Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moving Past Stereotypes

We stopped by to say hi to the director of the program. As we walked in Tex said, "I'm going to get out of your way, and go clean so I don't get into trouble." He seemed like a regular guy who had been taking a quick break at work. He introduced us to the intern that was hired for the program almost 2 months prior. We asked the intern what she and the organization did, she smiled and asked Tex for help since she was not completely sure of the answer. CSM works with this organization by having a weekly vacation Bible school in a low income area, so it was good to hear what else this organization did. After the intern gave a short answer Tex jumped in and explained how the organization helps those who are getting out of prison. "They help us get jobs, they teach us how to be on time to work, pay our bills, and get used to life outside of prison." I was struck by, but not shocked with his use of the word "us" in describing ex-convicts. He continued to tell us about success stories about people who had gone through the program, and said that he had already been through the program. He explained that he had been hired as a maintenance man for the building, and was very much enjoying life outside of prison. We asked him some questions and then he told us something that made my mouth drop. Tex said, "I'm 52 years old, and I've now been out of prison for 3 years. This is the longest amount of time I have been out of prison since I was a kid." My mouth about hit the floor, I was shocked. He seemed like a quiet unassuming guy who I would not have put in the category "life long criminal".

Tex and our ministry partner really showed me that the categories we put people in are just foolish. I was foolish to assume that I could look at a person and tell if they were a life long criminal. I would be just as foolish to not trust Tex, because of what I now know about his past. He's a guy who made some mistakes and even though he's been out of prison for 3 years now does not consider himself a success story. He wants to be able to find a job not with our ministry partner. He wants to be a role model for what kids in his neighborhood shouldn't do with the first 50 years of their life. He, like Paul, is willing to let his past failures shape who he is, and not to try and sweep them under a rug.

-Tim Reed, CSM Chicago Co-City Director

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