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Upstate Storytellers

Team members: Row 1 (l-r): Jennifer Parker, Sally Hammond, Caroline Sexton
Row 2 (l-r): Paul Newhouse, Mike Winiski. Not pictured: Joseph Provenzano, Lamont Thomas

The lack of civil discourse on the national stage can deepen division and erode trust. We often seek out stories that confirm our beliefs, which can reinforce stereotypes and obscure what we have in common. This current reality can be discouraging and disheartening. Our goal for this DLI project is to counteract this national trend by providing a platform for sharing local stories that build bridges and empathy. We partnered with two local agencies who are working with formerly incarcerated women and men, Angel’s Charge Ministries in Spartanburg, SC and Soteria in Greenville, SC, to capture stories of challenge, hope, and inspiration from returning citizens.

In 2017, Greenville and Spartanburg counties ranked number 1 and 2 in SC for number of individuals incarcerated and number if individuals released. These returning citizens face a range of challenges from securing identification, housing, employment, and establishing a network of support. Department of Corrections budget cuts in the early 2000s resulted in the loss of many educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals, making the transition back even more challenging. Women and men in the prison system also experience higher incidences of childhood trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In a 2014 study of over 64,000 juvenile offenders, only 2.8% reported zero ACE scores compared to 33% in the general population. Trauma-informed support is also vital to successful reentry.

The DLI team partnered with Executive Director and Founder of Angels Charge Ministry, Nannie Jefferies, and Executive Director and Founder of Soteria, Jerry Blassingame (also a member of this DLI class) to capture video and audio stories from returning citizens in the programs. A video preview from Angels Charge is available online. We are working with the Furman library to edit audio stories from seven men in the Soteria program, which will be released in an upcoming podcast series. We are indebted to the women and men who candidly shared their stories of challenges but also of redemption, faith, humor, compassion, and inspiration.