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Elain Ellerbe | December 4, 2017
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This well-known quote most definitely sums up the Northeast Louisiana Reentry Coalition based in Monroe, Louisiana. I had the opportunity to address this diverse group of stalwart volunteers during their regular monthly meeting to bring them up to date on the recent criminal justice reform implementation process in Louisiana. Since 2008, this regional reentry coalition has been committed to helping the incarcerated, returning citizens, and their families, attain a better quality of life. Comprised of over 100 organizations that include churches, social services, elected officials, and law enforcement, this large group of caring people take the scripture, Mathew 25:31-46, quite literally. The coalition is housed at First Baptist of West Monroe (First West) and coordinated by Reverend Woods Watson. Somewhere in his hectic schedule, Reverend Woods commits the time it takes to keep the group connected and informed. Calling it his labor of love, Woods has humbly served as the organization’s coordinator from its inception nine years ago. Woods also helps with First West’s Freed Men ministry which is designed to provide “hope, help, and healing to those coming out of incarceration” through housing assistance and work opportunities.
In an effort to provide community support, the church has also formed the Returning Citizens Support Group, offering those coming back home a positive space to talk through issues with others who have had similar life experiences and have faced similar challenges when coming home. The coalition also distributes regional resource directories to those returning to the community. It is updated frequently by Reverend Watson, and available through various locations such as Probation and Parole offices, social services, and coalition member organizations. This cohesive network of service providers are always willing to jump into action when a need is presented to them – whether helping someone obtain a job or transportation. The really outstanding fact about this little known, yet very effective, reentry coalition is that they have no funding for their efforts. If money was a determining factor for the group to continue, it would have caved many years ago. It is the very fact that the efforts put forth are by “a small group of thoughtful committed citizens” that has ensured their longevity and success.
The Monroe-West Monroe Twin City region has a combined population of just over 214,000 with approximately 600 individuals returning to the area each month from state prisons or local jails. Monroe hits a lot of the Top Ten lists for being a high violent crime city in Louisiana, yet with the efforts of the coalition, I am certain they are making a difference every day in the lives of their citizens because of their commitment to “change the world” because “indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead would be proud.