By Cleveland Bell, Riverside House CEO
As we have gone through this series about reentry, one thing you may have noticed is that it’s never just about the released prisoner who is trying to get back to society and back to their life. It’s about many other people along the way as you start early, treat prisoners like people, and follow up after release.
In short, it takes a village to successfully reenter society, just as it takes a village to raise a child. When I was released from prison, I realized just how important this was.
It actually started when I was still in prison. I had a good support system to correspond with and visit with on visitation days. Keeping in touch with people while still in prison helped me keep those relationships strong for when I got out of prison.
The Department of Justice’s Roadmap to Reentry speaks to the importance of this as well: “While incarcerated, each inmate should be provided the resources and opportunity to build and maintain family relationships, strengthening the support system available to them upon release.”.
After being released, the first thing I did was find a church to join. In prison, I had made a commitment to Christ, which gave me an attitude of repentance. I knew I could do better now, better than I had done before being incarcerated.
So I got to know new families and meet people who were completely different than the people I knew from the street. I really became a part of church life, and this allowed me to learn how to do a lot of things that were productive.
For example, at my church, I met people who gave me a job. This allowed me to take care of myself rather than depending on food stamps, quick loans, donating to the blood bank, or parents. It was important to me to take responsibility for myself, but it was through meeting, getting to know, and developing relationships with others that I was able to do that. I could not have done it on my own, and the church was a huge part of that.
This Prison Fellowship article agrees that the church has a crucial role to play in reentry. It says that the church’s number one task is helping returned citizens walk with Christ and giving them a place to belong. All churches can be welcoming, nurturing and encouraging with a positive, supportive community that can help ease the sense of isolation that returning citizens often face upon reentry.
After a while being involved with my church and making new, positive connections, I started a coffee house in the inner city for young kids where I did Bible studies. I also went to Miami Dade Community College where they had a program at that time to provide life experience. I went through the first six weeks of remedial reading and writing and learned how to function in a college environment. I had a lot of community support with this.
From learning new skills in a college setting, to my church community, my probation officer, friends and family, I had my village. They all helped me get through my period of reentry. I hope this blog series has made others also realize how important is to start early, treat prisoners like people and have a good follow up plan.