The following article was written by Reverend Jeff Grant at the invitation of Reentry Central’s Managing Editor Beatrice Codianni, a colleague of Rev. Grant.
White-Collar Ministry: A Riches-To-Rags-To-Redemption Story
On Easter Sunday 2006, I reported to Allenwood Low Security Corrections Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania to serve an eighteen-month sentence for a white-collar crime I committed when I was a lawyer. A guard came out and I showed him my court orders – he did not seem happy about my reporting on Easter Sunday. As we went through the metal door he spun me around, held my hands behind my back and slapped handcuffs on them. I had been anticipating this moment for over a year and not once did I consider that I would have to be handcuffed. At that moment I had my first inkling of how little I knew about surviving in prison.
Next, I was brought to a section called R & D, Receiving & Discharge, that felt very much like its title – a place for FedEx packages. I was processed and then told to strip naked. While I was standing naked in this cold room, on a cold cement floor, a man entered who I would later learn was the Head Lieutenant. He basically ran the day-to-day operations of the prison. Looking me up and down, he then asked me if I was the lawyer. I told him no, but that I used to be one. This answer seemed to please him. Then he told me that there were 1500 men on his compound, and I was to be the only lawyer, although there were some jailhouse lawyers working out of the library. He advised I’d have no problems on his compound if I stayed out of other people’s legal affairs and I took no money or favors from another inmate. And then he said that I was a short stayer and he suggested I just do my time and go home without a problem. He asked me what I thought of that? I was standing there naked. I told him that making a few dollars from other inmates was the last thing on my mind.
I was given an orange jumpsuit to wear, re-cuffed and marched across the compound to the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit). When I got to the SHU, it looked like something out of the worst prison movie I had ever seen – dark and dimly lit, with rows of metal doors with tiny holes in them. I wondered if this was what the entire prison was like, if it was a holding area, 2 and how long I would be there. Inside the cell was a narrow bunk bed – barely wide enough for a grown man’s shoulders – a combination toilet and sink, a desk and a chair. And there I met my first “cellie” – a black man, about 50 years old, with dreadlocks down to his waist. When I came in, he didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. He just pointed to the upper bunk. I understood – that was mine.
His first words came about ten minutes later when he told me to move fast. The sound of a cart moving down the hall meant we had no time to lose. The slot on the metal cell door opened, and very quickly, four covered trays of food slid in through the slot. I understood what he meant by moving fast. If we didn’t catch the trays they would have dropped to the floor and the food would have spilled all over. He caught each tray and quickly handed them to me. I put them on the desk. We sat on the floor, dividing the dinner between us. I had already decided that I was going to lose the forty pounds I had put on in the months leading up to my incarceration. Looking at the trays, I saw there was a little meat of some sort, and lots of bread, potatoes and rice. Starches were apparently the mainstay of the diet – I asked him if he wanted my potatoes and rice. We became friends in no time.
His name was Raoul. Almost everybody who was designated Allenwood was first brought to the SHU, Raoul explained. There was no way to know how long I’d be
in the SHU, but Raoul suspected that I wouldn’t have to wait long: I was a first timer, middle aged, and most importantly, I was white. I later learned that some inmates are kept in the SHU “waiting for a bed” thirty days or longer. I only had to wait 16 hours before I was released onto the compound.
After serving almost fourteen months in a Federal prison for a white-collar crime, I made the decision to dedicate my life to individuals and families who were suffering the shame, guilt, remorse and ostracism that accompanies white-collar and nonviolent crime.
My wife Lynn Springer and I then founded Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc., the first ministry in the United States created to provide confidential support and counseling to individuals, families and organizations with white-collar and other nonviolent incarceration issues
We also the editor of the important and widely read blogsite, The Prisonist at which we author, edit and curate content around national and international criminal justice advocacy/ministry themes, including exclusive articles and guest blogs written by some of the world’s foremost experts in their fields.
Since Jan. 2015, we have served individuals and families in twenty-five states, including: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. We typically work with them in person or by phone, email, Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting or, if in a Federal prison, via CorrLinks.
The goal of Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. is to reach out to people who were convicted of white collar or non-violent crimes and to offer spiritual solutions for material problems, and to shepherd people and families before, during and upon reentry from prison to a new and transformed life of faith, dignity and authenticity."
For more information on Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc., please contact Rev. Jeff Grant and Lynn Springer:
Phone (203) 769-1096
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,