900-plus attend Archdiocese of San Francisco event for formerly incarcerated, crime victims
By Valerie Schmalz
Finding a community, and a safe place to be accepted, is one of the greatest desires of those who leave prison, said Joseph Beaman, who recently was released after serving more than 10 years and spoke at the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s 11th annual Reentry Conference, Resource and Job Fair.
A record 900-plus people attended the Sept. 8 conference aimed at helping those released from prison or jail, the families of those incarcerated, and crime victims and homicide survivors. The conference, organized by the Archdiocesan Restorative Justice Ministry, was held at St. Mary’s Cathedral Event Center.
During his time in prison, Beaman converted to the Catholic faith. “When I least expected it, God showed me the most grace,” said Beaman, who became involved in the San Quentin chapel ministry, taught catechism and sang in the choir. He lives in post-prison supportive housing, and is enrolled at San Francisco State University where he is upgrading his technical computer skills.
“You learn how valuable community is when you are away from the community you know,” said Beaman, who was one of several speakers on the Faith After Incarceration panel chaired by San Quentin State Prison chaplain Father George Williams, S.J.
“The biggest challenge to finding a faith-based ministry is feeling less than,” said Katheryn Roman, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College and like Beaman an Excell Network scholar, adding, “my own insecurities, feeling I am not going to fit in.”
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone opened the day’s activities with a prayer for healing and God’s grace and expressed gratitude for all who work for the restoration of peace and healing.
“Help us to heal and restore life and happiness to our communities,” the Archbishop prayed. “Help us all to be your hands, your instruments, so that we may all walk in your life and eventually reach the light of your eternal kingdom.”
This year’s conference included a jobs fair organized by Goodwill SF Bay and Success Centers, a criminal record expungement clinic staffed the SF Public Defender’s office, as well as more than 75 tables with information on nonprofits whose missions are to help formerly incarcerated and victims of crime.
The event is part of the Archdiocesan Restorative Justice Ministry, which includes prayers on the street for homicide victims, outreach to those incarcerated in the jails and juvenile hall, and the Excell Network Reentry Scholarship Program.
Among the 925 people who attended were 36 family member survivors of homicide victims, 87 family members with a loved one incarcerated, 288 formerly incarcerated, 25 formerly incarcerated who were survivors of violence. Fifty employers sent representatives, 50 people were enrolled in job trainings, and as many as 100 people were expected to get jobs from the conference, said Julio Escobar, Restorative Justice Ministry coordinator who organized the conference.
The conference was the most well-attended in its 11 years, said Escobar. Its unique blend of resources of all kinds for formerly incarcerated, acknowledgement of families who are affected by violence and crime, and having a jobs fair is drawing more people, he said.
He noted that one young man, Diego Martinez, 19, traveled by Greyhound bus from Orange County after being released from incarceration the previous Friday. The team helped him write a resume, learn about resources to support him, and helped him write his application to transfer his case from Orange County to San Francisco, Escobar said.
Among those helping him were Linda Hurshman, an Excell scholar and an employee of Goodwill Industries, Escobar noted.
“This conference is a calling to unite people. The unity makes us stronger because when we are one, we can support each other more,” Escobar said.
To learn more about the Restorative Justice Ministry, go here.