The Birth of Empathy

Written by Eric Samuelson
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While sitting in the back of a church in the east end of Richmond on a Saturday morning, I listened to about 40 men, many of them former prisoners, all of them fathers, describe the systemic barriers which seemingly conspired to keep them from living a peaceful life. Between the “Baby Mama Drama” and the “Have you ever been convicted?” questions on job applications, these fellows felt deep frustration at their life circumstances.

I am a problem solver by nature, and a consultant by profession, but not too proud to say that the complex problems confronting those men overwhelmed me. I felt trapped by the excruciating detail of their stories and wondered to myself how I might react in similar circumstances.

 

As I listened, problem categories emerged. The stories sorted out to three areas: emotional disconnection from their children and families, severe financial difficulty due to the hazards of finding and keeping a job, and the demands of government as five branches were breathing down their neck. These five included Child Support Enforcement, Department of Social Services (T.A.N.F. repayments), Probation and Parole, Court (costs, fines, restitutions) and, on occasion, the Foster Care system.

I've never been incarcerated, nor faced pressures that were so exquisitely entangled. Feeling great frustration for their situation, I stood up at that meeting and told those men that I was very new to these issues, but committed myself to work on their problem. Though overwhelmed, I set out to study the issues to see what could be done.

This Saturday morning began the journey of developing the Family Restoration Network. 

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