Lake County Black Democrats Sponsors An Informative And Pleasurable “Evening With Friends”
BY LOUIS C. WARD
LEESBURG - Keynote speakers Carlyle Holder and Pastor Greg James revealed core issues and failures of Florida’s prison and justice systems at the annual Lake County Democratic Black Caucus “Evening with Friends” Saturday, September 16th, 2017 at Venetian Gardens’ Community Center in Leesburg, Florida.
With personal and intense testimonies, Carlyle Holder, a former Warden at Coleman Prison in Lake County, and Pastor Greg James, who received a federal prison sentence of life plus 40 years, disclosed a scathing indictment of the failure of justice system and how it hands out unbelievable, ridiculous prison sentences, and the lack of real rehabilitation and redemption for prisoners in our prison system.
The county’s major Black political organization’s biggest yearly non-partisan fundraising event attracted more than 100 civic, business, community and clergy leaders, who were very attentive and probably inspired to understand the importance of society providing meaningful re-entry programs for inmates who complete their sentences and are released back into society.
Holder discussed how Florida’s prison system basically operated a revolving door of injustice for the states inmates. Holder said almost 95 percent of inmates who complete their sentences and are released back into society returned within two to three years.
Why are the inmates not able to adjust to living in society and becoming productive Florida citizens after their release? Holders said there were no effective re=entry programs for them. There was no viable social or economic support base that helps them upon their release. They are just released with no resources or support base and are expected to become emotionally, socially and economically self-sufficient.
Hence, said Holder, “We have a revolving door for released inmates. They complete their time, are released, and return to prison because they revert to their previous lifestyle, committing crime because they are unprepared for life on the outside, no guidance, support, or follow-up”, pointed out Holder.
From the ex-felon point of view, Pastor James, who was convicted of conspiracy to sell drugs, and claimed he made 1 million dollars a month, immediately connected with the audience when he quipped about the sentence he received: “they gave me life plus 40 years. I guess after I die, somehow I’m supposed to come back and finished my sentence.”
James was very remorseful about “selling major drugs as a pastor”, and thought his life was over when he was sent to prison. However, he kept preaching and was heard by Warden Holder one morning when Holder was making his rounds in the Coleman Prison complex.
The rest is history. Through Holder’s leadership, Pastor James learned a good work ethic that was par excellence, learned money and time management, and learned how to go to bed early and wake up early.
James credited LCDBC with its theme: “Empowering Our Community”, and said, “I thought it was an encouraging event. LCDBC came together with the community.
LCDBC may have missed an opportunity to encouraged the community to really empower itself. The evening, said James, “should have been a call to action to galvanize, engage and inspire the community at large to get involved in the 2018 election and the restoration of civil rights for ex-felons.”
After his discourse, one had to think that God had another plan for James, who, like Saul, persecuted God’s people. God turned Saul around with the experience at Damascus, and he became a great evangelist for Christianity.
God turned Pastor James around with a life-long prison sentence, but released him after he completed 14 years. Perhaps, God is using James as a beacon of light for young men and women who are exhibiting a lifestyle of crime to detour them from becoming prisoners. Through his testimony, God is using Pastor James as a vehicle to provide true resources and guidance for ex-felons released from prison.
Pastor James advises young people who may be on the wrong path “to stop, re-evaluate what they are doing and redirect their energy into something positive and rewarding, if nothing but a job with a minimum wage because that redirects their course of life of crime and eventually imprisonment, where they have no rights, no privileges.”
During the award segment of the program, Pastor Bettye Watson of St. Paul AME Church and Tommy Green were recognized for their service to the Leesburg community.
Pastor Watson is the kind of Pastor that allows organizations and individuals to use the church for community events. She opens her church to our community when needed said LCDBC President Lillian Lockette.
My brother can fix anything from an appliance to the toilet, and probably at one time or another he has fixed something in your house, said Yolanda Pressley in her introduction for her brother Tommy Green.
The gestures and remarks from the audience substantiated her introductory statement. “Tommy can fix anything in the house someone shouted.
I was ecstatic when I was told that I would be recognized. I had to think about it because what I do for people, I do for good. I wasn’t looking for recognition, said Tommy Green in a very humble manner.
President Lockette said, “I was very pleased with the turnout, and the speakers were inspiring with very informative presentations.’
Pat Washington won the $100.00 money tree.
Max Parker, our MC, did an outstanding job, keeping the social event moving.
LCDBC’s annual fund-raising event attracted a large crowd that enjoyed good fellowship, easy jazz provided by Ictus Band, and food by Debbie Davis Catering.
Before the event was over, the crowd was shouting Pastor James statement: “Things are about to change.”
What a night!