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Inaugurating Issue of the Djembe Beat!

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Note: We juxtapose injustices, within the context of jails and prisons, in the United States and on the continent of Africa; specifically South Africa. We seek to highlight similarities versus differences in an attempt to bridge the gap across the Transcontinental divide. It is our intent to increase awareness and promote solidarity in our quest for systemic reform of institutions of incarceration.

Fall/Winter Edition: Issue 1

From South Africa to you!

I have always been one to march to the beat of my drum.

And that drum has resounded many melodies. And one thing about Justice? There are many rhythms and beats to serve it. Like an African drum, it echoes and echoes until it reaches where it has to be like a postcard.

I thus invite you in, on this journey, to allow this beat to move you to a better understanding. And hopefully, an awakening.

Dancing to the Beat of Justice

The Greek philosopher Aristotle encapsulates justice as a virtue. “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

I recall how in the Fall of 2021, in the Southern Hemisphere—imprisoned by unemployment as a graduate—an opportunity to become part of the next generation that enforces social change fell on my head like a raindrop.

Without hesitation, I grabbed the opportunity to become part of the NxGen Media Internship, remotely, with both hands. It became a key, and a gateway, for me to break the generational curse of unemployment in my world. And open my horizons to St. Louis, Missouri, skies that hold African-American history like a rainbow in a cloud.

I also saw this as a way to break boundaries by becoming actively part of an organization that stands for representation, identity, and social change, in more ways than one.

This opportunity has brought me justice because it has allowed me to level the playing ground for my future to bask in the sun to bask in its African glory.

The words of a powerful man, one who passed down the baton of the liberation of the majority of South Africans, Africans, Nelson Mandela, have led me in many routes than one.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the human right, the right to dignity and decent life”.

Visiting and tapping into another African-American powerhouse, Dr. Martin Luther King has lent me words on justice to navigate that very justice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This point brings me to why we are here today.

Workforce Development and Re-Entry Through the US's Justice Beat of the US

Haralson (2021, St. Louis Fed website) describes Workforce or Human Development as an essential tool in developing a community’s economy in any economic climate (Haralson, 2021).

The term describes a wide range of activities, policies, and programs employed by different regions to create, withstand and retain a sustainable workforce that supports current and future business and industry (Haralson, 2021).

Yet, just like a djembe drumbeat has a bass, tone, and a slap—the term workforce development has many rhythms tied to it, depending on who dances to its melody. The academia, scholars, private, and public social service providers define it through an individual (one human being) lens (Haralson, 2021).

Yet, economic and community developers see workforce development as a means to sustain the economic growth of a region or a community (Haralson, 2021).

However, employers see it as organizational. The reason is that they rely on skills, business, or industry to remain competitive in the global marketplace (Haralson, 2021).

Aaron Poynter, Director of Re-entry Programming of the Development Board & Cumberlands Workforce Board. Poynter works for South Central Kentucky Workforce Development Board.

Our guest on our September 11 episode, Aaron Poynter, is Director of Re-entry Programming of the Development Board & Cumberlands Workforce Board. Poynter works for South Central Kentucky Workforce Development Board.

Who is the South Central Kentucky Workforce Development Board?

“The workforce development board [is] an organization focused on the development and implementation of a highly effective workforce system. That means collaborating with businesses, economic development organizations, community partners, education, and community organizations to build a stronger workforce," says Poynter.

"All of us have got to come together”, declares Poynter.

The purpose of the Board

Covering 22 counties in South Central Kentucky—Poynter works for a Director and President CEO.

As part of the Development Board, Poynter says the Board seeks to act as a hub to be a resource to all partners. It brings everyone together to strengthen the workforce.

The vision of the South Central Kentucky Workforce Board

"The vision and leadership of both to develop and implement workforce systems start with targeting the workforce’s needs; establishing what the workforce looks like; and how it can be best served", says Poynter.

The aims of the Development Board

“I am targeting the justice-involved. Some individuals within the Board are targeted at the focused population that the boards seek to serve".

Poynter indicated that the Kentucky Career Centre plays roles through the case and career managers who ensure the individuals dealing with justice have networking connections, resources, and career support upon reintegration.

The diversification of the Board

“There are individuals employed targeted at secondary and post-secondary education", asserts Poynter. He also adds that there are system coordinators within the Board who work with the economy.

The economic recovery coordinator, for example, focuses on industries that were affected by the pandemic. They bring justice by getting individuals back to work, making them employable, or upskilling them to get a better job. The Board is multitiered and serves everyone.

The Board offers pre-release services; it gets involved in diversion before incarceration, or long-term before incarceration becomes a problem. Covid-19 has had an impact in terms of entry into facilities. It takes staff going into facilities.

The profiling of people dealing with justice and societal views

Poynter holds that it is key that people dealing with justice be asked: what do they want to do? Not only do the questions ensure success once ex-offenders are released. But they give the organization room to plan in time, rather than upon their release.

It is pivotal to curb the stigmas attached to individuals involved with justice. Because society perceives ex-offenders as numbers, their visibility is seen as a threat and as a statistic.

This vantage point strips people dealing with the justice system of their autonomy because society dictates and projects what to do and what not to do.

Ex-offenders are encouraged to find out what they need to study. And to investigate the company for which they wish to work. The individualized choice allows for those in love with justice to not follow a one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter approach.

