While many people leave prison and go on to lead successful lives, few are formally recognized for their accomplishments. One New York nonprofit, Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc., is out to change that.
Since 2007, the organization has honored the successes of ex-offenders in New York City with its Citizen Awards, and the deadline for its 2013 competition is Sept. 14.
The awards have a motivation beyond mere recognition. “We want to change the perception of formerly incarcerated people,” says Mika’il DeVeaux, Citizens Against Recidivism’s co-founder and executive director. Past recipients have included people with doctorates, educational and religious leaders and directors of social programs.
In 2012, the winners included Cheryl Wilkens, the associate director of the Criminal Justice Initiative: Supporting Children, Families, and Communities (CJI) at the Columbia School of Social Work; Eddie Rosario, Associate Director of the Correctional Association of New York’s Prison Visiting Project; and Kevin Chiles, publisher of Don Diva magazine.
Nominees must have been out of prison for at least three years and do work that serves people who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised or marginalized. The recipients are all in the New York City area, because DeVeaux says they have no budget to fly the winners in, but his efforts may inspire others to launch a similar award program elsewhere.
Although there will be only five awards presented, nominations can be made in five different categories:
Freedom Fighter – For someone who works to gain rights for those incarcerated or previously incarcerated.
Advocacy Award – For someone who has advocated for change and helped to shape policy, legislation or regulations that affect those incarcerated or previously incarcerated.
Bridge Builder – For someone who has brought together diverse groups or individuals to help those incarcerated, previously incarcerated or affected by encounters with the criminal justice system.
Social Action – For someone who shows a commitment to social justice or through their community building efforts serves as an example of the spirit of social change.
Leadership in Education – For someone whose work facilitates the academic growth of or establishes policies or programs that benefit those incarcerated, previously incarcerated or affected by encounters with the criminal justice system.
Research and Scholarship – For someone whose research and/or scholastic achievements help increase the quality of life for those incarcerated, previously incarcerated or affected by encounters with the criminal justice system.
Spiritual Leadership – for someone whose efforts enhance the spirituality, character, ethics, attitudes and behaviors needed for positive human health and well-being by those incarcerated, previously incarcerated or affected by encounters with the criminal justice system.
Instructions for nominations can be found on the organization’s website.
The award ceremony will take place Nov. 9 at the Malxom X & Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in New York City.
Meanwhile, another organization, Bayview Hunters Point Multipurpose Senior Services in San Francisco, has been giving out similar awards for 11 years. Its 2013 In the Trenches Awards were presented in July.
There are five categories, but unlike the Citizens Awards, not all winners have to be ex-offenders. They must, however, be working to improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated. One award is given to an organization, and local government officials have been among past winners.
The purpose of both awards remains the same. “It is to break the stigma against formerly incarcerated people. To show the world that people can change,” says Frank Williams, director of the Ex-offender Senior Program at the Bayview Hunters Point Multipurpose Center.