If you’ve been a follower of the Clinic’s for long, you’ve probably heard us talk about Project GRACE (Guided Reentry Assistance and Community Education), our program that helps people with criminal records start over. Maybe you’ve read a story here on our blog or maybe you’ve heard one of us discuss statistics about crime-prevention, recidivism, and employment for people with criminal records.
For those of us who like talking about statistics, numbers, and academic articles, Project GRACE is a dream. It’s the kind of program that just makes sense. After all, those statistics? They’re compelling. If you want to know more about the research, feel free to email us. Seriously--we would be happy to talk until we’re blue in the face about how expungements lead to jobs, which lead to lower recidivism, which leads to safer communities, higher tax bases, and healthier, happier families.
To be honest, though, the temptation to talk about Project GRACE in an academic way can lead us away from something that’s actually more important--the stories of the people we’re working with each day. Too often, a criminal record strips people of their power in our society. Some can’t find a job; some can’t drive. Some lose contact with their families; some have nowhere to live. Instead of talking to them, people end up talking about them. It’s dehumanizing and demoralizing--and that’s not how the Clinic wants to talk about our clients.
More than that, it’s not how Christians should talk about other image-bearers. You see, Project GRACE has its name for a reason. As Christians, we believe in grace; we believe that grace has power, that grace empowers people who have lost power through circumstances that are oftentimes out of their control. Grace gives power to the powerless; it gives hope to the hopeless, and it provides a vision for a better future for those who cannot imagine life as better than what it is.
And this is why we’re participating in the Spirit & Place Festival this year. From November 3-12, various Indianapolis nonprofits will be telling stories and sharing what the term “Power” means for their work and the ones they walk alongside of. This year, we will be highlighting the stories of those with criminal records. We will tell the dark stories of being raised in a disempowered environment, losing rights as an ex-offender, and trying to rise above the statistics of recidivism.
But we will end on a note of hope. There are many women and men who are able to wind their way through the darkness with the help of community and some dynamite organizations. The story does not belong to the Clinic or any of the other partners that will be there. Ultimately, the story belongs to the people who are living it and the God who is ever-present at their side as they strive for a better future for themselves and their communities.
Please join us on November 9 at Brookside Community Church from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. You can find more information about the event here.