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.

Updates on 7-2-9, the Triangle Ministry and the Radcliffe Room Ministry

By Phil Telfeyan

7-2-9:  We are not meeting in person this year and won’t until St. Elizabeth’s allows its residents to participate in community programs.  So St. E’s  calling the shots.

Instead of in-person programing, we’re planning to send gifts and cards to our members at St. E’s on Christmas, Valentine’s Day (the 7-2-9 anniversary, now in year 42), and mid-June (when our annual picnic normally occurs).

Triangle Park:  World Central Kitchen stopped giving us food at the end of September, so we no longer have any food service during the week. But the BID still serves 175 sandwiches Monday through Friday in Triangle Park.

Radcliffe Room:  On Sundays, our volunteers make sandwiches, bagels, and coffee.  We also pass out donated pastries, underwear, toiletries, shoes, and clothes (we still need men’s clothes as well as winter coats).  We serve from 11am to 1pm on Sundays (same as the BID’s weekday hours).  About 170 guests and 10 volunteers come every Sunday.

James Dandridge and Richard McCoy: Both of these regular 7-2-9 members and church congregants are well.  James comes every Sunday to volunteer with the Radcliffe Room and asks every week when 7-2-9 is coming back.  Richard comes every Sunday to get lunch from the Radcliffe Room (and some weekdays from the BID).  Richard asks about the 7-2-9 volunteers.

In my personal observation, there continues to be a close relationship between homelessness and deterioration in mental health.  I’ve seen many of our Radcliffe Room guests’ mental health worsen during the pandemic, which illustrates the urgent need for more opportunities for in-person fellowship like 7-2-9 brings.