Erica Averion is putting her training as a Justice Ambassador to good use.
When I was a 19-year-old college student, I went to visit my mother at her Panama City Beach home. While I was there the police arrived. They turned the Florida home upside down and handcuffed my mom.
My mother, like many people in the criminal justice system today, struggles with addiction. She had unknowingly been buying drugs from an undercover cop. And so began a time in my life where I assumed the role of parent, bailing my mother out of jail and keeping in touch with my father after his own arrest.
There were other arrests, more charges, prison time for dad, and probation for both of my parents and parole for my father. Now, at age 34, I can say that I've had a front-row seat to what it’s like serving time alongside a loved one who is behind bars.
A NEW CHAPTER
About five years ago, I had a chance to reflect on my next chapter in life. What lessons should I take from my parents’ involvement with the justice system?
At one point, I had spent a deeply emotional time working for a large contractor for the Florida Department of Children and Families. I was up close to situations where children had been removed from their parents’ care due to the parents’ substance abuse. I would go and make home visits with caseworkers, I would go to court, and I would sit in on adoptions.
These parents’ paths had spiraled so far out of control. They were so detached and disconnected that they had lost their own child, their own flesh. I witnessed what it was like for the parents to try and put their lives back together, one piece at a time.
Those experiences, along with my own, have propelled me into the world of criminal justice reform.
FINDING MY PLACE AS A JUSTICE AMBASSADOR
As I began to seek out organizations, support groups, books, and resources of encouragement on this topic, Prison Fellowship® was one of the entities that showed up almost every single time. Whether I was looking for a template to write a letter to my lawmaker, a prayer group, or clarity on a criminal justice policy or law, Prison Fellowship seemed to always have something to offer.
Like many do, I began by signing up for email alerts, reading newsletters, learning about the need for services like Angel Tree® and Bibles for those behind bars, and responding to advocacy alerts. This initial engagement felt like a small yet impactful way to stay informed, involved, and tethered to real action happening in the criminal justice arena.
As I continued to stay engaged, I decided to put my faith into action and applied to become a Justice Ambassador. I saw the opportunity as a way to take my advocacy to the next level with a more focused approach.
Justice Ambassadors are elite advocates that Prison Fellowship equips to develop relationships with lawmakers, leverage social media, host awareness events, and more. I am also a communications and strategy professional who tackles projects focused on the unnoticed, the defeated, the deflated, and the discouraged. As the title of my TEDx Talk explains, I aim to “find the good within the forgotten.”
And I’ve been putting my training from Prison Fellowship to good use.
I have led small groups through Outrageous Justice®, Prison Fellowship’s small-group curriculum that explores the criminal justice system from a biblical perspective. I’ve worked to promote language that reflects the dignity and humanity of people who have been involved in the criminal justice system. And this year I decided to take Second Chance® Month as an opportunity to learn and connect with others. I met with the ministerial association in the county I live in here in North Florida. We have 35 churches in one county, and I pitched to all the faith leaders there to participate [in Second Chance Month]. And I utilized Justice Ambassador training resources to help me weave advocacy into my everyday actions, focusing on changing hearts and minds to remember those impacted by crime and incarceration.
REAL-LIFE STORIES, REAL-LIFE DIFFERENCE
The training, resources, and real-life stories that come out of the Justice Ambassador program bring criminal justice reform to life for me. The personalization of it has taught me that we are all shaped by our experiences, and we all live in our stories. And those stories are what resonate with people.
I also love that there are opportunities for Justice Ambassadors in different seasons of life. The Ambassador program is so diverse and open. You can pursue all the opportunities offered or just a few of them, depending on what resonates with you the most and what time you have to give.
One of my personal heroes likes to say, “Individual attention yields individual results.” And for me, that is what the Justice Ambassador program has provided. It has given me actionable, tangible activities and assignments that I can give individual attention to, and I see meaningful, individual results.
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