By Brittany K. Byrd
Editor’s note: This is the final guest blog post in a series examining how mothers and their families are affected by incarceration. The series was a partnership between Bread for the World and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
1374671. This number will forever be imprinted in my mind. 1374671 was the number assigned to my mother by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice when she began serving an 8-year prison sentence. Even though I was 22 years old at the time, I was greatly affected by my mother’s incarceration. Fortunately, I was able to support myself and did not have to experience the poverty or hunger often associated with having a parent in prison; however, I was hungry in a metaphorical sense — starving for my mother’s hugs, her voice, her presence.
I will never forget the first time I visited my mother in prison. Being in that cold place was so uncomfortable. Some of the guards treated the offenders’ families as if they were in prison. My mom looked so out of place. I kept thinking to myself, My mom is not a hard-core criminal, she does not belong here. Yet I knew she had to pay for the crime she committed. During that first visit we cried a lot. Then we laughed some to keep from crying even more. And we prayed for God to give us strength to get through this journey.
I also remember observing younger girls during visitation, and their interactions with their mothers. The strength of the mother-daughter bond was evident in the way the young girls gazed into their mothers’ eyes and hugged them tightly. To those girls and others like them, the women they visit are much more than 7-digit inmate numbers. These women are their mothers and the love is unconditional.
I believe there was a reason for experiencing my mother’s incarceration and having the blessings of a good education and relationships with great people. I think I had these experiences so that God could position me to establish Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM), a Dallas, Tex. non-profit organization. GEM’s mission is to empower girls with mothers in prison to break the (generational) cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose. My vision is for girls with mothers in prison to overcome barriers they may encounter, such as poverty, so that they can fulfill the meaning of their own creation by using their stumbling blocks as stepping stones for a brighter tomorrow.
Imagine being a girl as full of potential as any; now imagine that your mother is in prison – and feeling like no one else can possibly understand what that’s like. When a girl’s mother is in prison, there is something significant missing from her life. Disturbingly, studies show that children of incarcerated parents are among the most at-risk, yet least visible, populations of children. GEM supports girls with incarcerated mothers, but I also want to see a world with fewer people in their position – a world with less incarceration overall, and more alternatives to keep mothers and daughters together. Sentencing reform is one piece of that puzzle, and one we should all be supporting today.
On Thursday, Bread for the World is delivering a Mother’s Day Card with over 4,100 signatures to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary Committee. He decides which criminal justice bills move forward and which ones don’t.
Thanks to everyone who signed the card and asked Sen. Grassley to allow sentencing reform to advance in the Judiciary Committee.
Brittany K. Byrd is a corporate attorney in Dallas, Tex. and founder of Girls Embracing Mother, a non-profit dedicated to empowering the lives of girls with mothers in prison.
Photo inset: Brittany K. Byrd. Photo courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
By Jennifer Gonzalez
President Obama spoke yesterday during the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The panel discussion was sponsored by several faith-based and nonprofit organizations including Bread for the World and the Circle of Protection. Bread President Rev. David Beckmann attended the event as well as other Bread staff members from the Church Relations and Government Relations departments.
The following are excerpts of President Obama’s comments during the panel discussion:
“I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do. The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.”
On the effects of the free market:
“We don’t dispute that the free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history -- it has lifted billions of people out of poverty. We believe in property rights, rule of law, so forth. But there has always been trends in the market in which concentrations of wealth can lead to some being left behind. And what’s happened in our economy is that those who are doing better and better -- more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages -- are withdrawing from sort of the commons -- kids start going to private schools; kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks. An anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together. And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there’s less opportunity for our kids, all of our kids.”
On bridging gaps:
“I think that we are at a moment -- in part because of what’s happened in Baltimore and Ferguson and other places, but in part because a growing awareness of inequality in our society -- where it may be possible not only to refocus attention on the issue of poverty, but also maybe to bridge some of the gaps that have existed and the ideological divides that have prevented us from making progress.
On the church and faith-based organizations:
“I think that faith-based groups across the country and around the world understand the centrality and the importance of this issue in an intimate way -- in part because these faith-based organizations are interacting with folks who are struggling and know how good these people are, and know their stories, and it's not just theological, but it's very concrete. They’re embedded in communities and they’re making a difference in all kinds of ways.”
