SHARE Indianapolis Holds First Training
by Ismail Abdul-Aleem
SHARE-Indianapolis held its first Community Reentry Program training class for Muslim Volunteers Saturday January 17, 2009 at Masjid Al-Fajr, in Indianapolis, IN. Sponsored jointly by the Indiana Department of Correction’s Community Services and Volunteer Division and SHARE Indianapolis, more than 20 brothers and sisters were in attendance.
The training was twofold. Part one of the training was to explain MANA's Community Reentry Program which was designed by the Reentry Initiative and prepare the volunteers for the Mentoring component of the six part program. The second part of the training was conducted by the Indiana Department of Correction’s Wayne Scaife. Upon successful completion of the training the volunteers are provided access to the State’s facilities.
MANA’s Community Reentry Program recognizes the need for organized and effective reentry run by the Muslim communities throughout this country. One estimate stated that there are around a quarter million men and women who housed in our nations prison who identify themselves as Muslims. The great majority of these men and women embraced Al-Islam while they were incarcerated. According to a survey conducted by Citizen’s Against Recidivism, inc. 78% of the incarcerated Muslims in New York State had embraced Islam while they were in Prison and of those who had who had come to prison as Muslim less than five percent had any connection to an Imam or any Masjid before coming to prison. The results of the same survey in Indiana produced similar results.
In this age of Mass Incarceration with more than 2 million Americans behind bars there remains one consistent fact. Most of the men and women who are held in prison will one day be released back into the community where they committed their crimes. Each year approximately 670,000 will be released from our nation’s prisons. Of these significant numbers will be Muslims looking for the nearest Masjid or Islamic Center to attend. They will come with the same basic needs as all the other released prisoners in addition to seeking a Muslim Community in which to pray. Guidance and support are also needed as they transition from prison to Community life.
Muslims first entered the US Federal Prison System during WWII. They were mostly members of the Nation of Islam and were there for draft evasion or some other politically motivated reason. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was sentenced to the federal correctional Facility in Milan Michigan for refusing to serve in the US Military. Incidentally he was in his late forties at the time he was imprisoned.
Islam spread throughout the corrections system because of these early pioneers eventually moving into the state systems and evolving from the proto-Islamic theology of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America to the true teachings of Islam. They were initially treated as a gang by prison administrators who made all Islamic items contraband. Prayer rugs, Qurans were confiscated and those who had them in their possession were punished through isolation and withholding of food.
It was through the efforts of these pioneers in challenging the penal system in the courts which was something unheard previously that led to the concept of the rights of prisoners. Federal courts intervened in allowing the religious practices of Muslims along with pork free diets etc. Because of the efforts by these early followers and the effect that it had on the general prison population Muslims enjoyed great respect among the both administrators and population.
States began to hire Muslims as Chaplains in the early 70’s either as regular state employees or on a contractual basis. In New York State Imam Warithudin Umar was instrumental in providing Muslims as Imams within the New York system. Other states such as California and New Jersey have hired a Muslim Imam in each of its institutions. Many of the Imams are assigned to more than one facility in states such as Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina. Homeland security has recommended an Imam in every institution. Many states say budgetary concerns prevent that from becoming reality.
The mission of Imams within the institutions has evolved from that of the da’iyah to becoming the conduit from the prison to the Muslim community. With the realization that most prisoners will return home at some point the MANA Reentry Program is advocating that the process of reentry should begin as soon as possible. Ideally the process should begin in the backseat of the police car. Since that is not usually the case, rehabilitative measures should begin at the first encounter with the Prison Imam.
In the State of Indiana 16,000 men and women are released yearly from the states’ prisons with another 1500 released from the federal system. Around 5000 will return to Indianapolis with the remaining returning to the rest of the state. The Muslims who are released from Indiana’s prisons are returning to Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Gary-Hammond-East Chicago, South Bend, Elkhart, Evansville, Muncie, Terre Haute, Anderson and Kokomo. They are returning to the communities from where they violated society. The unfortunate reality remains that many of them return to prison. Within three years about half of them will be returned to prison either on a new commitment or for a parole violation. For Black men the rate of recidivism is higher than for the general population.
