Stop the Violence

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I discovered an organization that is providing employment services for people who need it badly. The Michael Barlow Center on Chicago’s West Side is helping ex-offenders find jobs and places to live. The Barlow Center, which was dedicated on April 22, 2005, is a part of St. Leonard’s Ministries, located at 2120 West Warren Blvd.

St. Leonard’s Ministries helps inmates, women and men, with a place to stay, training and support as they re-enter society. They help ex-offenders to rebuild their lives and get a chance to make a buck. With the Barlow Center, they are expanding their services by opening new programs, including two new buildings where the residents will live and learn. One is a five-story high building where the residents will sleep. I learned this by taking a tour of the facilities after my interviews.

Ex-offenders always have had a hard time finding a way to re-enter society and be able to feed themselves and their families. Sometimes they are not able to come back to their homes, especially if they live in CHA apartments or Section 8 houses. The One Strike law was put in place to first rid public housing of the people who have records. In CHA buildings, when someone is caught selling drugs on the premises, for example, and they get arrested, the whole family can be moved out under One Strike.

St. Leonard’s has a long history of working with ex-offenders. In 1954, Father James (Jimmie) Jones, the Episcopal Chaplin at the Cook County Jail, and the women of the Episcopal Church opened the doors of St. Leonard’s House at Hoyne and Warren. There were 5 to 10 men from Bridewell Jail along with others from state prisons.

During the 1970s, the programs continued to expand, including receiving new money from the Illinois Department of Corrections. This brought the house count to 12 to 18 men each day. In the 1980s, as the number of felons began to increase because of the War on Drugs, St. Leonard’s building at 2110 W. Warren was rehabbed and they took on 40 men. With the help of the Department of Human Services here in Chicago, Grace House opened in 1994 because the amount of women prisoners was on the rise. In 2004, St. Leonard’s Ministries began working with the Illinois Facilities Fund and Pepper Construction Co. to build the Michael Barlow Center to help formerly incarcerated men and women find employment.

Michael Barlow was chosen as the patron of this new employment center because of the real way he turned his life around after the time he spent in prison. He had picked up a drug habit while serving in Vietnam and came to the St. Leonard’s center in 1988. He became their first aftercare counselor before he died in 1996. Michael helped many other ex-offenders before his death.

I went to the Michael Barlow Center and talked to a few of the people. The first interview was with Jim Zangs. Zangs is the Director of the Barlow Center. I had been steered to interview Bob Dougherty, Executive Director over all of St. Leonard’s Ministries, but Dougherty told me that Jim was the one I wanted .

Residents’ Journal: How did you become involved with St. Leonard’s Ministries? Jim Zangs: I was working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the SAFER Foundation, servicing the incarcerated. I was managing adult transition work at a 200 bed facility in Lawndale. I’ve known the executive director and he asked me if I was interested and I was. I like it because it’s a small operation and getting to be included was a privilege. R.J.: When was the Barlow Center formed?

J.Z.: Really in March, but the dedication was in April. St. Leonard’s has two new buildings. St. Leonard’s House just celebrated its 50th year and its 40 bed new building for the men. We also operate Grace House for women. Grace House has 16 beds with similar services. Six years ago, St. Andrews was opened. St. Leonard’s would house [ex-offenders] for six months right from prison, then they move out. St. Andrews Court offers housing to the individuals who have completed the St. Leonard’s House program.

R.J.: What is the organization about?

J.Z.: Let’s back up. When [ex-offenders] first come to us, they usually have a drug issue and Leonard House sets up a program to have drug treatment services. After the first 30 days of treatment services, they go to TEP – The Employment Program. There they teach behavior, help them with their resumes and readiness skills. Some of the programs are still being set up.

R.J.: How do you recruit volunteers?

J.Z.: Sister Cathy McKillop started the volunteer program. She gets volunteers for all.

R.J.: How will ex-offenders gain jobs through the center?

J.Z.: Primarily, we’ll set up in December for culinary training. The first class will be 15 people. They will learn how to cook basic things. The reason for this is we know there’s a need and we have contacts with the corporations.

R.J.: How are you funded?

J.Z.: A variety of sources. The United Way, an umbrella of Episcopal charities, some state funds, half million from the city with the support of the mayor. We have a computer lab from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunities. It’s open every day from 1 to 5 PM so residents can use it every day. Every Tuesday and Thursday we have volunteers to teach how to use Word and the Internet.

R.J.: How will ex-offenders be informed about the center?