“And there’s noise out there, and there’s arguments, and there’s contention. And so people withdraw and they restrict themselves to, what can I do in my church, or what can I do in my community? And that's important. But our faith-based groups I think have the capacity to frame this -- and nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that he’s had that this is vital to who we are. This is vital to following what Jesus Christ, our Savior, talked about.”
Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.
The earned income tax credit gave Heather Rude-Turner an opportunity to move her family out of poverty. Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.
By Robin Stephenson
For many Americans, neither elections nor taxes are relished topics of conversation, but both are inevitable, and both affect hunger.
Income inequality in the United States and the social fury seen in Baltimore has put tax reform center stage in the national dialogue. Several of the presidential hopefuls are already taking positions. During a January forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.) all agreed that income inequality was an urgent issue, although they split on how to modify tax policy as a solution.
For the faithful, tax policies matter because they are part of the equation that ensures governments have the adequate resources to fund priorities. Low-income tax credits help bridge the income gap in both the short and long term. Bread for the World recommends the earned income tax credit (EITC) be made permanent at its current level.
In 2013, about 28 million taxpayers benefited from the EITC, a refundable credit available to low-income workers; the majority of beneficiaries are families with children. The average return is a little over $2,000, and the tax credit moves more children out of poverty than any other government program. Studies also show that children who benefit from refundable tax credits do better in school, attend college at higher rates, and earn more pay as adults.
Candidates should support strong tax credits for low-income working families as one step toward a hunger-free future and reducing the equality gap.
Whoever sits in the Oval Office after the 2016 elections will influence our nation’s tax policy and the future of low-income tax credits - as will the members of Congress who become the arbitrators of any policy change. Bread intends to engage candidates on issues like these before newly elected members take their seats in 2017.
“We are gearing up our 2016 elections work because so much is at stake,” said Stephen Hill, senior organizer for elections at Bread. “If we want lawmakers that make ending a hunger a priority, then voters must make it clear that is what they expect.”
Hill went on to point out that we are at a turning point in history and people of faith have a critical role to play. “We have all the tools to end hunger. But more than that, we have a moral imperative to act,” Hill said. “When it comes to building the political will, the voices of people who follow the example of Jesus to care for the hungry are vital if we want to build a more equitable future for everyone.”
Hill is currently seeking advocates who want to engage in election work, especially in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Virginia. If you are interested, email Stephen Hill to learn more about how you can make hunger a priority in the 2016 elections.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
By Beth Ann Saracco
If you have a garden, you are probably enjoying flowers or are seeing green shoots this spring. In Washington, D.C., the seeds you planted with your advocacy through Bread for the World are also taking root and growing.
Just last week, the Senate introduced S. 1252, The Global Food Security Act. This legislation makes permanent the U.S.’s food security program, Feed the Future. It also calls for a first-ever comprehensive U.S. strategy to address hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.
Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.R. 1567, the Global Food Security Act, a companion bill to S. 1252. This was no small feat, and thanks to you and other Bread members, our advocacy continues to push these bipartisan bills forward in the legislative process. Now, with a bill also introduced in the Senate, not only are these seeds taking root, but we can also envision the fruit they will soon bear.
These acts could improve the livelihoods of over 500 million small-scale farmers in the world, many of whom are women. The legislation’s efforts to address nutrition among mothers and children will help the U.S. achieve its goal to end preventable child deaths, almost half of which are caused by malnutrition.
Feed the Future is already successful. In 2013 alone, more than seven million smallholder farmers grew more food, and more than 12.5 million children received nutrition interventions.
However, Feed the Future is currently not a permanent program. In order to ensure it continues beyond the current administration, Congress needs to pass the Global Food Security Act, and the president must sign it into law. Call your U.S. senators today, and ask them to cosponsor S. 1252. Let’s bring our advocacy efforts to fruition!
Beth Ann Saracco is a senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World.
By Bread Staff
In September, Pope Francis will make his first visit to the U.S. He will meet with President Obama and address a joint session of Congress. He will then travel to New York to speak at the United Nations. His presentation will be a part of the deliberations that will seek consensus on new international goals for ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.
The pope's trip to the U.S. and his advocacy for a global commitment to end hunger reflect recurring themes of his papacy. From the beginning, and even in his choice for his name as pope, he has sought to bring about a "poor church for the poor." He has also challenged other leaders in the church to be "ministers of mercy." In praising a book by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Mercy: the Essence of the Gospel and the Key to the Christian Life, Pope Francis has said that "mercy changes everything; it changes the world by making it less cold and more fair."
