LILLINGTON — Rod Williams spoke from the heart. He also spoke from experience.
Williams, on Saturday morning, shared his story of life after incarceration with community leaders who showed up at the Harnett County Public Library to hear more about N.C. Second Chance Alliance, an organization created to help people just like him.
“When I left Dunn, I was a business owner and a member of the community,” Williams said. “When I came home I was the same person. The one difference is I had a label to overcome. You don’t get a chance to tell your story. You come home and you don’t know what to expect.”
Williams created his second chance.
Unlike so many others, who serve their debt to society only to find out the outside world may not have a place for them, Williams rebuilt his life. He is now back running his own business and helping those who, like him, needed an opportunity to start over.
Williams epitomized the message Second Chance Alliance wanted to convey.
“This actually offers a second chance for people in the community when they come home from being incarcerated,” said Williams of the initiative. “It’s better to have individuals who are positive and having opportunities to reach out as opposed to the other. I speak from the other side. It’s important when you have a network to come home to. That’s where you get your help from.”
Saturday’s forum featured several guest speakers, including N.C. Second Chance Alliance Partner Dennis Gaddy, who also spent time in jail before turning his life around. Gaddy highlighted the importance of providing former inmates with the tools they need to incorporate themselves back into society, from finding employment and housing to developing community programs that can help opens doors that seemingly stay shut.
Gaddy pointed out the many social issues impacting the criminal justice system: One in 28 children have at least one parent incarcerated and that child is three times more likely to also end up in jail. The ability of economically-challenged people to make bail results in thousands of them sitting in jail unnecessarily until their court date.
“Society can be unforgiving,” Gaddy said. “There are collateral consequences. There is a stigma people carry with them. Black and white people use drugs at a similar rate, but you wouldn’t know it by going into a court room. In the 1970s we had around 350,000 people in jail in this country. In 2019, we had more than two million and 98 percent of all convicts go home.”
Sen. Jim Burgin (D-12) expressed his concerns over the lack of available mental health facilities and the ability for people to get the treatment they need. Burgin said it’s important former inmates have the chance to not only have access to mental health professionals but find productive ways to integrate them successfully back into society.
“I am concerned about our prisoners,” said Burgin. “Statistics show that 44 to 50 percent of people incarcerated have a mental health issue. There are a lot of different variables that contribute to one thing. Our mental health facilities are full every day. I want successes not incarcerations. I think we warehouse people too long. People are happier when they are working and we need a workforce. We desperately need people to work. I want people to be able to take care of themselves.”
Dunn police Chief Chuck West also attended the forum and said the event provided an opportunity to learn more about community programs that can help stem criminal activity.
“It was an honor to be asked to be here,” West said. “If we can get citizens back into society that will give them an opportunity to make a positive difference. When they are positive members of the community our numbers go down.”
Triton High School teacher Brian Foster felt that, as an educator, the likelihood that one of his students has a parent in jail is high and he wanted the chance to learn about ways he can make a difference.
“It’s important to be here because when people get out of jail they are still people,” said Foster. “They still have children and they still need to be a part of our community. Whether you’re a loving person, who wants people to do well because you love people, or you’re a numbers person, who wants people to do well because there are less people in prison and less tax dollars spent on prisons, this is the place to be to make a difference. Based on the numbers, we have multiple students in every school in Harnett County who will have a parent incarcerated. We have to support them. Their future depends on it, therefore our future depends on it.”
Organizer Carolyn McDougal hailed the forum as a success and hopes it serves as a stepping stone toward bringing N.C. Second Chance to Harnett County.
“This was absolutely incredible,” McDougal said. “For the first informational meeting on Second Chance, I think it went very well. I think we’ve got some great opportunities in Harnett County to move this forward. We don’t need money, we just need cooperation and people to work with us. I wanted to reach people who actually were working in the community.”
For more information, contact McDougal at Carolyn8@nc.rr.com or 910-820-4324.
Eliot Duke can be reached at email@example.com or at 910-230-2038.