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Reentry from prison is possible: how to make it work
Parole is in sight
I have worked as a re-entry social worker for 5 years. Due to medical needs, I have had to leave my job. My passion for helping parolees trasitioning back into the community has not diminished. There are so many barriers to success, I wanted to start a blog on how to leave prison behind for good. Don't fool yourself, it isn't a list of get help here, get a hand out there. It is a straight forward honest set of suggestions that can help you succeed.
Self honesty is paramount. I can not tell you the number of clients I have sat and listened to that tried to justify, excuse or deny the crap that they had gotten themselves in. Fact is, you got yourself there, now it's up to you to get yourself out. Face it, we all make mistakes, it's how we face them and deal with them that matters. We can choose to continue with the same behavior and choices, which of course give us the same outcomes, or we can make different choices and expect a better future.
I will try to write a little each day, and if there are any specific questions, I will make every effort to address them Hang in there, life does get better. :-)
Knowing what is in your power and what is not.
There is a simple rule of thumb when it comes to power and control. You have power over yourself, and nothing else. You have control of everything that comes out of your mouth, and everything your two hand do, and with that comes responsibility for those words and actions.
Many of the men and women I worked with had a difficult time understanding this. Don't get me wrong, I understand that the culture they were coming from in prison was very unique in many ways, and also had significant challenges. Ultimately though, we do have the power and control, and also the choice to use that power.
Imagine that your hands have strings attached to them, and every time you REACTED to someone's button pushing, you became their puppet. They controlled you and could make you dance they way they wanted you to. Cut Those strings!!!! It's vital, you need to stop reacting, and choose to ACT. Think about what that means, to Act instead of react. It gives you the power, and the choice, and the control that we all need and want in our lives.
Major changes happen while you are away.
When you come out of prison, there are a number of things that will hit you all at once. I have worked with both men and women that have been away for a long time, some for over 30 years. I want you to take a minute and just imagine what it would be like to go to prison when you are not even 20, and be released when you are 50 or older. Imagine how much has changed!! It has to be overwhelming. Nothing is the same. Many of the people you knew are gone, cities have changed, neighbourhoods are gone, highways are changed, and most of all technology has exploded. When was the last time you watched a movie made in the 70's and laughed at how funny things were back in the day? For some people, that is what life was like the last time they were on the outside and free.
You must first of all get your bearings. Pay attention to what you need to succeed and then seek out those things in the community. If you have addiction issues, don't kid yourself, you know if you do..... find support to keep you clean and sober. If you have mental health issues, find the clinics in the community that can help you. Don't put these 2 things off, they are paramount!!!! Without having your head on straight you may as well just head straight back inside. Be good to yourself, get the help you need to give you a fair playing ground and a solid footing to move forward from.
Wait for the Dust To Settle
One of the most important things to remember when you are first released from prison is what I always refer to as " wait for the dust to settle" Things are confusing, demanding, changed and in so many ways difficult. you have basic life needs such as housing, income, food, transportation and of course if you are being paroled you have stipulations of that parole. It is a lot to handle all at once. So don't try to. Take your time, set priorities and goals and work towards them with a plan. My suggestion is to make your #1 priority your freedom.
Have you ever watched the old western movies where the cowboys are all riding around on their horses and in a big shoot out? All you can see is the dust, and you know they can't see a thing they are shooting at, lol. That's why I say wait for the dust to settle, so you can see what the situation actually is. Don't be reacting to something you can't see clearly, drama happens in everyone's life, and you need to wait and see what happens next before you decide on what you are going to do. Chances are, that in a day or two, if you have managed to keep your mouth shut, and keep your cool, the situation has cleared and things are not as bad as you thought. also, don't get pulled into others dust, ( better known as their business or their BS) Talk is cheap, and if you are going to run around reacting to every little thing, you are going to be like a dog chasing his tail, and you will get no where near your goals.
I understand that life on the inside is different, and that it has a culture of it's own so to speak, however, the skills you used to survive inside only work inside. If you keep using them when you are out, they will simply send you right back to the place where they work.... prison. Look around you at the people you see everyday that are doing well. See what they do, see how they act, see how they dress and present themselves. Copy it, practice it, and eventually you will be that kind of person. your old habits and behaviors need to be replaced with new higher functioning ones. Try it, one habit at a time, one skill at a time, one behavior at a time. The habits, behaviors and skills you were using have gotten you to where you are today, if you want to change where you are, you need to change what you are doing.
The Cover of the Book
This is based on a fear that a particular person had when he was leaving prison. He was so anxious about being out in public, he was afraid that everyone who saw him would know he was in prison. He had made some choices earlier in his life about tats, some he did himself when he was high ( so you know how they came out) and also he had some that he really wished he could remove. He felt that he could not even walk into a coffee shop without people looking at him and knowing. Now, please understand that the tats were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his anxiety, but it was for him the easiest to focus on at the time.
We have all been told "don't judge a book by it's cover". My advise is "Get Real" I know it's not fair, but it happens. How you look is what your first impression is going to be based on. It's what you base all of your own first impressions on when you see other people, so what makes you think everyone else is different?
I chuckle to myself when I see young men walking around with their pants hanging past their butts, caps on sideways or backwards, wearing wife-beaters and then asking " How come I can't get a job?" ....... Really?? you need to ask that? Think about this, if you were a boss, and you were looking to hire someone to work for you, you are looking for someone with particular skills and someone you think will be good for your company. Right?
You would look for clean, respectful, mature, dedicated and hard working people. After all, you are going to pay this person money to represent you and your company. So if two people come in for the job, and lets say both are fresh out of prison looking for a second chance, which one do you think of the following would be the one you would want to hire?
#1 is a 25 year old man who walks in wearing the baggy pants, wife beater and ball cap on almost backwards. He has tats all over his chest, shoulders and arms and looks like he hasn't showered or combed his hair in a week. He has the skills you are needing for the job, but does not have a respectful attitude.
#2 is a 25 year old man who walks in wearing clean casual pants, clean t-shirt tucked in, and no cap on his head. He is showered, shaved, and is presenting himself to the best of his ability. He also has the skills you are needing for the job, and has a respectful attitude.
Most employers, if not all, will choose #2. Simply because he presented himself as someone who will make a good impression for the company. You need to think about the impression you are making when you present yourself to others. You may disagree with the fact that it matters, and rant and rave about "it's the man inside that matters" but you have to make a good impression first to get the chance to show the man inside.
To get back to the anxious young man and the coffee shop..... I told him that if he presents himself as a respectful, clean, well groomed young man, then that is what others will see. No one will know about his prison term unless he chooses to share that chapter of his life with them. It's amazing that when you treat yourself and others with respect, you usually get the same back.
One thing I do want to touch on here, is language and body language. You have heard the old saying " if it looks like crap, smells like crap , sounds like crap, then it likely is crap". How true is that? If you come out of prison and use the language and behavior habits that you used inside, it will be like wearing a bulletin board announcement that I just got released. If you want to brag on that, well I guess that will work just fine for you. However, if you want to change the path you've been on and break the cycle of release-return-release-return , then you have to take a look at what you are doing that makes that happen, and then make changes in those habits.