Feb 13, 2009

Why it Helps to Have Cramon on Your Side

Cramon Milline is the Reentry Associate with the Harlem Parole Reentry Court. Currently an AmeriCorps volunteer and a successful graduate of the Reentry Court himself, Cramon uses his unique history of redemption to motivate and support reentrants in Upper Manhattan. We interviewed him recently to learn more about what he does and why he believes that “everything has to be done through love.”

Tell us a little bit about your role at the Harlem Parole Reentry Court – what do you do?

I talk with the ex-offenders and help navigate them onto the right track. When one of the parole officers says that somebody isn’t going to their substance abuse group or has fallen back on bad habits, she’ll ask me to talk with him before things get out of control or before she has to violate them. Basically, I just give them my experience, my strength, and my hope – once I put them at ease and help them understand that I know what they’re going through, then we can talk about our similarities. I always tell them to be honest – and that the P.O. will know whatever they tell me. I also assist my colleagues Bill and Ruby on a group for troubled youth. Basically, they talk nice and I play the bad guy. I use my own life experiences to help them to open up.

Could you tell us a little bit about a reentrant with whom you are currently working?

Alright, well right now there’s this guy who came out and didn’t have anyplace to live. He was at Palladia for a while [where the Reentry Court is able to house those parolees who do not have a home when they first come out] and then went to stay with his family. He was only there for a week or two before he started slipping into drug habits. He came to the Justice Center smelling like alcohol. Another time, I ran into him on 125th Street at about 8:40pm. There’s no reason he should be out on the street at that hour, since it’s after his curfew. When he reported to the Reentry Court for supervision, these issues came up and he was sanctioned to substance abuse treatment at Palladia. I escorted him over there – I know that some people you just have to hold by the hand, and this guy probably wouldn’t have made it there if I hadn’t escorted him. Now he’s on two weeks restriction, but it will be good for him, so that he can straighten things out.

What led you to this position?

Well, first I have to give it to a higher power. Last year, I was in school and John called to see if I would be interested in working with ex-offenders. [John Megaw oversees the Reentry Court and has been friends with Cramon since 2001, when Cramon was the second person to go through the Reentry Court.] I was like, “John, I don’t have my GED. How will I do it?” John said that I shouldn’t worry about it and set up an interview for me. I went into my performing act and blocked out of my mind the fact that I didn’t have the credentials I thought I needed. All it really comes down to is the will and power to help people. In the beginning, I’ll admit it, I felt out of place and still worried about my education, but now I’m comfortable here and the work is what got me passionate to help people, especially the kids. All I have to give is love at this point: there are so many people who have shown me love and I need to give back something that’s been given to me. Still, though, my next big goal is to get that piece of paper, my GED. Once I have that, I’ll have the leeway to demand more and to feel confident about those demands.

From your experience with the Reentry Court, what do you think the public could better understand about returning from prison to one’s neighborhood?

Well, there will always be misconceptions out there because there will always be parolees who mess up, you can’t help that. The thing is that everybody knows that the maniacs in the paper are unique, it’s not like they don’t know. Everybody has a relative, a nephew, a son, somebody who’s been picked up. I think we need to see a different focus in the papers, more of a focus on the good things that are happening.

To see video of Cramon describing his experiences and click here.