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Monday, October 10, 2011

What's a church-going parent to do?

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?


kimybeee said...

sounds like you have already chosen the only possible solution!!! keep us posted!

Stacy said...

Prayer is always the best answer. God will work all things out to his purposes.

Still, it does sound like the benefits of having the facility there outweigh the bad things.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

Prayer is never a cop-out. It should be first, always (that doesn't mean I adhere to this though, I'm far from perfect.)

I would think the area would be patrolled by police once this facility is in use. That's a positive.

When I used to do set up for my church (we met in a HS at the time), I often worked with people--mostly men--who were doing community service hours. My friends were concerned, but I was never bothered. It was a nice way to witness.

This could be so life-changing for so many people, and it is in line with what Jesus asks us to do.

Eternal Lizdom said...

My first response is that it sounds like a great program and that it seems to aim to do what a correctioanl facility should do- correct. it sounds like these women are being given an opportunity to straighten out their lives and be with their children. And I think that the church could end up being an important partnership- and not just for thsoe women but for the members of the congregation.

Sometimes, our best life learning is learning about someone else's life.

When I was in junior high, my mom started attending a church in "Over the Rhine" in Cincinnati- it's a hard neighborhood with a hard reputation. She had come to know this tiny church ebcause our church helped out in their soup kitchen from time to time. My mom felt called to do more and she became a member of that church for several years. She taught Sunday School and we worked in that soup kitchen almost every week. She became good friends with an elderly woman named Smithy. Smithy had 2 adult children but both were worthless when it came to caring for their mother. She lived in a run down apartment complex but kept her few belongings in impeccable condition. My mom became her guardian and took her to doctor visits, hair appointments, brought her groceries. My dad tried to express concern for my mom's safety in going into this bad neighborhood alone, in going into an apartment where there were known drug dealers, in being involved with this woman who had junkie children who came to her to take all she had.

And my mom took me with her more often than not. And I learned more from my mother in those visits than in any words or lectures she ever gave.

So I think this facility is an opportunity. I think these women and their children could benefit from having role models in the community that will show them love and grace and respect. And I think the members of the church can benefit from these women by witnessing to them, by stepping outside of their comfort zones, and maybe by taking off blinders that have been attached for years.

Beyond praying- I think this is one where you have to trust God. He might have a great plan for someone in your church, for someone in this program.

And I also think that danger lurks around every corner and there are criminals buying milk next to us in the grocery store. So having a group of criminals close by who are trying to straighten their lives out instead of hide their bad choices- not such a bad thing.

Amy said...

Thank you, ladies, for your comments. The more I think/pray about this, the less I feel burdened by it. I know the school will probably lose some students over this, but I do think that Jesus didn't call us to love just when it is easy to do so.

CWMartin said...

I have to agree with the rest- view this as an opportunity! Turn it over to the Lord to see how His glory will best be served. And with the answers you got and things you've learned about the place, I'd say - and I realize this is a sad indictment of today's society- your kids might actually be safer with this facility in the neighborhood.