Though there are many success stories, the recidivism rate for Muslims returning from prison is dismally higher than we would like. Addressing this issue is paramount towards our social responsibility to our communities. In the bottom line society that we live, where State budgets are stretched to the limit, the staggering costs of incarceration take needed funds away from important public programs such as education, health care and others. When taxpayers are given the option of building new prison space or putting air-conditioning and laboratory space for older schools in the inner-city, prison generally wins.
In the State of Indiana if the rate of incarceration remains the same there will be a need or additional 5000 cells by 2012. The cost of each cell is projected to be between $40,000 and $60,000. That is the case for many of the states. They will be seeking additional funding to build more prison space as it incarcerates more of its citizens.
MANA's Community Reentry Program seeks to make more of those Muslims who are released from prison successful by getting communities to implement its program.
The Program is composed of six components:
• In-Prison Program—Protect and Develop
• Pre-Release Program—Prepare and Inoculate
• Initial-Release Program—Empower and Support
• Long-Term Support Services—Strengthen and Sustain
• Training for non-Muslim agencies
• Advocacy for prison and court reform
SHARE-Indianapolis Mentor and Volunteer Training are in preparation for the first three components. The In-Prison program makes the emphasis on preparing men for release. Basic Islamic instruction along with programs designed to wake men and women up spiritually conducted by the Imams and volunteers. Volunteers are very important toward the development of these new Muslims.
Many of the Imams who are working inside the prison are apprehensive about flinging open the doors to any and all the volunteers who express an interest in prisons. Prisons are full of competing ideologies and general fitnah without the additional competing ideologies that come from the Muslim World. This is why proper training of the potential volunteers is necessary.
Volunteers are also beneficial because the duties of the Chaplains and Imams prevent them from providing the proper guidance to all the individuals who need it. The allotted time for the Islamic Studies classes is approximately two hours in the prison. Once you make the call to the Muslims to move from housing unit to the Religious Center, it can take between thirty minutes and an hour just to get them there. Since they are unable to see one another at any other time it takes a while for them to assemble and settle. You pray the appropriate Salah and now you have less than an hour to work with them.
You may have between 50 and 100 men who attend the program and each one is at a different level completely. Some have been Muslim for a long time and spend much of their days reading the Quran, studying Islam and debating with others about the virtues of faith while there are some who are new to the deen, are functionally illiterate and living in a housing unit where he is the only Muslim. You reach out to some but you miss many. The idea is to invest the most time in those who can be helped. The ones who are the best Muslims inside the prison are not always able to live up to that when they return to the streets.
Those brothers who work inside the prisons are not always able to sift through all the brothers to find the ones who show the most promise for success when they leave. Duties including supervising prison staff, visiting the lock-up units, distributing personal property and inspection of areas of the prison limit one’s availability to help everybody.
Volunteers are needed for the pre-release program for they are matched with Muslim prisoners between six months and a year before their release. Mentor training is a must for those who are engaged in the pre-release program. Mentoring is neither advocacy nor is to provide friendship but the best description of mentoring is the tradition of the Prophet (SAW) When he said’ “Deen is sincerity” Deen al naseehah.
As you know naseehah is a comprehensive word that implies that because of your faith in Allah and your belief in him that you have the best interest of the person you are advising at heart. Also you are doing so out of your love for what is right and your sincere desire to follow Allah’s command in enjoining right conduct and forbid to your ability behavior that leads to failure in this life as well as the next.
The mentor will meet his mentee while he is in prison and build a relationship with him. That will include creating a plan that will help him to succeed once he leaves the prison. This relationship, if successful, will aid the formerly incarcerated in that difficult time when he leaves the prison brothers and enters the Masjids in our communities. The mentor will help prepare the new Muslim for what he will see when he gets to the Masjid and act as conduit between him and the Muslims.
