Providing skills to non-violent criminals

Volunteers/Where good neighbors get together

March 31, 1992|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Staff Writer

Ruby Glover and Jay Levenson feel that those who are incarcerated need to be taught skills and helped back into the community. They volunteer to Offenders Aid and Restoration (OAR) of Baltimore, which can serve as a lifeline for those charged with non-violent misdemeanors.

Through OAR, offenders are evaluated for a reduced bond or for a release on recognizance. OAR funds the release, and an OAR volunteer follows the offender through court and continues support as he or she returns to the community. Failure to appear in court drops dramatically with OAR support.

''Volunteers are trained to listen, to work with and to train the offender. They make phone calls to families, public defenders, employers and more. Those who are capable give GED instruction and special skill training,'' says OAR director David Eberhardt.

Both Ms. Glover and Mr. Levenson serve as mentors. She is a board member and he is the president of OAR.

"The goal is not to just find a job for them, but to teach them the necessary skills for job-hunting and job-keeping and to help them identify their own skills to make a career plan,'' says Mr. Levenson, 48, who is an underwriter of surety bonds for the Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland. He and his wife, Noi, live in Reisterstown and have two grown sons.

Ms. Glover is also OAR's public relations and fund-raising director. ''We are our brothers' keeper and cannot hide and avoid trying to do something for those in jeopardy. Support does not come from a distance,'' she says.

OAR helped one of Ms. Glover's five children when he had a problem.

''From this help, I saw that there was a pot of gold called OAR right here, and most people don't even know that it exists until they need it,'' says Ms. Glover, 62, who works in community relations and public affairs for Changing Directions, a non-profit community rehabilitation center and program for the chronically mentally ill.

For 30 years she worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was also an ''entertainer with the Left Bank Jazz Society, and I was also on the task force which began the House of Ruth for battered women,'' she says.

She also is a volunteer director of the board to BAUhouse and also to Sojourner Douglass College as well as a volunteer to

the Black Mental Alliance.

Mr. Levenson began helping at OAR when he came to Baltimore about four years ago. Previously, he volunteered as a teacher in a Pennsylvania jail.

''I have always felt that the people who needed the most help were the least likely to have anyone who wanted to help them," he says. "Many have no family, were abused and feel the prison staff is their enemy.

''It is rewarding to be with a person who is eager for help and always interesting to me that I am volunteering to get in to help and he is trying to get out and each of us welcomes the relationship. When the inmate realizes a person is volunteering and not being paid, that he is not just a do-gooder, then an excellent relationship can develop,'' he says. ''In the seven years I have worked in jails, I have never felt threatened. In fact, I'm safer as a volunteer in prison than anywhere else.''

Ms. Glover hopes to raise money for OAR and increase awareness of the group in the African-American community. She is also interested in creating

awareness among those who handle the chronically mentally ill offenders.

''Their misdemeanors," she says, "are often due to a conflict with ongoing medication, and in a strange setting such as jail, they cannot cope. I want to help the prison staff recognize them and their needs.''

OAR, says Mr. Eberhardt, was founded in 1970 in Richmond, Va., by concerned citizens who concluded that they must work to keep people out of jail and from returning there once released. Their successes brought much interest, and in 1973 OAR of the United States was incorporated. Baltimore's chapter was founded in 1976. Currently, there are 10 sites in five states; each is responsible for its own funding. Locally, funds come from individuals, city and state.

OAR volunteers are needed as mentors, fund-raisers, board members and for administrative and technical assistance. For more information, call David Eberhardt at 637-1066, -1067 or -1068. Or write to Offenders Aid and Restoration, 401 E. Eager St. 21202 (actual offices are located at 531 E. Madison St).

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