Saturday, June 1, 2019

"Prisoners of Christ" Visits Parole Planning Workshop At Tomoka C. I.

Dateline: Thursday, May 23, 2019
             After months of false starts and failed attempts to address our Parole Planning Workshop, Greg Seymour, Re-Entry Director for the "Prisoners of Christ" faith-based residential transition program in Jacksonville,, Florida, finally returned to his roots as a free man. Decades before, Greg had been a prisoner at Tomoka C.I., Daytona Beach, Florida, working as a chapel clerk before attending the F. I. U. Lifers Program at Everglades C. I., eventually being released on parole.
             Originally scheduled to make the trek to Tomoka on March, 16, 2019, Greg had made it as far as Highway 92, right down the road, when his car was rear-ended by one of our Florida drivers, resulting in having to deal with Florida Highway Patrol officers for hours. Such are the complications parolees must deal with. Thankfully, everything turned out all right. Wellness Supervisor Officer C. Johnson made the calls and obtained the approvals needed for our speaker to try again.
             Before turning the floor over to Greg, I asked each of the men to stand up, introduce themselves: their names, where they were from, how many years they'd been in prison, what their parole dates were, starting with myself.
             "My name is Charlie Norman, this past April 5th marked my forty-first year of imprisonment on a murder conviction from Tampa. My parole release date remains July 4, 2017, although the parole commissioners refused to sign my papers, suspending my date."
             As we went around the room, it was a humbling experience to hear each man's story, as brief as it was. A few of the men had known Greg Seymour when he'd been here as a prisoner, albeit now they were much older, grayer, balder, and bent by the time they'd served.
             On this day that Greg had accepted our invitation to return to speak to twenty-two parole-eligible prisoners gathered in the Wellness Program building, looking out at the seated men, one could tell that he had been affected by the short testimonies. Patting the concrete block wall behind him, Greg explained why he didn't need directions from the front gate to the Wellness building, in the shadow of the gun tower overseeing the prison recreation yard, even after all these years.
             "Another inmate and I laid these blocks over twenty years ago. We built this building and the library," he said, smiling, patting his handiwork again. "We must have done a pretty good job. It's still standing. It's holding up pretty well." He could have said the same thing about himself.
             Greg Seymour has a strong Christian background, and his advice to men seeking parole is infused with his faith.
             "What is parole?" he asked. "Grace, man. Grace is when God gives us what we don't deserve. Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve. That's what happened to me when I got paroled. I didn't deserve it."
             On the subject of parole, talking to a number of men whose parole dates had already passed, in legal limbo with arbitrary parole "suspensions" delaying their earned releases, Greg had some advice.
             "It may seem like a hopeless situation. You may be listening to that man whispering in your ear, but you better make sure he's telling you the right thing.
             "What's behind you is behind you. You can't dig it up.
             "I learned to think for myself.
             "Prior to God I was a mess. I had a bad mindset."
             Greg shared more examples and analogies from his life experiences to illustrate to the men how to prepare for parole, for when they are finally released into free society.
             "Prepare for parole now. You gotta get your eyes off the next man, and look in the mirror.
             "Keep your heart seasoned. Do you know what that means? My daddy was a Bahamian. He was a great cook. It all came down to the seasonings he used. You gotta season your heart. Hatred, bitterness, murder, bad seasonings, come from the heart. Like a garden you gotta pluck out the weeds.
             "Prepare--make your preparations now--for parole. It's easy to violate. Some of ya'll can't wait to get outa here and get you a woman. You gotta get the right woman.
             "I'm just like you--I make mistakes. But God doesn't make mistakes. Some of us, we're harboring all kinds of stuff in our hearts, negative thoughts, hatred. Keep your heart seasoned with the right thoughts.
             "Pick the people you associate with. Watch out for those smiling in your faces. Prison does give you a lot of advantages. You can see those types of people coming before they get there. You gotta avoid them.
             "There was a man on my job--he was a hater. Back in the day, we would have handled it differently-break his jaw. I'm not gonna harbor any ill will. I have not reverted back to my old ways. God took care of it. He doesn't need my help."
             Greg talked about what he's doing right now, besides his job as re-entry director at Prisoners of Christ, working with other parolees.
             "Prepare to be successful while on parole. Give back. Joe Miller and I work in a juvenile program. Don't quit, just because you have setbacks. I'm sharing with you what worked for me. God saw into my heart."
             The time went quickly. After a question-and-answer session, handshakes and a few hugs ended the session. I watched Greg walk up the road toward the front gate and freedom, like most of the other men, wondering when we'd follow him to freedom.
             Thanks, Greg.


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