Paul Jackson’s drug addiction took him again and again into the criminal justice system. Each time, his relationships with his family suffered more.
Three years ago, he began talking through his issues with family members with help from trained mediators at the Baltimore Community Mediation Center.
“Today, me and my mother and father, we sit down, eat crabs — we hold straight conversations where I don’t have to be agitated,” the 51-year-old said. “It doesn’t turn into an argument.”
Jackson’s story drew applause from community members and elected officials on Sunday during a celebration of Del. Lorig Charkoudian’s sixth annual “Run for Re-entry,” a 70-mile run along U.S. 40 from a Hagerstown prison to the mediation center in Baltimore. The two-day run symbolizes the difficult journey that people being released from prison face in trying to re-enter society, said Charkoudian, executive director of Community Mediation Maryland. It raised nearly $3,000 this year.
“We’ve got the mountains, the hills, the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, the really treacherous sides of the roads you’re barely surviving on while the cars whiz by,” the Montgomery County Democrat said. “Not that it’s as hard as re-entering and connecting, but it’s a really good metaphor for the challenges.”
A single two-hour reentry mediation session decreases the predictive probability of recidivism by up to 10%, Charkoudian said. Her organization runs more than a dozen mediation centers, including the one in Baltimore.
Elected to the General Assembly last year, Charkoudian has run 420 miles for the cause over the past six years and plans to continue, if only to provide hope to those who feel overwhelmed by the challenge of beginning their lives in society anew.
“There’s a bunch of ways lots of people put their bodies on the line for this work," she said. “This particular way of doing it can inspire folks and can make people who feel hopeless believe someone believes in them.”
Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, recalled helping the mediation center get its first $5,000 grant as a graduate student representative at Johns Hopkins.
Twenty-one years later, she congratulated the mediators on their work encouraging communication and de-escalating conflict.
“Peaceful, positive ways of resolving those conflicts are really our best weapon when it comes to fighting violence in our city,” Washington said.
Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, another Montgomery County Democrat, is pushing to create a separate, pre-release mediation unit for women in the state prison system.
“Even though there are only 700 women in the prison systems in Maryland, it doesn’t make a difference,” Crutchfield said. “These women still need to be able to have the opportunities to be successful when they get out.”
Derel Owens ran the final 10 miles with Charkoudian. The 40-year-old couldn’t join last year because he was arrested for a gun charge that was later dropped. He said he was wrongfully accused.
Owens said he now works at a barbershop near Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street in Baltimore’s Jonestown neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t be standing right here if it wasn’t for Community Mediation," he said.
I wouldn’t be standing right here if it wasn’t for Community Mediation. ... There are people that care.— Derel Owens
His message to people who are re-entering society: "There are people that care.”
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, a 2020 mayoral candidate, joined Charkoudian and Owens and a few others running the final stretch, for the last mile or so.
“He was running for us before he was running for mayor!” shouted Erricka Bridgeford, a community mediator and the founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire, an anti-violence movement that designates specific 72-hour periods for communities to push for no killings.
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Scott said, “this wasn’t optional for me. I got a text: ‘You’re running at 12:15.’ ‘OK, Erricka, I’ll be there.’ ”
Scott, a Democrat who formerly served as president of the mediation center’s board, said it helped him forgive a young man who had robbed him 10 years ago.
If society wants to see its prison population decrease long-term, he said, it must rethink how it handles those who have committed crimes and done their time.
“They’re not the same person. The world has changed five, six, seven times over, and we have to help them re-adjust so that they don’t go back,” Scott said. “Their kids have grown up. Their brothers and sisters have grown up. Their parents have struggled with the fact that they’re gone and a lot of times [have been] taking care of their children. That’s a lot of issues, a lot of trauma we’ve got to resolve.”
During pre-release mediation, people often struggle with being unable to touch or hug their incarcerated family members due to visitation rules, said Jerri Thomas, Bridgeford’s mother, who runs the center’s reentry mediation program.
But having a private space and a chance to hash out their feelings — both comforts seldom enjoyed in prison — can affect people in a profound way, she said.
“They’re still able to touch and connect in a way that’s actually deeper than the physical,” she said. “It’s heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind. It gives them a chance to be able to move on.”