This past Friday, several members of our Damascus Way team had the privilege of attending a conference hosted by Scott County Community Corrections at the Shakopee Community Center. In November of 2021, Damascus Way Reentry Center opened a Reentry Program in Shakopee in partnership with Scott County Community Corrections and have been able to work closely with Scott County during this process. The County was kind enough to invite members of our team to participate in the conference, giving us space to share about our ministry and the testimony of a recent graduate. Damascus Way was given a place to showcase our organization with brochures for our new Kainos Woodshop and an info board highlighting the scope of our organization.
The impetus behind this conference comes from a group actually called “We Are All Criminals” and its founder (Emily Baxter), who was the first speaker of the day. Her organization is described in the following way:
“We All Criminals” is a non-profit organization dedicated to challenging society’s perceptions of what it means to be “criminal.” Through shared stories of those who committed or were accused of committing crimes, those who got away with them, and those who have been directly affected by the criminal justice system, we seek to erase the barriers that separate us.”
One of the reoccurring refrains at this conference was, “We Are All Criminals.” It was paired with another provoking tagline, “1 in 4 People Has a Criminal Record. 4 in 4 Have a Criminal History.”
Several ideas underpinned these mantras. First and foremost, is the notion that the vast majority of individuals have broken the law at some point in their life, whether in major or minor ways. It may be something as common as speeding or as duplicitous as tax evasion. In any case, a truly humble person will freely admit that there have been times in life when they’ve gotten away with something they shouldn’t have. How many of us have escaped the hand of the law in these instances? How many of us have done something wrong without having to face the consequences that would naturally follow that action?
These and other social incongruities were accented by each speaker over the course of the morning. Through story, poetry and testimony each guest painted a powerful picture of the complexities, the tragedies and the realities of incarceration. Most importantly, each speaker illustrated how their own individual history: upbringing, environment and a host of other factors, positively and negatively influenced their journey, criminogenic or otherwise. After kicking things off, Emily Baxter was followed by Richard McLemore II (Founder and Executive Director of “1 Day at a Time”), who drew attention to the way in which labels and a person’s digital history affect our present-day ability to accomplish things or hamper others from coming to the table with neutral assumptions about someone. A criminal record is never really expunged from the internet. So how does one move on from their criminal past if they can never really escape from out of its shadow? Richard McLemore also had the opportunity to impart valuable information about his organization (1DAAT), which assists with housing access and training. Mr. McLemore reminded us that one of our most valuable assets is time.
Concluding the conference was Noelle Faye (a writer, artist and Legal Fellow at Mitchell Hamline’s Reentry Clinic). As a Navy Veteran and a formerly incarcerated woman, Noelle brought a unique perspective to the entire day and gave a very compelling testimony of the humanity behind those who are labeled as criminals.
Each speaker gave the day a distinct flavor and contributed immensely to the important conversation surrounding the stigma of criminality. Our Shakopee House site director Todd Quiggle was provided an opportunity to share about our work in Scott County and one of our recent graduates. Todd shared about the value that the Shakopee house provides to its participants and the space for reconnection and reconciliation it creates.
Over the course of the day, several of the speakers and various individuals commented on the high praise they’d heard about Damascus Way through mutual clients or acquaintances. It was encouraging to hear that our impact is visible to other institutions and communities.
Thank you to Scott County Community Corrections for organizing this event and for inviting our team to be a part of this conference.