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Opportunities & Resources for Ex-Offenders: 5 Tools for Survival After Release to Avoid Recidivism
Bars Don't Disappear with Release
Committed to Survival-Avoiding Recidivism
Having made some very poor choices in my younger years I know first hand how difficult it is to find a place in the world once deciding to turn around a life derailed. A bout with addiction or romancing Mr. Wrong can send one on a trip to no where, landing in Rehab, the County Jail or much worse. Once you have paid your dues and done your time, the battle has really just begun. Because someone in this situation does not typically possess the life skills or self-esteem to succeed, it is an uphill battle and there simply are not enough resources out there to provide even minimum support. Survival must be an absolute focus and personal mission to avoid the high rate of recidivism and positive guidance is essential.
Unfortunately our society perpetuates the criminal revolving door by further isolating ex-cons: "Do you have any felony convictions? If so please explain." You will, no doubt find these words splashed across everything these days - from job applications to filing a civil lawsuit or doing volunteer work, giving the "ex"-con little hope for ever attaining any sense of normalcy in life. Even if ones' incarceration time was used to reflect, mature and make positive changes in life, there are so many obstacles to overcome and increasingly fewer support services available to assist with re-entry into society. With more and more budget cuts and fewer services to potentially provide guidance and direction to society's newly released offenders, the chances of successfully reintegrating as a productive member of the community are not good.
Don't get me wrong, no one is suggesting that the victims of crime should ever be forgotten...the truth is, most women and the majority of men who are in prison are victims themselves, many are so use to being victimized that they actually do not understand any other way of life and are not aware that the degradation that they have been subjected to since childhood is not normal and that perhaps, they deserve to be treated with respect. How can one respect others and develop a sense of empathy if they have never been loved or treated with respect as a child?
In order to survive out here, the destructive cycle must be broken. Society must understand that some day, most prisoners will be released and if no proactive steps, such as education, job preparation, anger management, and parenting skills, are taken prior to release, then we will indeed continue to warehouse lawbreakers, many who just do not know any other way to live. Unfortunately, this essential support is simply not available to the extent that it should be right now, so one must really be committed to change and make the decision that they want to finally break free of their caged existence - no matter how hard it is; Allowing all the anger and frustration to finally motivate change by re-channeling a lifetime of failure into a spark of hope . Sounds impossible, but the snowball effect will kick in and before long, one success will precede another, salvaging yet another lost life. It can be done with a sincere commitment to change and a strong desire for a better life.
Here are a few tools that will help to motivate survival after release:
- Find someone that you respect, whose life works that you want to emulate and look to them for support - even with the most basic, simple, everyday tasks and decisions. There are sometimes support groups and networks like AA that use this theory in their recovery process.
- If opportunity is not knocking on your door, you may need to get out, be seen, and do volunteer work. Meet people, introduce yourself to a different stranger every day! GET INVOLVED and be part of a solution. Not easy, but there are many places that will welcome what you have to offer, a love of animals, working with plants, building, computers. Passion creates the energy to take action. All you have to do is take that first step out the door, the rest will follow.
- Market what you are good at. I know this is hard, coming from a place where you do not have the ability to make daily decisions for yourself but everyone has strengths! Take a notebook and write down things that you do well. Lately, the focus in life has been on what you have done wrong, not on what you have done right so your list will probably be short at first. Try to think back and remember times when people commented on one of your strengths, and then add it to your list. Soon this list will begin to provide insight into possible occupations, training that you can pursue, etc. Share your talents with others - it may work into a business, maybe not but it will make you feel productive at the very least and give you a better idea of what kind of work to pursue.
- Take a class and learn how to do something new. You just might find your calling, new career or just have fun waking up your brain cells that you haven't used for awhile.
- After 5 years, you can answer "no" to most applications that ask if you have any criminal convictions. Businesses typically outsource background checks to companies that check references. Depending on the position they can check everything from employment history, education, criminal, credit, citizenship, etc and they typically only go back 5 years. Depending on the position however, many employers are very extensive so you will probably want to steer clear of Government jobs, School districts, etc. as they go back a lifetime to make sure that you are everything that your application says.
- The good news is that you can eventually go back and get your record expunged and/or sealed. It will not actually be erased but for purposes of employment and bettering yourself, after you have applied for and been granted a sealed record, it will simply not be viewable to everyone, allowing you to obtain a decent job and place within our society. Each State is different but in California there are forms online that you simply fill out and send in typically after you are off probation or parole, paid all your restitution and lived a crime-free life for awhile. You send this form in with approximately $100 - $200 non-refundable processing fee and it takes them a few months to get back to you with the decision. Keep in mind that you must use the form for the County which convicted you and have your case number available along with the conviction date. In most Counties you can also go back to court yourself and request to have your record sealed by scheduling an appearance with the Court Clerk to appear before the Judge. If you have a decent few productive years and you are off parole or probation there is a good chance it will be granted, (not available for everyone to see) improving your chances of moving ahead with your career and your life! Many County Clerk's Offices are very helpful -- just ask!
Believe in yourself, and the way you do that is by not giving up! We all have our demons: drugs, anger, booze, parties, bad relationships, things we are not proud of but that is life! Don't be afraid to ask for help, you in turn will help someone else in order to survive and that is how we begin to change the cycle.
Resources for Ex-Offenders
- Resources for Ex Offenders
Updated resources and advocates for ex offenders and their families. Links for job, training, reading, legal rights and everything inbetween
- Office of Justice Programs
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides innovative leadership to federal, state, local, and tribal justice systems, by disseminating state-of-the art knowledge and practices across America, and providing grants for the implementation of these c
- Alcoholics Anonymous : How to Find A.A. Meetings
Whether you were a drinker, drug user, or had a completely different but equally destructive addiction, AA has many resources for those who are trying to mend tattered lives. You should be able to find direction here.
- CNS STORY: Catholic organization helps ex-inmates adjust to life on the outside
St. Vincent de Paul's Prison Ministry Emergency Re-entry Program helps newly released inmates adjust to mainstream society when they have no family or friends to turn to for help.