A Prisoner's Re-Entry is Just the Beginning
Prioners Served Their Time, Then They're Released and Find Out What Hard Time Is
Help For Ex-Convicts Is Essential
When an inmate is released from prison, that’s all that happens. They let the released prisoners out the door and often there’s nobody outside waiting for them and they’re given a list of shelters to go to. They also have a list of transition assistance programs, but that doesn't help them at that moment. They may not even be familiar with the city where they’ve been released, they‘re broke and alone. Getting out of prison is tough.
Churches help with inmate reentry some, offering food and faith-based counsel and offender housing, and some are interdenominational or nondenominational; they don’t really care who paroled inmates worship as long as they pray and live life accordingly. It’s a system that’s been working for a long time as they teach state inmates a new way of looking at life, and it changes the way people think and act, making them productive members of society again.
There’s one small problem. There’s not enough help from programs for ex-convicts to have someone waiting outside the gate for every federal prison inmates' release. If they go off alone, they are easily lost and often feel they have to resort to crimes to get what they need. They rely on what they already know to get cash for food and shelter, bringing them back to jail. An ex offender needs someone there as they walk out the gate, and some churches like to start a year before the release date because (as studies indicate) it cuts recidivism by two-thirds.
Hiring Felons and Housing for Ex-Convicts
Some felony offenders will go to the people they know, too, and it’s not a good influence for them to be around. Sadly, the offenders often have to stop current and past friendships and relationships in order to get away from the life they used to live when they were arrested. Released inmates need to be in a place with only positive influences and practices and that includes zero tolerance for substance abuse. There’s what they call ‘the revolving door’, or the 3 Rs; release, re-offense and re-arrest. Studies show that a third of all prisoners released are back in prison within the first three years of their release.
There’s also a small percentage of those released from prison that had very long sentences (20+ years) that have fears about their release. Once they’re out that gate, it’s all up to them, and some are afraid they won’t be able to make it. Immediately, all their food, shelter and work have to be gotten by the offender and it can be pretty scary. Some, sadly, will even commit intentional crimes and get caught so they can return to the only life they can remember and be totally taken care of as department of corrections inmates.. Life on the outside may be free, but it’s hard.
Having someone be there at the gate, a face they already know, gives them a much better chance to become productive citizens again. Plus, churches like that often have a list of resources to share with the person released from prison.
Reentry Programs Need to Start on the Inside
A church called Prison Fellowships tries to be there a year before prisoner release and help them through all the processes they need to take care of, and guide them and be there for moral support at all times. But, there’s only a handful of states that have Prison Fellowships organizations in them, even though the ministry is working at having programs in all 50 states.
As mentioned before, Prison Fellowships tries to be there a year before release and during that time they will minister to the prisoner, help them with letters to family or other organizations and general offender reentry (to society) behaviors.
Seeing a face they recognize on the walk out the door and through the gate is a big comfort to men and women being released. Many inmates have been cast out by family and friends have moved on with their lives, so they are truly alone. These are the ones that can get lost too easily, so Prison Fellowships tries to be there to help correctional inmates with questions every released prisoners has, like, where will I go? How will I get there? What will I do?
Since Prison Fellowships can’t be everywhere, they’re spending a lot of time and money on recruiting, training and mobilizing churches and volunteers. They need churches who will minister to the prison’s population, ex-prisoners and prisoner's families, and start up reentry facilities across the US.
Ex-Offenders Housing, Employment, and Church are Needed
Depending on what their crime was, some ex-cons have severe restrictions on what they can do on the outside. Sex offenders can’t rent apartments in housing that also allows children to live there. They can’t have a job anywhere children regularly go, and they can‘t go to a regular church because children attend; it greatly affects their freedom and what they can and can’t do.
The offenders are not the only ones who suffered because of the offender’s crime. When someone goes to jail, every life that touches theirs is affected (including the victims), and it seems as if they all get punished, too. For instance, someone who’s the provider of a household with children gets arrested and serves time, and the whole family is suddenly left high and dry, sometimes without food or blankets, a home, or other necessity. They all suffer.
At the other end of that extreme is the offender who goes home to a family and suddenly is soaked with responsibilities that will be tough to meet. If the offender doesn’t know about resources available to them, they could be part of that one third that can’t stay out of prison, so it’s important to get word to them.
Employment for Felons and Ex-Offenders Housing
One major hurtle to a convict is finding housing. At first offenders often go to shelters or halfway houses until they can get on their feet. People in the community of these houses don’t want them there, they cry out the potential dangers for their families and children. The truth is, those guys do not want to go back to prison; they follow the rules and care about the roof over their heads; living outside isn’t an option. Rules in such housing are strict, and anyone not following them is kicked out, making the area safer from that particular danger, so neighbors can relax. And, prisoners tend to support each other’s journey toward goals, they do not share crime secrets and make destructive plans together. Plus nobody wants to be the guy that couldn’t make it, so there’s a new kind of peer pressure that has beneficial results.
Addiction and Federal Prison Inmates
Jails and prisons are rife with addicts and alcholics. Many of the crimes are committed while the offender was high, or to enable them to get high or sell drugs. An Oklahoma 1998 study says that 70% of all Oklahoma prison populations report abusing substances at lease once in their lives. That’s a huge percentage for any population.
The incarcerated addict’s freedom is affected greatly by alcoholism or substance abuse and they’re required to take classes that teach living substance free, a 12-step or other program toward cessation of substance abuse and usually group therapy sessions, too. A released addict needs to be aware of the programs available to them and if left on their own, they almost always relapse.
There are many ways in which someone can extend a hand to help an ex-con, whether it’s a house for women to live in or a small cash donation to the programs that help them. The help is often for helping more than just the offender; it could be helping a family affected by the incarceration of their providing parent to get school clothes or help to pay their rent.
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