Uncertain Futures for Ex-Offenders

DATELINE: A r l i n g t o n

Gradler Family, OAR and Mary

By Harry M Covert

Mary Ulrich

Consider the plight of men and women released from Virginia prisons. They have satisfied their so-called debt to society.

A vast majority of them are without family, without friends, without any money and no chance for jobs.

Recently, a man finished 30 years of incarceration. A bus ticket took him to Arlington in late afternoon. Stepping off the vehicle, he was astounded by what he saw. Three decades of imprisonment left him in awe, panic and genuine fear.

Another case points to Mary Ulrich, a native born Virginian, now in her mid-40s, whose jail life began at age 12 when an uncle introduced her to drugs. Further family abuse from a brother in her teenage years led to a horrific lifestyle of physical and mental pain, drug abuse and incarceration.

There are hundreds of other similar stories. They aren’t pretty either. Fortunately this is where Arlington-based Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) has stepped up and taken the lead in a difficult task but one where results are powerful and long-standing.

Dr. Gail Arnall is executive director of OAR. Under her leadership there are many success stories. The following shows how ex-

Dr. Gail Arnall

offenders begin finding their way back into society and communities.

People such as Geoffrey Gradler, his wife Rebecca and their church became valuable to the continuing work of OAR. The Gradlers are not publicity seekers for their good works. They are sincere in their efforts with Cherrydale Baptist Church, not far from the Arlington Courthouse to show time and love, where they are active in leadership and a study group.

“Part of the (church) exercise was linking up with OAR to show time and love,” Gradler said. By participating with OAR “clients,” Gradler said “we fed them, listened and helped them, if we knew how to.”

OAR has a distinguished record of 40 years and the task grows greater every day. OAR clients, volunteers and community leaders (including judges and elected officeholders participated in OAR’s “Second Chance” Fundraising breakfast.

This story is about how Mary, suffering from serious liver disease, and just how she is still on the road to recovery and re-introduction into northern Virginia’s community.

The Gradlers “helped her get on her feet a bit.” Mary helped rehabilitate herself with an interest in flowers and plants, “horticulture.”

Despite the fact her brother knocked out her teeth and broke her jaw, Mary is not bitter, according to Gradler.

Helpful Family, Good Church, Happy Life

Helping ex-offenders is never an easy job and most likely continues. The Gradlers and Cherrydale Baptist Church encouraged Mary to attend services regularly. She does on an intermittent basis.

Geoffrey Gradler

Mary wondered if the Gradlers and church members would welcome her because of her past life.

Gradler said. “Mary made it easy (for us) to help her. She’s a sweet lady, always nice. She feels like she owes her life to the Lord.”

From a life of drugs, jail, abuse and pain, finding friends and opportunities are more than difficult.

For over 18 months the Gradlers have been working with OAR, bringing numerous ex-offenders to their home for lunches and dinners, mostly for fun.

“People have come out of their shells,” he said. “It’s sort of crazy but really wonderful.”

The Gradlers try to “do practical things” with Mary and other OAR clients.

When they first invited Mary to their home she was treated to scones and espresso with Rebecca and two daughters.

“She had never seen a family together and how we enjoyed one another,” he said. Since then, Mary has received glasses (spectacles), a motorized scooter to help her travel around the community, had her teeth fixed, helped with her self-esteem and is attending community college.

The Gradlers arranged for an Arlington dentist to fix her teeth. “She wasn’t an average case,” Gradler said, and the doctor provided all of the services free of charge.

There is a genuine result from such volunteer work.

“We could have done nothing,” Gradler said. “She’s doing well and doesn’t want to go back to prison. There is a gap between need and what we can do.”

Seems like OAR and the Gradler family have found the way to fill the gap. They put themselves in the breach. A life service of monumental proportions.◄

An earlier version of the story appeared in the Arlington Connection.