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On Sunday my husband and I took in the painful stories of several formerly incarcerated women who work on getting their lives back on track with Mary Driscoll at OWLL. The occasion was the performance of a collaborative theater piece called Hidden Faces of Courage.

All the women had the cards stacked against them from childhood on and had little hope of a better future after serving time. A recurring theme was the near impossibility of finding work with a criminal record.

So it was with particular interest that I read an article in UU World today about a café in North Carolina that is giving such women a second chance at life, starting with helping them earn an income.

Michelle Bates Deakin writes, “There’s a classic Catch-22 for women who have served jail time. It’s nearly impossible to get a job with a criminal record, and without a job and an income, it’s hard to keep from reoffending.

“The Rev. Melissa Mummert, a community minister in Charlotte, N.C., has dedicated the past decade to helping solve this conundrum, providing career and life coaching to female prisoners …

“In August, she helped open a new takeout restaurant in downtown Charlotte run by women released from jail. Second Helping gives formerly incarcerated women valuable job skills, income, and new starts at life.

“ ‘I kept hearing the same theme from so many women: “When I hit the jail door, I can’t get a job, because there is so much employment discrimination against people with criminal records,” ‘ said Mummert. Second Helping helps women leaving jail or prison land that all-important first job.”

Monique Maddox is one of the beneficiaries of the effort. “Maddox has worked at Second Helping since November 2011, when it opened its first coffee cart. She credits Second Helping with giving her opportunity. ‘Each and every one of us value our freedom today,’ she said. ‘I would never give it up.’ ”

More.

Photo: UU World
Rev. Mummert helped open the Second Helping café in Charlotte. It employs and trains formerly incarcerated women.

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First Parish does not have a typical service on New Year’s Day. For one thing, attendance is sparse.

Sunday’s “Taizé” service put me in mind of something my mother used to say about Unitarians to tease my father, who was one. (The denomination was not yet Unitarian-Universalist.) She liked to say that her impression of Unitarians had always been “seven people in an attic with a violin.”

Parishioner Joan Esch and her cello provided the opening music yesterday. Instead of going into the main sanctuary, we gathered in the parish hall, sitting on folding chairs around a small table with candles and flowers. At most there were 40 people, including toddlers running and climbing.

Mark Richards led the Taizé service, explaining that the concept started in France. The First Parish version is short and consists of one-verse songs sung over and over in unison without accompaniment and interspersed with readings, cello interludes, meditation, and candle lighting — for remembrance (such as an illness or death) and hope (such as a new beginning or a birth).

I enjoyed being there. It was different. And I liked a line that was quoted from a long-ago minister — something about the mystery within reaching for the mystery without.

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This is about a Unitarian Universalist minister who decided that community work was more important than having a church building.

As Donald E. Skinner writes of Ron Robinson in UU World, “The particular mission field that the Rev. Ron Robinson has claimed is one of America’s abandoned places.

“Turley, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, was a thriving place until the 1960s when white flight and the movement of oil industry jobs out of Tulsa began Turley’s long slide into economic and social decline.

“Today many houses in Turley are vacant and abandoned, some boarded up, others open to the elements and slowly falling down. Burned-out structures are nearly hidden by tall weeds and brush. The once robust main street is now down to a gas station, grocery, a pizza place that won’t deliver, self-service laundry, carwash, and a collection of auto repair and salvage businesses.

“Most younger residents have no health insurance and little health care. Most children qualify for free school lunches. Residents live, on average, fourteen fewer years than people five miles south, in midtown Tulsa. Unemployment is twice the national average.

“In the middle of this, Robinson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has established A Third Place, a community center that includes Turley’s only library, several computers for public use, a free health clinic, food pantry, drop-in living room, and a place to get used clothing and household items.”

Read more here.

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