Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sexuality and The Church

For years I have been dealing Hope to those who are a product of the broken criminal justice system or to those within it. I receive many messages and comments on social media postings that my words inspire others. I have decided that every week I will blog about a topic that I feel could help others. The beauty about hope is that it is universal, we can all stand to have a little. It is the cousin of faith and with it anything is possible. I want to put a disclaimer out there that the following blog isn't backed by scripture this is solely spoken from someone who has dealt with being a Christian and homosexuality. That said please don't throw at me what you've been taught or told. Thank you in advance. For anonymity we will call the subject of this posting "Jane". In the wake of same sex marriages being recognized across the country with the recent Supreme Court Ruling in June. Homosexuality is being more accepted and tolerated nationwide in every institution except the church. We are told early on that we will pay for our sins. This notion alone leaves a lot of people who love God in fear of being themselves in order to avoid condemnation. "Jane" has been a very active member of the church. She has battled with the issue of wanting to be happy vs. being accepted by the church and her family. Eventually she had to go to counseling because she was so unsure of herself. She says "It takes a person from the outside to tell you about yourself". Her counselor asked her "Do you think the sin is not being honest with yourself"? In the church we are taught that living a homosexual lifestyle is a sin. The black church especially and those within it are not accepting of this lifestyle. From a non biblical standpoint as a case manager I see young people battling depression, suicide and unhappiness in exchange for being accepted by those they love rather than being happy being themselves. For Jane this caused her to overeat. She would find herself in relationships with men where she was being used. I asked her if she could give advice to those who may be going through similar circumstances, to parents who may not be accepting and to the church. Below are her responses..... To those dealing with this issue: When you put God at the forefront you see him in all that you do. For me he has been graceful and merciful. Be honest with yourself! Trust your judgement and live it out! Advice to Parents: You've done your part as a mother or father. What makes an individual unique is once they make a decision to be who they are you can't be depressed or take blame you have to accept them. To the Church: LOVE CONQUERS ALL! Until Next Time P.S. Never Give Up Hope.............

Thursday, February 26, 2015

25 years to Life

In 2011 I wrote Thornton Brunson the man responsible for killing a close family friend and neighbor Marcel. (read entire story in P.S. Give Up Hope: Advice from Youthful Offenders to Young America.) I was deathly afraid to reach out to him as odd as it seems because I correspond, speak and have met with others charged with convicted of murder. He was different because this hit close to home the crime he was convicted of actually affected my family as well. The victim was a close family friend we knew him and his family. I used to play outside with his sister. I was even more afraid when I received a response because I didn't know what to expect. I remember rushing to get the mail and when I opened it a sense of relief came over me. He dated the letter in arabic writing and immediately agreed to share his story with me to save others from making the same mistake. At the time I was just a young woman with an idea to write a book. I had no publisher, no real plan for making it happen it was just an idea. We continued to correspond for the next year in which I learned a great deal about his life, the man he has become and how he has spent the last 25 years in prison. He began to tell me how male egoism, the crack era, his parents divorcing and the killing of his cousin sent him on a downward spiral with negative behaviors. He had began to use cocaine as it was portrayed in movies such as Scarface. Just like most teenaged boys growing up in the crack era he wanted the material benefits of being a dope boy. He tried obtaining a job but was unsuccessful so the streets hired him. It wasn't long before the very streets that hired him took his life away. Once in jail it all happened so fast. He was arrested, indicted, charged as an adult with second degree murder. He and his mother were threatened with the death penalty (a tactic often used in our courts to initimidate defendants to take a plea) so to avoid that Thornton pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of 25 years to life at the age of 17. Within 6 months of the incident occuring he was sentenced and sent to prison! Let me explain what 25 years to life means. In 1984 parole in the state of Florida was abolished. Persons sentenced from 1984 to 1994 were still parole eligible so Thornton falls into this category. There are over 100,000 people residing in Florida prisons and less than 10% of them are parole eligible. Today judges hand out the sentences of 25 to life but it means nothing until changes are made legislatively. In Florida whatever sentence you receive you must serve 85% of it. On yesterday February 25th Thornton had his presumptive parole release hearing which is the initial hearing for the Parole Comission to determine a release date. The hearings begin at 9 a.m., Thornton's case wasn't heard until around 12 noon. Each side both victims and the prisoners family gets 10 minutes to explain why they suppport or oppose the prisoner being released. Long story short his parents, his parole specialist Ms. Thompson and myself went to the front in support of his release and for 10 minutes laid out his accomplishments and involvement with the youth while he has been incarcerated. In my work I deal with teenagers many of whom come from broken homes and backgrounds. By night when I put on my hypothetical superwoman cape and transform into a voice for the forgotten and a youth advocate again am dealing with young people who have absoultely no hope for tomorrow. They can't begin to focus on their tomorrow because today has so many obstacles. Thats generally how children think they are impulsive when making decisions and think about consequences later. The choices they make are emotionally driven. These choices however are often irrepairable and when brought to the courts they aren't given a chance to redeem themselves. Can you imagine making a mistake as an adolescent and paying for it in exchange for your entire life? Think about missing prom, graduations, weddings, having children, obtaining a driving license, the opportunity to vote, and in some cases dying in prison without ever having lived. Can you imagine being 17 and told because you had a moment of weakness and poor decision making that you will go to prison and ultimately die there? Noone ever ponders that some people actually change and can potentially become productive citizens. When I met Thornton I knew nothing about the State of Florida and its parole process I have since learned a great deal about not only parole but the prisoners I correspond with. You see with each year I see changes in their behaviors and personality. As time goes on the young man or woman that I wrote 5 years ago is different. The conversation changes from who they were to who they are then eventually who they want to be. Prison does not magically change a person. There are free people who are in prison (you will catch that later) It is up to the individual to make changes within themselves. The Commission recommended a presumptive release date of January 6, 2020 which will be nearly 30 years since he fired the fatal shot when he was 17 years old. In situations as such there really no win for either party involved. No matter the outcome Marcel's family suffered a great loss in which can never be repaid. Although freedom will be granted to Mr. Brunson he will reenter a cold world that alienates convicted felons. Yesterday for me was awkward and overwhelming emotionally to have been in the same room with the family I once lived next to and be at the table advocating for the release of the man responsible for their son's death. Forgiveness is a hard concept to apply to our own lives but is easily asked for when we ourselves make mistakes. Daily we make them and ask God to forgive us but when others forsake us we want them to pay the ultimate cost. When I began this journey of standing in the gap of those behind barbed wire fences and those that have the power to make changes for them I never imagined that one day one of them would come home after being written off so long ago. I am hopeful as this for me is a step in the right direction on the road to redemption for so many others. P.S. Never Give Up Hope- Renata THE HOPE DEALER