In a recent interview in Commonweal magazine, Cardinal Kasper explains, "... the Latin term misericordia means mercy. Misericordia means having a heart for the poor — poor in a large sense, not only material poverty, but also relational poverty, spiritual poverty, cultural poverty ... "
Cardinal Kasper continues, "But mercy is also not opposed to justice. Justice is the minimum we are obliged to do to the other to respect him as a human being — to give him what he must have. But mercy is the maximum — it goes beyond justice ... Mercy is the fulfillment of justice because what people need is not only formal recognition but love."
This intersection of mercy, justice, and love is at the heart of Bread for the World's work. Only as we are grounded in God's love in Jesus Christ can we persist in urging our nation's leaders to fund specific measures to end hunger by 2030.
The Lutheran theologian Edward Schroeder characterizes the good news that the "kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:1-15) as the announcement by Jesus of "a new mercy management system." Jesus offers a new way of living in which people don't get what they deserve — including death — but rather forgiveness and new life (Mark 2:5). In the Gospels, the authority (in Greek, both authorization and power) for this new mercy management system is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We hear that good news in first sentences of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."
Bread has invited all of us to increase our commitment to pray, act, and give. From that wellspring, we press our nation's decision makers to join other nations in ending hunger once and for all. In this work, we draw strength and purpose from God's mercy that fills us with joy each day. Born anew through the water of our baptisms and nourished by the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, we share the joy of Zechariah in Luke's Gospel (1:78-79):
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
By Margaret Tran
About a hundred people from nonprofit organizations and churches in New York put pen to paper last month and wrote letters to their member of Congress, urging them to reauthorize the child nutrition bill.
Bread for the World and Catholic Charities of New York organized an Offering of Letters at St. Peter’s Church and New York Catholic Youth Day, both in Yonkers, and at St. Cecilia’s Church in East Harlem. Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland County in Haverstraw plans to host one in the future.
It is vital that Congress hears from their constituents, especially since over 16 million children in the U.S. don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.
This fall, the legislation that funds child nutrition programs will expire. The bill funds five major programs: National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Program. These programs serve roughly 40 million adults and children nationwide.
New York high school students were busy during New York Catholic Youth Day. They were simultaneously involved in a Feeding Our Neighbors food drive and an Offering of Letters. The students and their youth group leaders donated hundreds of pounds of food to local pantries and wrote letters to members of Congress, urging them to support the child nutrition programs.
Youth groups were eager to write letters since they personally know students who struggle with hunger and depend on school meals every day as their only source of nutrition. Leaders were eager to have their entire parish act to end hunger, planning to take what they learned that day back home to encourage a parish-wide Offering of Letters.
At St. Peter’s, our message of advocacy was translated into Spanish. Parishioners learned about child hunger during our presentation at Plaza, a social gathering area after Spanish mass where parishioners sell home-cooked lunches. While their children played nearby, the parents were inspired to write letters after hearing that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. struggle with hunger. Father Jose Felix Ortega, priest at St. Peter’s, blessed all the letters during mass the following Sunday before they were sent to Congress.
The senior leaders of the various ministry groups at St. Cecilia’s also participated in an Offering of Letters. After huddling to pray over the letters with Father Peter Mushi, the leaders were empowered to lead an Offering of Letters for their respective ministry groups in the coming weeks. Flor Abad, case manager for Catholic Charities Community Services at St. Cecilia’s, said she was pleased that all the leaders were enthusiastic about advocacy since so many in the community are struggling.
“At St. Cecilia’s food pantry, I see families in need. I hear people who have 5, 6, 7 children in the house and don’t have food,” Abad said.
Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland County (CCCSR) will host a future Offering of Letters that will engage youth from county parishes to write letters to Congress. The goal will be ambitious – 1,000 letters ahead of CCCSR’s annual September hunger awareness action event.
“Policies and community efforts to increase access and provide education and resources is needed. Our goal is to build a greater sense of community awareness and build an advocacy group to end hunger,” said Martha Robles, executive director of CCCSR.
Margaret Tran is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo inset: Guadalupe Merino, a St. Cecilia parishioner, writes a letter to Congress, while her daughter, Joyce Merino, takes a nap in her arms. Margaret Tran/Bread for the World.