J.Z.: Number one, if we don’t fill up slots we get referrals. Number two, because of things like you’re doing. Harry Porterfield did a story and so did the Defender. It was told on Channel 21 by a journalist from Northwestern. In Illinois, there are 33,000 leaving prison and need services and word travels fast.

My next interview was with an ex-offender, one of the former residents who now works part-time for St. Leonard’s, Harry Sago.

R.J.: How did you become involved with St. Leonard’s Ministries and the Michael Barlow Center?

Harry Sago: I was recently incarcerated and I filled out an application to come here. I also had a friend whose mother used to work here. I used to come here when I was young.

R.J.: How does St. Leonard’s Ministries and the Barlow Center benefit you?

H.S.: So far, I haven’t been able to get into the programs because I work and some of the programs aren’t set up yet. I’m in the computer program and waiting for the other programs. I feel that other gentleman and ladies need a place like this. We’re sort of outcasts and people think we shouldn’t be let back into society because they think we’re the worst of the worst.

R.J.: How do you feel?

H.S.: I feel I’m not the worst of the worst because this is my first offence and I thank God and St. Leonard’s Ministries for giving us help. Some of us die from our addictions, some of us go back. I feel individuals who have been incarcerated need a second chance at life. A lot of us wouldn’t go back out and do something illegal [if we had places like St. Leonard’s]. We would be able to hold our heads up. They would feel like someone cares. They’d all be grateful for a place like this.

After the interview with Harry I asked to see the place. Harry was selected for this job. He explained to me that the Grace House teachers come to St. Leonard’s House to help with GED classes. Mary Hornschemeier, high school coordinator, has moved their programs to the Barlow Center. There are rooms for computer classes that are headed by Eddie Weaver, Harry told me. He introduced me to others including Michael Wilson, who graduated from the Dominican University in River Forest, IL. He is the Barlow Center’s Job Developer.

As we, Harry and I, crossed the yard to go to the lunchroom where I was to have an early lunch after the tour, we ran into Pat.

Patricia A. Taylor is the Assistant Program Director at St. Leonard’s House. She says that she had a drinking problem when first joined the organization. She has been sober for 8 years now.

There was no question and answer session, she had something to say and I let her say it. She told me that people right off the streets need not apply. This is where you would go straight out of the jail. She showed me a stack of 400 applications, of which she could only take in 40.

To get in, the inmate sends a letter and asks for an application or he can get one at any of the institutions here in Illinois. Pat then sends the package with the application inside. The package also contains the rules and consequences of breaking the rules. This way, ex-offenders come straight from the pen.

“Sometimes I get calls from family members to help find placement for their loved ones, a lot of them live in public housing,” Taylor said. “People move to Chicago and children live here, where do the sex offenders live?”

This is one of Pat’s bigger problems along with finding a way to keep up the men’s enthusiasm as the ex-offender goes out to find work.

St. Leonard’s doesn’t charge anything. The inmates are given $5 when they leave the institution, but to get an ID will cost much more not to mention car-fare.

Pat helps her crew learn to fill out their resumes. She tells them that “employers are aware when you have help writing your resumes.”

Pat showed me a picture of a young man who she said fell through the cracks. He had been a resident of St. Leonard’s. But he went back to jail, a violation of the program. He was reapplying to get back in. Pat said she was considering letting him have his second chance when she was informed that he was dead.

For Residents’ Journal readers who want to know, St Leonard’s House is located at 2100 W. Warren Blvd and the number there is (31) 738-1414. Callers should ask for Elbert T. Hunter, program director. At Grace House, the place for women leaving prisons, call (312) 733-5363 or go to 1801 W. Admas.

Programs working with ex-offenders always need more resources. St. Leonard’s, according to their newsletter, could use a 30 to 50 cup coffee maker, folding tables and chairs, men’s after shave and body lotion, sugar, coffee and creamer. The one thing they need most is bus cards. The men can’t keep the jobs if they don’t have a way to get to them.

A Personal Connection to St. Leonard’s
Friday, July 8, I was at a relative’s house when the probation officer came to the door. He had come for Nathaniel. Nathaniel had just been released from prison. He was going to stay with Pearl, the relative I was with, but she has small children. Nate was arrested for a sex crime so this would have the DCFS people all in her business so she had to refuse. He couldn’t find anyone else to stay. Before he left. I asked the parole officer if he had heard of the St. Leonard’s Ministry. He said yes and that he thought it was a good idea for Nate. He told us to get on it right away because he was taking Nate back to Statesville where they would hold him for a few months.

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