19th April 2021 – 4pm to 6pm UK
8am PST / 9am MST / 10am CST (USA) / 11am EST / 5pm CET / 6pm SAST / 12am CST (China)
DJ Cooke is a senior re-entry officer at the Virginia Department Of Corrections (VADOC), who works within prisons and the community to help individuals to transition back into society. She oversees this process and works with individuals who have “problematic releases”. VADOC has incorporated dialogue and changed the mission of the prison system from being one of “command and control” to being about people that they are serving. So the shift has been to work with each other more holistically and asking “what can we do to help people”? They now have had the lowest recidivism rate in the country, and housing has become a key focus. They carry out dialogues where someone who has been through the entire system comes back and shares their experience with some of the people who were involved throughout their time in the prison system. This dialogic approach allows direct feedback to be incorporated into the resettlement journey of future prisoners. DJ shared that her voice has changed from when she started. Because of dialogue, she’s seen that she can really speak to the “why” she does what she does.
In dialogue, Alisa and DJ explored for a moment about working in these fields as Black women. DJ lives and works in a predominantly white community and has realized in her position that she is the only Black female in her department and if she doesn’t speak up nobody will. So talking about systems change can scare people because they may feel like they are only one person, and for staff of color, there are additional challenges to consider when speaking up. “We need to know we are in the room for the reason, and I need to speak. But I don’t have to be the expert, but I can ask questions. I can speak to what I’m feeling to help people in the room open up to a different perspective.” Alisa added that in building networks and relationships, the work can be too focused on the outcome when the relationships really matter. She suggested building coalition with faith based, local grassroots, and the business community. You never know who may support you. For example, in LA, the chamber of commerce became the largest supporter of housing people because they did the numbers and saw it made sense.
As our dialogue continued, we shared many takeaways including just how important dialogue is to make sure we see the details in who and what we are talking about and noticing when or how we are projecting what we think are needs instead of finding out directly from the source. Some may need to shift our mindset about who is deserving and who is not. We found that changing even one person’s view can have a strong effect, and even if you are starting in the smallest place possible, you can make change. We need to take time to understand just how different people’s experiences are within any one community and how the systems work for or against their needs. We also left with an expressed need to give those folks who have been unhoused more space and voice in the next dialogues.
People also shared commitments they were leaving with, including, but not limited to:
Creating ripples of humanity, such as charity, continued dialogue and practicing compassion and perseverance, Continuing to work with the communities we already work in, gaining personal knowledge of what is happening and who to connect with, finding genuine people with whom to partner with, including grassroots organizations already doing the work, committing to one on one connection with unhoused neighbors, sending letters to politicians and advocating against policing homelessness in my community, committing a certain space of time to focus on these actions.
If you are interested, we kindly invite you to apply below. We will confirm your participation in due course.