Post by Susan Mwarabu
We all want to have a safe place to sift through life’s adjustments; a place where we can sort through our thoughts and emotions, where companionship, respect and loyalty are supporting pillars we can lean on as we examine our inner selves.
Amicus recognizes that need and strives to provide it for its clients in the Amicus Ex-Offender Support Group. But the group is also a place where ex-offenders can help each other respond to immediate needs and balance those needs with the longer-term needs in their lives.
Support Group facilitator Jerome Graham exudes an easygoing charm that helps put people at ease despite his imposing six-foot eight inch frame. This ease is necessary for the complexities that have to be addressed in the Monday night sessions. Jerome recalled being nervous when he started as facilitator of the group, because he didn’t think he fit the bill for the perfect role model. He soon realized that his life experiences actually lent credibility to the discussions that he later had to moderate in the sessions.
Jerome encourages his clients to do try different approaches from those which landed them in prison; planning out clear steps on how they will accomplish the change in their lives.
As he was sitting down to this interview, Jerome apologized for possible cell phone interruptions. He was trying to help one of his clients find housing and didn’t want to miss the call. That gesture indicates how the work of the Monday Night Group goes beyond meaningful conversation and brings up real-world issues that can need immediate attention.
Clients simply can’t concentrate on making life changes if they’re preoccupied by immediate needs such as housing. During such instances, Jerome steps in where he can and helps clients with activities such as searching for an apartment or employment.
Jerome says he is able to devote extra time to his clients because he feels he already has much and it’s easy for him to keep giving.
Jerome explains that the Amicus Ex-Offender Group is a carefully structured environment with goals to provide the clients with a means by which they can let out the hurt in their lives. A basic structure of expectations and goals helps steer the conversations that take place in the group, but the format is flexible to respond to immediate needs within the group.
The support group stresses the importance of non-judgmental dialogue as the basic principal by which each client must abide in order to participate. Jerome works to guide his clients through difficult conversations, emphasizing trust and respect in all exchanges.
Each session designed to allow participants to dive into topics that clients care about or wish to discuss. One topic that Jerome says commands a great deal of attention is the issue of “regret.” Jerome says that most ex-offenders have a difficult time coming to terms with choices they have made in the past. During the sessions, clients work to voice fears and difficulties in their lives.
Jerome tells his clients that mistakes are a motivation to do things different.
The Amicus Ex-Offender Support Group is a place of optimism and motivation; a safe place where trust and respect give clients the incentive to change their lives.