Jim McGreevey’s new mission with Exodus Transitional Community
Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who riveted the nation when he came out as a gay American in 2004, is now the symbol of fallen Governors. When Eliot Spitzer stepped down from the New York governorship in the midst of his own sex scandal, Spitzer and his wife were even charged with copying the McGreeveys’ fashion (it is uncanny).
The comparisons between Spitzer and McGreevey were apt, since they were both active Democratic politicians in neighboring states around the same time, both were frequently mentioned as strong Presidential contenders, and both of their sex scandals were seen as hubris personified.
“I’m filled with a sense of pain and anguish for him and for his family,” McGreevey said in an interview. “I think it was a very human moment.”
I have known Jim McGreevey since 2007, when I photographed him as part of my public art project that Wikipedia hosts. At the time I was attending Saint Bartholomew’s in Manhattan on one of my many failed quests to find spirituality. St. Bart’s also happened to be where McGreevey, his partner Mark O’Donnell and his daughter Jacqueline attended service. One day I approached him to ask if I could do his portrait. He still possessed the boyish good looks and charm that were evident even at the height of his scandal.
However, he possessed more than that: he also displayed humility and an inner peace. He is in a healthy, happy relationship with Mark as he studies to become an Episcopal priest. He is giving back to others who have made mistakes, often because they were caught up in the circumstances of their lives.
Gay people mostly forgave McGreevey for his affair when it came to light five years ago. We are well aware of the many ludicrous situations that occur because men, particularly in McGreevey’s generation, have been forced to live their lives in the closet. That he is living such an honorable and giving life freed from the shame of the closet is testament to the real Jim McGreevey.
McGreevey volunteers at Exodus MinistriesTransitional Community at the Church of Living Hope in East Harlem, New York, which tries to help newly-released prisoners learn life skills and handle the significant challenges that ex-convicts face. It’s not just job-hunting. One of the photographs below shows Jim helping one young man figure out how to set up a free e-mail account on Yahoo. With limited access to computers, the guy had no idea how to do this. This is not atypical. We take this kind of knowledge for granted, assuming everyone knows how to set up free e-mail. They don’t.
The gifts that McGreevey brings to these formerly-incarcerated men and women are vast. He still retains many of the contacts and friendships in government that he had when he was Governor, which has been a Godsend to a program that needs state assistance to function. McGreevey knows how the system works; he knows resources that are available to these people; and he is gifted with an ability to teach and reach them.
Many of these men and women don’t know who McGreevey is; they were not exactly following politics before their imprisonment. Nevertheless, it was obvious that they sensed in Jim that he knows tremendous mistakes, and he knows how to overcome them.
Of course, the tabloids, the Mark Sanfords and the Larry Craigs of the world will probably never forgive him. But who cares. Certainly not the men in these photos below, who see the same McGreevey that I see, and not the caricature who exists in the pages of the press.
UPDATE: The correct name is Exodus Transitional Community. There is a Dallas-based group named Exodus Ministries that does prisoner rehabilitation as well (You may remember Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers served on the Dallas group’s board, which was mistakenly thought to be the ex-gay group Exodus International). I was told they are affiliated with Dallas, but then later told that they are not.
Alvin Williams, one of Exodus’ intake counselors, talks to newly-released men about readjusting to life outside of prison, and the services that Exodus has to offer them.
McGreevey talks to the young men about life skills and how to re-engage society.
McGreevey and an Exodus counselor help a young man set up a free e-mail account. Many of these people have challenges, such as lack of access to computers, that many of us can not fathom.