7,400 people take part in the Fugitive Safe Surrender phenomenon
A little more than a month ago I witnessed an unexpectedly awesome event at the Mt. Zion Church of Oakwood, Ohio. It was the Fugitive Safe Surrender of 2010.
It is a collaboration of the United States Marshal, Sheriff’s Office, municipal judges, social service agencies, the Bureaus of Motor Vehicles, the Public Defender’s Office, media, and the Clerk of Courts. The Justice Center was brought to the church.
More than 7,400 people took advantage of this opportunity to ‘stop looking over their shoulders’ and to eliminate job barriers.
For those who get hung up on the word “fugitive” –most of the people there were everyday people who had issues with their drivers licenses, child support, or were afraid to approach the intimidating justice system. Many were unable to pay their fines or get to their court date. Yes, there were low level non-violent felonies attending. However, they were outnumbered by the misdemeanors.
There were people of all ages who came in wheel chairs, on canes, and some were pushing baby strollers. Child care was also provided. People brought lunches to help as they waited in line. Then they waited in the church sanctuary to go before a judge and hopefully to get a second chance.
While they waited the people could collect information on housing foreclosures, child support, re-entry, and other services. Onsite HIV testing and physicals were provided. On Saturday, which was the last day, the line went around the church and snaked into one of the four filled parking lots.
I saw courage as the people went through the metal detector to the unknown.
Safe Surrender began in Cleveland 5 years ago at the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. It was a partnership of Rev. C.J. Mathews, United Pastors in Mission, U.S. Marshall Peter Elliot, and eventually Attorney Doug Stein. The Safe Surrender has since been in other cities such as Detroit and Washington D.C. This event has not been back to Cleveland in five years.
As a volunteer I was assigned to the exit. Nothing can replace the experience of seeing the relief in the faces of the people as they walked out of the doors. I talked to a woman who had not driven in 5 years because of a suspended license. Now she can get her license. The Safe Surrender was awesome!