What’s Going On: Returning Citizens Assistance Network

by Theo Brown

Several members of our congregation have become deeply involved with the Returning Citizens Assistance Network (RCAN). This network of 15 congregations in Washington, DC, works with the Public Defender Service to assist individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

During the past seven months, the work of RCAN has intensified because of the strain that the Covid pandemic has put on the prison system.  RCAN has responded directly to 20 requests for assistance since March and many of those were to help people who have been directly affected by the pandemic. The network has donated clothes and gift cards, provided games, books, and puzzles to incarcerated youth, and helped others stay connected to the outside world. Here are three example:

  • The Bureau of Prisons initiated a “compassionate release” policy because of the pandemic, letting some elderly prisoners out early in order to protect them from the danger of infection in prisons. RCAN assisted six of these individuals who returned to the District of Columbia after serving long prison sentences.  Assistance included donating clothes for several men, buying gift cards to help them buy essential personal items, and identifying mentors who could assist their return to the community
  • The pandemic caused many educational programs to be cancelled at the DC facility for incarcerated youth, and RCAN members donated games, books, puzzles and other educational items to the facility so that the teenagers who are incarcerated who have things to do during the time they were more isolated than usual.
  • The Bureau of Prisons also reduced the contact its inmates could have with each other, increasing the need for reading materials and other connections to the outside world.  RCAN congregations sent books and magazines to two different prisoners and also found pen pals to write to an elderly individual who was isolated by the new rules during the pandemic.

Interested in helping with RCAN? Contact Theo Brown at dialogdays@aol.com.

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