“What happens after the 50th landlord tells you that you can’t rent an apartment because of your record, or the 50th employer explains that their company doesn’t hire ‘felons’?”
Christopher Poulos, executive director of Life of Purpose Treatment at the University of North Texas, asks this in a piece for The Bangor Daily News. But he already knows the answer first hand. From addiction and incarceration to college and law school, Poulos has experienced the full gamut of struggles and hard-earned successes of reentry.
Those successes can be elusive for returning citizens. Their debt to society may be paid in full, but the second chance they crave is hard to come by.
And that’s a problem.
In fact, Poulos calls it a life sentence. “Society labels us as ex-convicts, offenders, addicts or junkies,” he writes. “These beliefs lead to ongoing systemic barriers, making successful re-entry incredibly difficult or impossible.”
Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release. Knowing this, Poulos emphasizes some ways to help returning citizens transition back into society—for the good of the entire community.
Meaningful opportunities in education, job training, and mentorship, are just a few keys to starting afresh after prison. Poulos calls these the “antidote” to the kind of desperation that leads to recidivism.
Another remedial resource could have great impact: those in the reentry community who have beaten the odds themselves. This resource is often overlooked. Still, former prisoners who have turned their lives around are arguably the most valuable mentors for others still on that path, Poulos says.
“If there were two guides—one who had read a book about a dangerous hiking trail and another who had traveled down it and survived—whom would you trust to lead you?”
Poulos cites Michigan as a prime example. The Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative created “holistic, community-based reentry strategies” to restore communities and empower returning citizens to lead meaningful lives. As a result, the state experienced an 18 percent drop in recidivism.
“Implementing programs to provide mentorship, mental health or substance use treatment, job training and education is not ‘coddling convicts,’” Poulos concludes. “Rather, it is an effective way to help people grow into productive members of society.”
In the U.S., some 700,000 men and women are released from prison every year—about 2,000 a day. Those returning face a laundry list of challenges in all areas of life, and without proper intervention, a lot of them will wind up back behind bars. Prison Fellowship’s reentry resources are designed to equip individuals, churches, and other organizations to come alongside the reentry community and guide them toward total restoration.
Don’t let the cycle of crime win the day. To get involved or find out more, click here.