Jul 21, 2014

It's the People: A Profile of a Circles of Support Volunteer

Though she is no longer a little child, Magali King is still fulfilling the mission that her mother instilled in her long ago—to give back to the community.  A home care assistant and member of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, Magali loves helping people. Serving breakfast at the Harlem Community Justice Center as individuals await their parole hearings is one of several ways she enjoys giving back. As a member on the usher board and regular volunteer in food pantries at her church, serving others is familiar territory to Magali. “This comes easy to me,” she says. “I just enjoy helping out and doing things for other people that can appreciate it.”  

As I am sitting with Magali in the breakfast room, there is an unmistakable sense of kindness and hospitality in the air. “Would you like your coffee dry or not?” Magali asks one young man. His response? “It [doesn’t] matter. I just appreciate it.” When another young man—walks into the room, he and Sarah Colburn—another Interfaith Center volunteer—share a few laughs over some Chris Brown lyrics. “That’s good,” Sarah says between chuckles. “We all need a good laugh.”

Migali King serving breakfast at the Harlem Community Justice Center
As someone who has justice involved family and friends, Magali’s interest in supporting returning citizens can be a bit personal. “When I was a child, my sister’s boyfriend’s brother was incarcerated, and my mother would take us with her to bring him food in jail.” Magali recounts that this young man’s family was not very involved in his life, and he was basically an orphan. But her mother’s kindness was not limited to friends of her family. “My mother would introduce herself to other inmates who didn’t have family, and she would help the too.”

Magali clearly knows how crucial family support is in fostering individual success, especially for individuals returning home from incarceration. “They need to feel comfortable, loved and understood,” she tells me as she pours yet another cup of coffee for a grateful returning citizen. “Family can help them move forward in society in a positive way with a positive mind frame.” Magali’s mentality is that people ought to respect and accept others’ situations. She adds, “If they’re not doing any harm to you, then you ought to be more than happy to help.”  Seeing smiles on peoples’ faces is enough to satisfy Magali. “We [volunteers] are just someone different they can talk to and relate to. If they have no one else, they have us.”

The atmosphere in the breakfast room is still thick with overwhelming friendliness and sincerity as breakfast time winds down. A young man walks into the room and eyes the fruit. “This is good breakfast. Healthy, with the fruits  and stuff,” he tells us. “They don’t do this at other parole offices. 
. And it saves me money because I don’t have to go out and buy it.” Healthy breakfast isn’t the only thing that sets the Harlem Community Justice Center apart. It’s the people. “We have a lot of nice people here. They should have more programs like this,” says Sarah Colburn with a smile. “I’m glad I get to volunteer here.” The rest of us—Magali, a couple of returning citizens and I—all smile and nod in agreement. Well said.

The series of profiles of volunteers, staff, and participants, of the Reentry Family and Faith Circles of Support program, are written by Monique Claiborne. Monique--an Opelousas, Louisiana native-- is a Politics major at Princeton University. Currently an intern at the Harlem Community Justice Center, Monique plans to continue working for systemic justice reform as an attorney in the near future.