As managing editor of Reentry Central, I have the privilege of meeting many people who share a deep commitment to bringing about criminal justice reform and for ending mass incarceration. One such person is Jeff Grant, recently appointed the Interim Executive Director of Family Re-Entry, an effective and innovative organization that helps both returning individuals and their families find solutions to issues stemming from involvement in the criminal justice system.
Rather than just post the press release of Grant’s appointment, which can be found here, we wanted to share with Reentry Central’s readers a more in-depth look at who Jeff Grant is, the obstacles he overcame, and what he brings as the leader of a multi-city reentry organization.
Beatrice Codianni: Jeff, please begin with what you were charged with so Reentry Central’s readers can understand your involvement in the criminal justice system.
Jeff Grant: I made false representations on a Small Business Administration 9/12 loan I took out to save my law firm. In no way am I making an excuse for what I did - I was addicted to prescription painkillers stemming from a sports injury in 1992. By the time of my crime fifteen years ago (in 2001), I was taking these prescription painkillers almost every day; it increasingly ate away at my judgment and ability to perform as a lawyer. I put my need for the prescriptions before everything, even my love for my family. After 9/11, my prescription painkiller habit significantly increased. I heard many advertisements on TV and the radio inviting businesses affected by 9/11 to apply for an SBA loan. I called up and found out that my law firm qualified as it was based in Westchester County. Even though I knew the firm qualified, I couldn't help myself and I misrepresented that I had a satellite office in lower Manhattan.
BC: What was your sentence after you were found guilty?
JG: Although I committed my crime in 2001, I was arrested in 2004 and sentenced in early 2006 to eighteen month's incarceration, and three years of Federal supervised release post-prison. I was designated to Allenwood Low Security Correctional Institution in White Deer, PA, a low security prison and not a camp where most white-collar offenders serve their time. At the time of my designation, I understand that even though I had a security level of "zero" and could have been designated to a camp, there were no beds available on that day so I was bumped up to the next level. It was real prison with razor wire, bars on windows and doors, controlled movements, etc. I served 13 1/2 months there until June 2007, when I was released to a halfway house in Hartford, CT and then Federal supervised release.
BC: How did your conviction impacted family, friends, colleagues, and so-called friends?
JG: I lost my law license, career, home, marriage, reputation and virtually all of my friends. My law firm and a restaurant I owned were both located in Mamaroneck, NY, so I had a lot of friends and clients there. After I had tried to commit suicide with an overdose of the prescription painkillers, almost nobody came to see how my family and I were coping. I was an untouchable and nobody wanted to be near us. I had hurt my family very badly, the scars of which are still with us to this day.
BC: How did your conviction impact your ability to find work in your previous field or in finding any work at all?
JG: As with almost all persons convicted of white collar crimes, the consequences were almost unimaginable. No matter the length of one's sentence, we are all serving life sentences. I was truly one of the lucky ones, or I'd prefer to believe it was Divine intervention. I found a new spirituality and connection to God while in prison, and dedicated my life to service of other people and families with incarceration issues. Upon my return from prison, I attended and earned a Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, with a focus on Christian Social Ethics. My first position after seminary was as Associate Minister and Director of Prison Ministries at the First Baptist Church located in the inner city of Bridgeport Connecticut. From there, my wife and partner-in-ministry Lynn Springer and I founded (in our hometown of Greenwich, CT) Progressive Prison Ministries, the first ministry in the U.S. created to provide confidential support and counseling to individuals, families and organizations with white-collar and other nonviolent incarceration issues.
BC: What will you bring to Family Re-Entry?
JG: In 2009, while I was applying to attend seminary, I was also volunteering for Family ReEntry, a nonprofit based in Bridgeport that serves families affected by incarceration issues. Family ReEntry elected me to its Board of Directors in 2009. That year Lynn and I, through Family ReEntry, converted an inner city block in Bridgeport into one of the largest privately-owned public use parks and gardens in the State of Connecticut. I served as a Family ReEntry Board member and Corporate Officer for almost eight years. When our long-time Executive Director stepped down to become our senior consultant, I was honored and humbled to be elected as Interim Executive Director. Of course I accepted… not only do I owe my second chance to Family ReEntry, but I believe that I am the first person in the country who was incarcerated for a white-collar crime to be made the head of a major criminal justice nonprofit. I hope to serve as a power of example that there is hope after prison.
BC: Since the clients of Family Re-Entry are mostly people convicted of non-white collar crimes do you think you can relate to them?
JG: Although I share a history of incarceration with the men and women Family ReEntry serves from Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk (and other cities in Connecticut), I do not for one minute believe that I truly understand what it is to live and have grown up in their shoes. The first thing I do is put my male white privilege on the table so I can own it and make clear that I can only communicate from my social location. It is amazing how open and free flowing things can be when we don't pretend to be anything other than who we truly are. From this authenticity, I have been able to relate to the many men and women I have met, helped, and have been helped by in my role as a minister and at Family ReEntry. I have learned that many or most people, and their families, who committed so- called inner city crimes and those who committed white-collar crimes are suffering many similar issues - shame, shunning, stigma, depression, inability to find a job, etc.
BC: What are your duties at Family Re-Entry and do they expand to other cities?
JG: I understand that as the interim Executive Director the buck stops with me, but I work with the most dedicated and talented group of people I have ever been among. These are seasoned professionals who work in a nonprofit only because they have a calling to serve others. It is often an exhausting job for which they are, as is true with most people working in nonprofits, generally underpaid and sacrifice much. I hope that my background and own prison story, gives me some street cred with our incredible staff and clients.
BC: Any final thoughts?
JG: We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the criminal justice reform movement, and in delivery of critical reentry programs to ensure the success of returning individuals and provide optimal public safety. This is true on the national level, and is especially true here in Connecticut where state budget cutbacks compel us to find new, innovative, cost-effective solutions to the problems and to criminal justice leadership. It is an honor to bring my background and experience in business, law, criminal justice, recovery, and prison ministry to be of service to our community.