“Stopping childhood hunger one summer at a time,” by Kayla Conboy, ABC7News. “Snack Pak 4 Kids is a local organization that sends hungry school children home with nutritious snacks. The non-profit organization, which is working to put an end to childhood hunger in the panhandle, said they will be sending food home to over 2,000 students every Friday this summer. Officials say that number has nearly tripled since the first "stop summer hunger" program four years ago.”
“Retired teacher’s project battles hunger,” by Elizabeth Bloom, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Carol McCaskey was working at the concessions stand for the Deer Lakes baseball team when she learned about a North Hills school district program that provided food for economically disadvantaged students to bring home over the weekend.”
“The War on Poverty Gets a Bum Rap,” by Pat Garofalo, U.S. News & World Report. “The riots last week in Baltimore have given conservatives ample opportunity to take a whack at liberal anti-poverty policies, thanks to the bevy of staggering statistics regarding the economic struggles of a city that has been in Democratic hands for decades. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, for instance, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an extremely likely 2016 candidate, wrote, 'We have spent trillions of dollars in the War on Poverty, and poverty not only persists, it is as intractable as ever. This represents a broken promise. And it feeds the anger of Baltimore.'"
“With Child Hunger on the Rise, Food Bank Collaborates With Schools to Feed Families,” by Kenneth Estelle, The Huffington Post. “According to Feeding America's newly released Map the Meal Gap report, the percentage of food-insecure children in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula increased from 20.2 percent in 2012 to 20.4 percent in 2013, meaning that nearly 114,000 kids who should be concentrating on homework are instead worrying about where their next meal will come from.”
“Roberts determined to rewrite child nutrition law,” by Philip Brasher, Agri-Pulse. “Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said he's intent on enacting a new child nutrition law by Sept. 30, giving schools more flexibility in meeting standards for school meals. But Roberts acknowledged the battle he faces in rewriting the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that authorized the Agriculture Department to raise meal requirements and regulate foods sold in school vending machines.”
“Yemen’s children at immediate risk of severe malnutrition as fighting continues,” by UN News Centre. “More children in Yemen are at risk of dying from hunger and lack of health services than from bombs and bullets, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today amid ongoing fighting across the Gulf country.”
“Hunger Causes World’s Worst Child Death in Oil-Rich Angola,” by Colin McClelland and Manuel Soque, Bloomberg Business. “Angola is by far the richest country among African countries with the highest child mortality, with gross national income per capita of $5,170 in 2013, according to the World Bank. Nigeria, which pumped 2.1 million barrels of oil a day in March compared with Angola’s 1.84 million, earned $2,710 per person two years ago. In Somalia income per person is just $150. The figures for Chad, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone are all less than a fifth of Angola’s wealth.”
Editor’s note: This is a first-person account of a mother directly affected by incarceration. Her guest blog post was possible through a partnership between Bread for the World and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
By Stephanie Nodd
I’ll be spending Mother’s Day this year with my daughter, who is five months pregnant. Seeing her excitement over having a baby takes me back to when I was pregnant with her, under very different circumstances. I was 23 years old, and I had just been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for a non-violent drug offense.
I started selling drugs when my children’s father started using them, in an effort to provide for my family. I didn’t look at it as harming people back then—now I deeply regret it, of course, but at the time, I wasn’t working and all I knew was that I needed to take care of my kids somehow.
The day I was convicted, I had just dropped my older boys off at school, for the first day of school. I kept looking back; I couldn’t go. I was crying—I just had a feeling that I was going to be away from them for a long time.
When the judge gave me 30 years, it was like a dream, a joke. I couldn’t believe it—I had never been in trouble before, and I was only involved in selling drugs for a month. I never imagined I’d receive so much time. Once the reality hit me, the first thing I thought about was what would happen to my children.
I was fortunate—I had a network of people to care for my four boys and my daughter, after she was born. They made sure I saw my kids and that I talked to them every day—I could hear them laugh and play and know that they were being cared for. I had friends who were also serving harsh sentences who hadn’t talked to their children in years and didn’t even know where they were.
In prison, when Mother’s Day came around, I would just work a lot—sometimes I’d even volunteer for food service, preparing the holiday meal just to stay busy and keep my mind off of it. You’d see girls in their beds with their heads covered up, just wanting that day to go by. What kept me going was my kids and God.
