Civic Duty

The Civic-Duty Initiative (CDI) is a volunteer movement that helps the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated to give back to the low-income urban neighborhoods they once helped to tear down.

CDI’s online interactive community connects people in this population with community groups and faith-based organizations so that they can work together to solve the problems that plague the areas they all call home.

The organizations post volunteer opportunities by clicking on “Post Your Civic-Duty Volunteer Opportunities.” The formerly incarcerated and the incarcerated (through their loved ones and supporters) select one or more, contact the respective organizations, take the necessary action and get the job done.

The Civic-Duty Initiative:

  • Believes that those who are or were in prison are stakeholders in their respective communities and have an obligation to participate in rebuilding them.
  • Trusts that, working together, community organizations and people with prison in their backgrounds can help to renew those neighborhoods that are most affected by crime, drugs, poverty and violence.
  • Knows that the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated have myriad skills that can be used for the greater good, from program development, research and life coaching, to event planning, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution and non-traditional approaches to deterring gang violence and criminal activity.
  • Works to dispel the myth that currently and formerly incarcerated persons have no redeeming value, and to demonstrate that they can be “givers” instead of “takers.” Not only can they change, but they can serve as agents of change.

The Civic-Duty Initiative Story

In July 2009, William Holmes was asked to develop a social awareness seminar for the Lifers and Long-Termers Committee at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, where he is incarcerated. He enlisted the help of Joseph Robinson, and they settled on the theme, “The State of Our Community, 2009: A Call to Civic Duty.” Holmes saw the potential for a nationwide movement in which the incarcerated would give back—a movement launched by the incarcerated themselves.

In March 2010, Stanley Bellamy and Bruce Bryan joined Robinson and Holmes in establishing the Civic-Duty Initiative Group at Sullivan, to encourage the incarcerated to volunteer their time and talents in working with outside organizations in order to help transform poor urban neighborhoods into vibrant communities.

Later that year, the group launched two paradigm-shifting projects. One was the first-ever New York State Prisoners’ Gun Buy-Back Program. After hearing about the efforts of the Rev. Charles Muller to take illegal guns off the streets of Albany, NY, the CDI Group raised nearly $400 from incarcerated men’s ‘ meager wages for Rev. Muller’s gun buy-back program. Rev. Muller said that the Sullivan effort was the first gun buy-back program started by the incarcerated that he’d heard of anywhere in the United States. Under his “Put It Down” program, each person who turns in a gun receives a $150 gift certificate.

The second project was organized in response to high rates of illiteracy and crime in Newburgh, N.Y. The Group collected more than 500 books and 70 magazines from Sullivan’s incarcerated men and donated them to the Rev. Pat Thomas of Newburgh’s Repairer of the Breach Ministries.