I really don't like conflict. Have I mentioned that before? So imagine how I feel when the conflict is within myself.
There is a proposal to put a not-for-profit correctional facility for non-violent female offenders across the street from my kids' school and our church. As in right across the street. The women, most of whom would be serving the last portion of their sentences in this facility, would be living there with their pre-school age children.
From the first time I heard of the plan, I was determined to be prudent in collecting facts and to consider those facts as non-emotionally as possible. The churchgoer in me is all about charity and forgiveness and WWJD. The parent in me who pays tuition to send my kids to school and who is first concerned with their safety is crying "not so fast."
I've talked to social workers and funders who've worked with this facility, who vouch for the strict procedures and low recidivism rates the facility has employed and achieved. They don't see an issue. I've talked to prosecutors and attorneys who are concerned that in order for non-violent offenders to be incarcerated they must be repeat offenders who've failed previous opportunities for probation.
Some people from the church (most who don't have kids in the school) and our priest are hopeful about opportunities for outreach and service the church could have. School parents -- myself included -- are concerned about the recruiting challenges having a facility like this across the street could present to the school.
The organization that is hoping to move into the building across the street has already been taking care of the grass, weeding the overgrowth along the building. Clearly, they are demonstrating a desire to be a good neighbor. They intend to build a playground on the property for the women and their children. The residents are only able to leave the building for pre-approved reasons at pre-approved times. They are not permitted to drive. Visitors are pre-qualified and screened. No one on probation or parole is permitted to visit.
But what about one of those non-approved visitors who comes to the facility, gets enraged by not being let in and who crosses the street to take out that anger on our church and school? What about the property values for homeowners in the area?
There are no easy answers.
To be truthful, the neighborhood the school is in is definitely in an urban area. There have been lockdowns in the school based on nearby incidents before. According to the organization hoping to move into the neighborhood, there have been 53 phone calls to the police in the past 10 months about crime and suspicious activity on the now-vacant property. Vandals have stripped the building of all the copper, commercial kitchen equipment, and anything else salable on the black market.
Would it be better to have the facility occupied by a responsible tenant with 24/7 security than to continue to allow it to sit empty and be picked apart? Or are there other, less controversial organizations that might occupy the building?
Are there benefits that the organization could bring to the neighborhood? Perhaps having this facility would lead to increased police patrols in the area, which would benefit everyone. Maybe public transportation routes would be improved because the organization would advocate for that to better serve their clients who rely on the city bus to look for work and get to appointments?
Can you see that I'm torn? I want to act in love and charity, but I also want to protect my children and their school and the place we go to church.
And I'm well aware (and extremely grateful) that the decision is not mine. Ultimately, the decision will fall to the zoning board that will have to grant a variance for the facility to occupy the building. Based on the ruling of the zoning board, I know there will be other decisions that will follow -- by the church, by school parents, by neighbors, and perhaps by the organization itself.
My decision is made. I'm turning it over to prayer. (Check out the prayer that was used to open an informational meeting tonight.) Maybe that's a cop-out. But it's the only decision I can find peace in right now.
What would you do?