Janice Liggins, 52, has lived in Bowie her entire life, but said she was ready to leave Prince George’s County a few years ago. She was disappointed by a lack of community pride and discipline.
In 2010, Liggins toured a maximum security prison as part of a state program. She encountered men who inspired her to stay in the county. Now, she dedicates herself to preventing young men from ending up behind bars.
“I was so blind,” Liggins said. “I couldn’t tell you where a [prison] was located and I was very proud of that because that meant that world did not touch my world. But guess what? Pride is blinding. I was blind to what was going on in my own cultural community.”
Of the 1,259 men currently incarcerated at the Prince George’s County Correctional Facility in Upper Marlboro, 85 percent are black and more than half likely will commit felonies within a year of release and be re-incarcerated, said Yolonda Evans, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections.
Of the 22,000 people currently incarcerated in state correctional facilities in Maryland, 71.5 percent are black and 27.6 percent are white, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Vernarelli said those ratios have remained steady for at least a decade.
To change this pattern, in 2011, Liggins founded The Clarion Call, a nonprofit organization aimed at breaking the so-called “cradle-to-prison pipeline.” It connects families with nonprofits that help with anything from education to legal advice.
For example, a mother living in the county had a 14-year-old son facing jail time on charges of drug possession with intent to distribute, Liggins said.
The mother called Liggins, who connected her with a Forestville-based nonprofit, Take Charge Juvenile Diversion Program Inc., which focuses on keeping youths out of the juvenile detention system. The nonprofit worked to reduce the teen’s sentence to 30 hours of community service, she said.
“A lot of families don’t even realize nonprofits are in existence. The solution they need is right around the corner,” she said. “If parents don’t take proactive measures for their children, they will get caught in that pipeline.”
So far, she said, The Clarion Call — named after a Biblical term meaning “an assignment” or “call to action” — has helped dozens of Prince George’s families.
Liggins, who also runs her own marketing business in Bowie, got her first taste of the prison world in 2010. That year, she enrolled in Leadership Maryland, a yearlong program that exposes state and community leaders to state issues by taking them on tours, including one at a maximum security prison in Cumberland, she said.
She spoke to three inmates, who regretted their past choices and urged others to stay out of trouble, she said.
“I thought, ‘It’s kind of late for that conversation.’ That conversation needs to happen well in advance, so they don’t end up there. So The Clarion Call seeks to do just that,” she said.
The Clarion Call hosts a television show that showcases two local nonprofits each month, Liggins said. The show, also called The Clarion Call, airs on Prince George’s County Community TV on Channel 76 for Comcast and Channel 42 for Verizon.
Liggins said her nonprofit relies solely on private and corporate donations. She hopes to one day expand nationwide.
“I think I’m meant to stay here. If I had gone, I would have missed my assignment,” she said. “Now, I’m grateful to be here.”