The desires of people involved with justice draw reference to their early life. “A lot of them go to what they envisioned their life before justice involvement".

The “What do you want to do? (Let’s set a plan of action to get you there) Where do you want to be?", are questions whose replies excite Aaron (18:00). The beauty of this conversation—Poynter outlines—lies in the mindfulness applied by rehabilitating ex-offenders.

The role of the Kentucky Courage injury lawyers organization in workforce development?

Poynter adds that Kentucky Courage has a career cluster and skills assessment to assist those who do not know what they want to do.

“It gauges the interest of the individual. And a lot of that can come out with conversation. If you get to know somebody and build that rapport with them—things about their past and what they enjoy will come up. Utilizing Kentucky Courage and conversation with our career managers; that is where we draw, 'What is the direction we want to go?" Poynter also suggests a conversation with people dealing with justice.

Battle of the sexes: dealing with the justice system

Poynter says there are more men than women enrolled in the programs. “The women are very quick to get rolling and rocking with our plan. The women display task-orientedness."

It seems there are more burdens on women when they reintegrate into society than on men. Factors such as being the primary giver and having a child hit women hard. Especially when women dealing with justice do not have family support. The child-support services thus bridge this gap.

The support S Central Kentucky Workforce Development Board gives

The Board weighs out the support needs of the employer, and the employee dealing with justice. When the employee(s) need(s) arrangements made such as drug testing at a stipulated time—Poynter says their Board delivers support.

The Board provides resources such as food security to the employers when the individual dealing with justice is food insecure.

Lending An Alternative Lens: Workforce Development in South Africa (SA)

In SA history, prison labor operated on the premise that prisons were punishment hotspots that exercised forced labor. Only in the late 1800s did imprisonment mean rehabilitation.

The premise of this introduction was that labor, as an ideology, was seen by European colonizers as civilizing Africans on their continent. Sadly, the people who committed these injustices had left their respective countries to spill blood on the Black continent. However, this is a point for another debate.

Slavery abolition in 1834 initiated cheap and unpaid labor. Introducing pass laws that regulated the movement of indigenous people formalized the abuse of African prisoners. The SA legal system hence provided enough prisoners to contribute to labor demand.

Today, the legacy of prisoners who served between the 1840s and the 1850s are public projects. The roads I walk on in South Africa? The buildings I marvel at portraying the occident? Most rest on the spines of my African ancestors. Why do I say so? You may ask: because prison labor produced road infrastructure, railways, and forestry.

To understand the depth of the wounds tied to imprisonment in slavery and apartheid (colonial and post-colonial) — one first has to grasp the position of South African businesses.

The first private entity to employ convicts for labor in 1885 was the De Beers Diamond Mining Company. Not only did De Beers utilize unjustly imprisoned South Africans; the mining company also built a branch prison that it controlled.

After South African identification document laws were enforced, many workers spent time in prison. Successively, this supplemented the workforce.

We could sit and unpack the long, violent history of prison laborers. Yet, there would still not be enough room to let the pen bleed all the tears South Africa was built.

Yet, contextually, I must mention that the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1993 guaranteed the rights of all people. The legal reform hence brought fundamental shifts philosophically, especially regarding imprisonment and the treatment of convicts.

However, only 23 years ago that international standards of imprisonment impacted local conditions. The South African Correctional Services introduced Act 111 of 1998. The Act seeks to govern, the rights, treatment, and condition of all prisoners.

There are now organizations that stand for restorative justice and reintegration in SA

With the objectives to empower offenders’, ex-offenders, and victims’ communities — Saferspaces offers a program, Imbokodo Support for Restorative Justice and Reintegration. This South African non-government organization (NGO) is in the West Rand, Johannesburg, in the Gauteng province.

Founded and reared by an African woman, Yoliswa Keswa, Imbokodo Support for Ex-Offenders is a registered NGO founded by Keswa after working with several non-profit organizations (NPOs).

Keswa has also worked with Christian services and in correctional facilities from 2009 to date. The organization is accredited by the Department of Correctional Services (the DCS). It currently facilitates DCS programs for offenders on the grounds of their sentence plan.

Imbokodo intervenes through facilitating behavior-changing programs; conducting one-on-one interviews with offenders; and tracing victims.

The NGO focuses on the victims and their families — offenders and the communities. Their work is primarily to reintegrate offenders back into their communities and educating communities on the reintegration process. This approach rests on crime as a societal responsibility.

To keep the mission alive, Keswa supports and educates around re-entry of offenders and ex-offenders to break the cycle of re-offending through Imbokodo. Thus, creating safer and stronger communities.

The NGO’s values include promoting restorative justice and providing mediation to reform the offenders’ lives to pave the way to heal the effects of crime through forgiveness and reconciliation. This process is followed with the hopes to lead social reintegration. The organization seeks to curb recidivism through skills development programs.

The challenges ex-offenders experience when reintegrating into mainstream society in Gauteng

Victor Chikadzi states that embracing offender rehabilitation and reintegration is vital as a broad and holistic strategy. Research shows that upon release from prison, a myriad of challenges faces ex-offenders. Successively, this weakens efforts to reform and hence predisposes ex-offenders to recidivism.

Chikadzi cites that the prison environment differs markedly from mainstream society. Therefore, the environment to which offenders return is a different one from the prison environment. Thus, ex-offenders struggle to cope.


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