What inspired you to become an Amicus volunteer?
Don’t ask me why, but compared to many I’ve come to realize I was born into a privileged existence, at least in the sense that the scales weren’t tipped completely against me out of the box. So, instead of spending my time struggling against unending familial, social and environmental challenges, my life has mostly been about taking advantage of opportunity. The vast majority of the individuals in the correctional system come from circumstances much more like the former than the latter, and while that neither erases nor rationalizes the reality of their criminal past, it also does not preclude the potential for redemption and recovery. I want to help them see and realize that potential.
What has surprised you about volunteering?
I’m amazed at the openness and willingness of most of the clients we mentor. There’s generally a sincere desire to turn things around in their lives, and they definitely appreciate our efforts. The other surprise for me was grasping the degree of difficulty they face in confronting their many challenges: It goes way beyond the obvious complications of a life entangled in the correctional system.
What has been the biggest challenge? The biggest joy?
The biggest challenge is the impact the actual prison experience has on the clients. Upon release, they’re still in the correctional system, of course, working out their parole obligations, etc., but upon exit from physical incarceration they’re really only half alive, barely grasping there is anything left in life beyond their many legal obligations. Without a doubt, however, the biggest joy is watching them recover, regain some semblance of their personality, and take on the task of transitioning to normal life in earnest.
Has being an Amicus volunteer changed the way you see our community? If so, how?
Even though I thought I had a reasonable understanding of how an individual’s upbringing and general social/familial environment influences their potential for criminal behavior, I had no clue just how utterly deficient those factors can be. What, for example, are your chances of considering employment a basic part of life when you’ve literally never seen what that looks like, let alone actually earned a paycheck? The answer, by the way, is “Zero.” So the real impacts of these socio/economic factors on our community, and the degree to which they are entrenched, have become far more evident to me. Overcoming these challenges has to be the goal—it’s “fighting the good fight,”—but what a truly monumental task!
What advice would you give others who are thinking about volunteering?
Do it! Or at least explore it…I’m not aware of any other volunteer opportunity that offers the potential for you to interrupt the cycle of criminal behavior in someone’s life.
Just for fun: What has brought you happiness this summer?
I’m up to walking 4-6 miles per day. I take zillions of pictures of MN plants and animals along the way and send them in near-daily emails to my three grown daughters. Drives them nuts and brings me great happiness!!