The Inaugural Prince George’s County Returning Citizens Summit was one for the books! The event was organized by BJ Paige and Tamika Paige (The Paige Group), and Michael Williams of the Return Citizens Affairs Division, and included a full day of programming for the reentry community. The hosts focused on “Creating Culture” and included two expert panels, engaging speakers, and local vendors and organizations.
Held at the Prince George’s Community College Center for Performing Arts, the event was well attended with a full docket of presentations. Those in attendance included over 350 returning citizens, their families, community leaders, and county organizations looking to provide resources and support to those in reentry in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Flikshop’s Relationship Manager, Rev. Dr. Sylvia Bullock said, “There was an air in the room of unity, a sense of purpose. A sense of community was present to say that we are in this space together, to encourage and help one another and to collaborate. There was just an air of togetherness. It was a special day.”
The summit, hosted by Autumn Joi and Joe Clair, was emceed by Wallo267. The program included two panels – one from the perspective of the county and its developments in the reentry space – and one from the voices of those with lived experience and returning citizens in the Prince George’s community.
The panel moderated by Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Carolyn Scruggs, showcased innovative steps Prince George’s County was taking in the reentry space and considered how community administration can continue to be thoughtful about reentry. This panel spoke to the county’s collaboration with attendees who had returned to the community or ran organizations within the reentry space.
Flikshop CEO & Founder Marcus Bullock shared, “Sec. Scruggs outlined how the state of Maryland is being thoughtful about preparing people for release after
prison. By helping obtain social security cards, drivers licenses, they can weave the community into reentry in a beautiful way. This points to the importance of having the Flikshop Neighborhood as a tool and resource.”
Jawanna Hardy moderated the panel featuring the voices of those with lived experience in the criminal justice system. This panel really brought out the humanity and voices of incarcerated people. It was clear this was powerful to the audience.
“It’s important to lead conversations with a humane voice,” Bullock said. “This ensures there’s dignity around the conversation. Both of these panels were amazing. I feel grateful to have been able to bring our Flikshop photobooth to this event to leverage a pathway for folks to put into action what Ms. Hardy and the panel talked about on stage.”
The theme of the summit was centered around storytelling. Ahead of the panels, Dr. Topeka Sam (Founder & CEO/Ladies of Hope Ministries) took the stage. Dr. Sam frequently shares the voices of women who have returned from prison or are still incarcerated. Many times these voices are left out of conversations as most people relate men to incarceration.
Bullock said, “It was clear that BJ and Michael [organizers] brought in a speaker to address issues around women, and it was a perfect fit because LOHM is thoughtful about how to best support women coming home from prison. It’s important to see resource providers and organizations led by women and who have women on their executive teams. It is powerful to hear what can happen when women are in leadership. That was dope.”
continued the theme of storytelling wanting to help inspire returning citizens in the room to hear how mistakes and failures create the stepping stones that can lead towards success. “There’s something around creating spaces for empathy,” Bullock shared, “and I believe storytelling is the best way to deliver around that.”
While stories were being shared on stage, they were also being exchanged in the lobby as vendors and organizations were set up to meet and chat with the returning citizen community. The Flikshop team was present managing the Flikshop Photobooth, which was available for attendees to support men and women currently incarcerated in Maryland. Many individuals stopped by, sparing some time to show love to men and women on the inside who don’t often receive mail.
Sylvia Bullock shared, “People were so engaged! So many seemed to say, ‘why didn't I think of this?’ The idea that this was easy to do was loved by all those who stopped by. We walked people through sending postcards to persons incarcerated and helped them download the Flikshop app on their phone so they could continue to send Flikshop postcards after the event. People were willing to do that without hesitation.”
Our Customer Support team was available to help attendees navigate the process of sending postcards. Erin Smith shared, “One person that I talked with was formerly incarcerated, and recently released. He still had friends on the inside, and wanted to find a way to support them and send a picture to them. He didn’t know how, so we helped him download the app and showed him how to use it so he could stay connected with them.
People were excited to send mail to people who don’t often receive it, and they seemed excited about our mission. We don’t want people to feel forgotten while they are on the inside. The gentleman I mentioned told me that he felt like we actually cared about and that it was genuine, which it is. I’m passionate about our work and felt chills while I was talking to him, knowing I was helping him to be connected.”
“More kinds of these events are really critical for these communities and building awareness, unity and solidarity.” Sylvia Bullock shared, “Prince George’s County did a great job with social media promotion building awareness. I hope to see more events like this outside of
Second Chance Month, as our community would find it both powerful and effective.”
“For me, the best part of the day,” Marcus Bullock shared, “was wrapping up the conference and meeting two men who have a brother who is a returning citizen. They shared that he would have never thought to attend a summit like this which is being led and posted by people just like him. Most returning citizens are relegated to living in the shadows and don’t want to talk about their case again, but as a result of the brothers attending, they couldn’t wait to share with him about the summit and the importance of helping their brother attending the next one.”