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What's in a name?

In April, I had the good fortune to participate on panels with some wonderful people at

two events for Second Chance Month, as it had been designated by President Biden. At

one of the events, it was suggested that the better term is Fair Chance, because that

reflects that some people didn’t have a first chance, at least not a fair one. When I think

back to reviewing personal histories of defendants in presentence reports, there is no

question that a large segment of justice-system involved people never had a fair chance

to start with because of poverty, family instability, exposure to violence, adverse impacts

of drugs and alcohol, and frequently inter-generational trauma. These factors do not

excuse behavior, but they underlie and explain behavior. Instead of blaming and

shaming, we need to be more understanding if we are to have success in supporting

behavior change. So I agree that talking about a “Fair Chance” is important. Perhaps

the more important inadequacy of the name of our nonprofit or the designation “Second

Chance Month” is that it is not plural.

If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a

Reentry Simulation, it is a very valuable thing to do. The exercise is a role play that

takes about two hours and illustrates the pragmatic challenges and frustrations facing

people coming back to community. When I participate, I ended up back in “jail”, which

was a row of chairs in the middle of the conference room. When I got there, seated to

my left was Judge Bowman and to my right was Judge Soto. Most justice-system

involved people are going to need more than one chance to succeed, sometimes many

more than one. The importance of “fair chance” is retrospective; an acknowledgement

that many people who become burdened by criminal justice sanctions started with

significant disadvantages that in many instances are ongoing. The importance of

“second chances” is prospective; a recognition that the road to community reintegration

is not a smooth or easy one. We are not going to change the name of this organization,

but we intend to always be mindful that it is very understandable in most instances to

find we will need to, and want to, offer more than one “second chance.”


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