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Difficulties to Come: Reentry after Prisons

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 29, 2023 | 0 Comments

Growing up, I had a sense that my uncle wasn't around not because of travelling as I was told, but but due to being incarcerated. He had been incarcerated for a year a while back and then suddenly was not in sight at family gatherings.

My grandmother, who had taken care of him as he switched from job to job and didn't have a place to sleep most of the time, told me about a lie in order to protect the emotions I didn't know existed in me. There's more to it.

Knowing that your son has been in jail more than once and didn't have the best reentry transition out from the last time made me wonder if getting out of prison felt more unwarranted than coming in. The correlation exists.

My family has always been a form of support for anyone that has been in trouble with the law or is in distress from the loss of a loved one or enduring a health crisis. Both emotional and financial support was always helpful especially when an explanation wasn't needed, but as a whole, it's not enough. There have been studies on the preparation of reentering into society from prison impacts the chance of recidivism.

Some say that it leans more on familial support, and others mention how mental health isn't addressed enough with navigating Post Traumatic Prison Disorder (or PTSD). It also depends on how long the sentencing was for the prisoner, with decades of time incarcerated results into more likely of death by suicide than committing another serious crime. Lower sentencing for the initial crime leads back into going back into prison and possibly staying longer.

Typically, reentry programs and educational classes that can help formerly incarcerated individuals return to school are more geared for those who would only stay in facilities for a few years at a time. These courses are also poorly regulated and substandard to the preparation prisoners need when they head out. Lack of educators, no requirements on commitment level, prisoners might not have many options to choose from, narrow coverage on a specialization or subject for certification, and funding for supplies.

It's a recipe for failure, and that failure is put on prisoners.

When my uncle returned home, he didn't have a pathway to lean into due to programs not existing at his facility, and there was more comfort in prison where a lot of his friends were. Probation officers gave him a basic release without advice on what to do next other than to stay out of trouble.

It was like he was abandoned again, and he wanted to go back with what he was familiar with in order to feel belonged: drugs.

I knew that since the 90's, he had gotten involved with people who were in the same boat, just trying to survive under a political climate started by the War on Crime. Community engagement included gang affiliation, a form of survival that provided for families when education had to many barriers to combat.

The transition heading out still includes a form of isolation that is detrimental and set up like that purposely because it brings the money in. Lots of difficulties bloom out when attempting to be embedded into the outside world: oppression, violence, grief, and chronic anxiety. A wallet falling onto the ground can sound like a lunch tray being smashed onto the floor in the prison cafeteria or not being able to communicate with friends that are on the inside brings loneliness.  

It feels like a raffle if reentry is a risk that would guarantee recovery when daily tasks become obstacles.

Depending on the facility and the needs the prisoner has, group homes and rehabilitation centers are an option as a first step when reentering. Sometimes, it doesn't feel like a home rather and can feel very oversighted with probation officers and the home managers. Alternatives that have more development in making formerly incarcerated individuals feel more centered are organizations that do offer services surrounding rehabilitation and transformation without restrictions that feel prison-like. Homeboy Industries would be a prime example, one of the biggest reentry programs in the world that offer more than legal services and case management but also tattoo removal, solar panel trainings, and bakery employment opportunities that is ran by Homeboy Industries themselves.

Isolation for former prisoners is never a one and done deal; it's difficult to learn about yourself with an image that will always be turned down or not even acknowledged. Everyone needs support, and investing time with those who are vulnerable to crimes shows how the justice system is a business that relies on imprisonment.

Through external assistance outside of the family, my uncle got the attention he needed to recover and learn new skills that can help him in the long-term. There was still lots of trial and error, and his pride as a man in his 60s wasn't easy to tackle. Now, my uncle is a plumber and has housing that isn't unstable that he pays for on his own. He's in a really loving relationship, and he's in closer contact with his kids than in the past two decades.

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