Now that I’m home, Mother’s Day is totally different. I might go out to eat, I’m able to visit my own mother’s grave, and I spend time with my children—things that I couldn’t do during the years I was incarcerated. Mostly on Mother’s Day, I think of friends who are still in prison, missing their mothers and their children, and I just feel thankful that I’m home. It means so much to be home.
Our sentencing laws don’t just punish mothers, they also punish their children. We need to reform mandatory minimum sentences so that mothers and children aren’t separated for the bulk of their lives.
Bread is sending a Mother's Day card to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the powerful chair of the Judiciary Committee. He decides which criminal justice bills move forward and which ones don’t. Sign the card and ask Sen. Grassley to allow sentencing reform to advance in the Judiciary Committee.
Stephanie Nodd served 21 years of a 30-year sentence for her involvement in a crack cocaine conspiracy—she was released in 2011 after reforms to crack cocaine sentencing laws shortened her sentence. In addition to working full time, she continues to speak out against mandatory minimums and the toll they take on families. She lives in Mobile, Ala.
Photo inset: Stephanie Nodd. Photo courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
By Robin Stephenson
Renowned anti-hunger crusader and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern says he loves Feed the Future, a U.S.-led initiative that combats hunger and malnutrition and improves global food security.
Three-year-old Tunda Ramiya is a living testament to what the program can do.
Tunda was born in Tanzania’s Morogoro region. Forty-four percent of children in Morogoro under age five are chronically malnourished, robbing them of normal cognitive and bodily development. But Tunda is thriving.
Feed the Future gave her mother the resources and knowledge to ensure Tunda - and the rest of her family - eats a healthy and nutritious diet.
There are roughly 165 million children worldwide who deserve the same opportunity as Tunda. Instead, these children grow up stunted and will never reach their full potential.
“Hunger is a political condition,” McGovern said in a recent interview about the program’s efficacy. “I mean, we have all the ingredients and know how to end it,” he said. “What we haven’t had in the past is the political will to put it all together and actually implement a plan. Feed the Future is the first big step in that direction.”
Feed the Future is the first-ever comprehensive U.S. food security strategy to address hunger and malnutrition in developing countries and take a holistic approach to ending hunger.
Since the successful program was created in 2009, it has depended on the good will of Congress for a yearly appropriation. By authorizing (making permanent) Feed the Future, further gains will be made in improving the livelihoods of these smallholder farmers, strengthening maternal and child nutrition, and building capacity for long-term agricultural growth.
In other words, we need to make it a law.
Last month, the Global Food Security Act – the legislation that would make the program codified into law – passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (H.R. 1567).
The bill got one step closer to becoming law yesterday. U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Johnny Isakson (R- Ga.) introduced the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (S. 1252) last night in the Senate.
Read more in Bread for the World's statement to the press released earlier today: Bread for the World Applauds Introduction of Global Food Security Act in Senate
Take Action: Call your senators TODAY (800-826-3688). Urge them to co-sponsor the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252) to improve global food security and better combat chronic hunger and malnutrition!
Photo: Tunda and her family. Africare via Feed the Future
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.
One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray more, act more, and give more. In this blog series, we will provide a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.
We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.
We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.
For the week of May 10-16: Kenya and Tanzania
Loving God, often times we focus on what we lack, and forget to count the richness of life and the beauty that abounds around us. We thank you for the richness of life and beauty of the land of Kenya—its diversity, its culture, its glorious landscape, but most importantly, its people. We give you thanks for the great spirit of hospitality and generosity, especially toward their neighboring nations.
In a special way, we pray for all those who have sought and found refuge in Kenya’s embracing and loving arms. May you foster peace, understanding, and wisdom that your children may continue to co-exist as they have always done. We pray for the healing of hearts that recently experienced the senseless loss of loved ones in the Garissa terror attack. Protect all who still live in fear and guide those who plan such horrific acts against their brothers and sisters.
Grant wisdom and vision to the leaders of this great country, that they may lead your people selflessly. Bind the broken, heal the wounded and enrich its land that it may bear much more fruit to sufficiently nourish its people.
We ask this through Christ our Risen Lord, Amen
Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):
Kenya: Not available
Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the new 2015 Hunger Report.
Prayer is a central part of Bread for the World’s work. To learn more about how you can get involved with prayer at Bread, please go here.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.