in that particular system, to then work towards trying to put together a petition for compassionate release or release based on their vulnerability to COVID-19.
There's a lot of communication within the prisons, but some of that is good and some of that is not good. Combat the false news that tends to run in prisons as well. Like the virus is just a hoax.
I think most people in prison are pretty much aware because of what's happened and certainly in places where there are outbreaks. That's an occasion for working with whatever criminal justice advocacy groups are active in that area and networking with ACLU and their Smart Justice Program and any other groups that might be available.
Jason: [00:42:22] Taking it back to the churches a little bit. What would your advice be to clergy, church boards, and the insurance company's that ensure the churches.
Andrew: [00:42:36] Wake up! Get your head out of the sand. Focus on what is really going to be healing and where the danger really lies. And start practicing health and holding harmless one another, rather than picking certain classes to which we can attach labels, moral panic, scary, scary, scary, and just rile up others for the sake of your own aggrandizement.
Realize that each individual is different. You can't class registrants as the same. Which insurance companies and the churches and judicatory's that they insure and stipulations that are laid on clergy, generally tend to do. It's everybody's the same.
Jason: [00:43:32] And you can take that beyond just registrants. That's anybody with a criminal record.
You look at any insurance policy that they have. We're going to do background checks. The question is: why? What are you going to do with that information when you get that information back? Why are you doing that background check? The person's either somebody who's in front of you today, or they're not.
Andrew: [00:43:53] So I, as part of the ministry that I have that's with people scattered around the country, it's possible to get liability insurance. And it was said well you could or you couldn't. So, I investigated that. And because of this whole mess and a lawsuit that resulted from that, that named me as well as whole bunch of other candidates, I can't get insurance because I've been sued.
So yes, it's exactly that way.
Amber: [00:44:25] So, I think that the insurance, the background checks, the inability to get a job, public registries - it really speaks to kind of are risk averse slash cancel culture.
Andrew: [00:44:38] Absolutely.
Amber: [00:44:38] Even kind of larger than the criminal legal system, it's a paradigm shift that has to happen culturally, that, you know, when you start to talk about, "Okay, over here is the criminal class and everyone else is over here," you know, good, bad, Saint, sinner. There's just no in between. There's no nuance in life. There's no capability for redemption and we're locking people into the worst thing that they've ever done. And on the flip side, the worst thing that may have ever happened to them, if they've been victimized.
Andrew: [00:45:14] Right.
Amber: [00:45:15] And I just think that it's really important... and you know, as this goes along, people hear us talk on this podcast, they're going to hear us say it again and again and again. But at the end of the day, we really want to move towards healing and wholeness, not just for the people that we decide are part of the community or the people who we like, or the people we don't have a distaste for, but for everyone. Every single human being has value.
And what we've heard again and again, and again, as we've talked to people, is this idea, and I love the way you put it, you know, "What happened to you?" And how do we deal with those things with early intervention.
Andrew: [00:46:03] Yes.
Amber: [00:46:03] Or complete culture shifts that alleviate this trauma that causes the problems for people? Because childhood trauma is linked to involvement in the criminal legal system.
And that's not to say that people should not be held accountable. People make choices. And it's having the resources to deal with what may have happened to you in a way that is positive. We have completely divested in communities and the divide is becoming larger and larger.
That's the crux of it.
Andrew: [00:46:33] Absolutely.
Jason: [00:46:35] So Andrew, as we're starting to wrap up here, do you have anything you want to close out with?
Andrew: [00:46:42] The thing that I want to say is that: Hope is the commodity. Hope is the value. Hope is the reality that cannot be surrendered for anybody, anywhere, at any time in this process. There are the most amazing things that have happened and will happen for people who think that it's hopeless and impossible.
If I had taken my life back in 2011, I would not have found a God who is much bigger than I had ever recognized. I would not have discovered a community that was much stronger than I had ever dreamed of. And I would not have been the recipient of love that I could never have understood, could possibly be shown me, but it's been that way.
And so for people who are stuck, maybe at the bottom of that trough, have hope. You are loved. We love you. And trust that that will eventually be realized for you.
Jason: [00:47:49] That was beautiful.
Amber: [00:47:51] I see why you're a clergy member. That was amazing?
Andrew: [00:47:55] Well, 40 some odd years of practice, I should have availability.
Amber: [00:48:01] Yeah, a little bit of experience there.
Jason: [00:48:04] Andrew, thank you so much for being on Amplified Voices today.
Andrew: [00:48:09] Thank you so much, Jason and Amber for having me. It's been a pleasure.
Jason: [00:48:12] All right, until next time, Amber.
Amber: [00:48:15] We'll see you next time.
Outro: [00:48:25] 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.