Many of these men have spent a substantial part of their lives behind bars. Much of their life experience is related to prison life. When some of them leave the safety and security of prison life and enter our Masjids and see people from throughout the world they sometimes become intimidated. Some are looking for a reason to go back to prison where all of their needs are met and they can become a Prison Imam. Our job is to help those who wish to be successful succeed.
What are his needs? Does he need a ride home from prison? Does he have place to live? Is his family supportive or are they a negative influence on his life? What job skills does he have? While in prison did he receive any education? Does he have a history of substance abuse? Does he take any medication? Are any of the drugs he takes for Mental illness? Does his coming to the Masjid present a risk to the Muslims who regularly worship there? Do we know the stipulations of his release? These are just a few of the questions that the mentor needs to have answered so he may provide the proper advice to the brother of sister who has just been released from prison.
The mentoring relationship should last a defined period of time. The mentor should sign a contract committing oneself to working with an individual until he has successfully fulfilled all the stipulations of his release.
The mentoring training was done by Syeed Al-Khattab, an Indiana Department of Correction Chaplain who works at the Putnamville Correctional Facility. His subject matter was “What is the role of the Chaplain in the Prison setting?” Imam Aamir Shabazz, President of the Muncie, IN. Islamic Center who runs a weed and seed program there and is working in reentry for the Muncie –Anderson areas discussed his role as a volunteer in the Indiana System. Ismail Abdul-Aleem, a DOC Chaplain, did the training on the particulars of the MANA mentoring component.
Mr. Wayne Scaife, Volunteer Coordinator and Community Services Director at the Pendleton Correctional Faciility conducted the DOC training that is given to every potential volunteer. Normally this training is conducted at the prison setting and the date is set by the institution. On this occasion we made arrangements with Mr. Scaife to come to the Masjid and conduct that orientation there. This made it much easier for Muslims to attend. The Pendleton Correctional Facility is about 40 miles away from Indianapolis and this was done on January 17, 2009 and the temperature was around -12 F with blowing snow. We were very grateful that Staff from the DOC was able to come to us. Rev. Jeffery Hinshaw who is one of the Chaplains at the Pendleton Correction Facility made a presentation about a special faith and character based housing unit housed in the prison.
The training received will entitle each participant access to all of the prisons in the State of Indiana. He will be allowed to enter the prison, teach classes, mentor prisoners before they leave, etc. We had two women sign up and they will be assigned to one of the three women’s facilities in Indiana. We will match men with men and women with women for the mentoring. I personally don’t think it a good idea for Muslim women to volunteer inside the men’s facilities but on some occasions when accompanied by a group of Muslim men it might be helpful. I know of one Muslim woman who works as a correctional officer in the Men’s Facility. She has worked there for only a short time. The turnover rate for Correctional Officers is very high. It will take time to measure her success in that role.
Our next step is to do the same training program in Muncie, IN once we get a date from the DOC. We have commitments for the training for the city of Fort Wayne, the second largest city in Indiana, Anderson, and Marion. Since the Muslims leaving prison will return to their hometowns we need to have mentors coming to the prison from their respective cities. All of our trainees in Indianapolis were African American but we welcome all ethnic groups to act as mentors. The Muslim prisoners are about 85% African-American with the remainder White, Hispanic, East African, South Asian, Middle Eastern and West African.
After that we will conduct the training in the Northern part of the State to include the cities of South Bend and the Gary- Hammond- East Chicago area. That will leave only the Southern part of the State to cover. As these trainees paperwork is completed we will go into one of the facilities enmasse bring lunch and dinner and conduct an all day ta’leem in the religious center. This has yet to be approved but God- willing we will do it sometime in the spring.
Ismail Abdul-Aleem is the chairperson of MANA's Community Reentry Program and Advisory Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.