Life after prison: overcoming the barriers

A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

(MGN Online)

People ask me, “How does it feel to be finally coming home after spending so many years in prison?” Naturally, my response is, “It feels good,” and “I can’t wait to go home.” The reality of the situation, however, is that the years I have spent separated from society have left me feeling disconnected and out of touch with my generation.
I have anxiety every time I think about my release date. I am not alone in my anxiety. The vast majority of men and women being released from prison face uncertainty in finding stable housing, employment and resources to facilitate a smooth transition back into society.

Over the years, reentry for the Department of Corrections (DOC) has meant taking a series of soft skill classes, résumé writing, interview readiness, etc. These classes are valuable for those who have never held a steady job prior to incarceration and have been out of the workforce for a long period of time. However, they fail to emphasize the most important barriers we face after incarceration: finding stable and affordable housing and building healthy relationships with our communities.

Failure to find stable housing plays a major role in the recidivism rate. If a person cannot provide an address upon completion of work release, they will immediately be sent back to prison until they can provide an adequate address. This policy implemented by the DOC doesn’t take into consideration the effect it will have on incarcerated men and women upon release.

By no means should a person’s inability to find housing hinder or be a determining factor of re-entry. Furthermore, this policy forces a person to inconvenience their loved ones by placing an undue burden on them to provide shelter.
Although stable housing and employment are crucial to a person’s overall success after being released, it is equally important to be associated with community organizations that are intentional and strategic about building healthier communities. Access to and information about these kinds of organizations are not readily available before release from prison.

The programs to which we do have access are from organizations that collaborate with the DOC to offer reentry services like job training and résumé writing — the very same re-entry services that we already receive in prison. This is not the help we need. Plus, available resources are stretched so thin that they accommodate very few individuals.

Re-entry should entail more than just brief information about housing and employment; it should include connecting people to community organizations that are willing to make an internal investment in the lives of men and women years before they are released. The DOC should be helping recently incarcerated men and women become assets to their respective communities.

As a prison justice organizer, I have been fortunate enough to experience firsthand how an organization can be a symbol of hope and help change the trajectory of a person’s life by making an internal investment in their future. Voices for Racial Justice is that symbol of hope for the brothers at the BRIDGE. Our partnership is a shining example of community togetherness, because they have shown us that our separation from society does not mean we have to be separated from our community.

I would like to pay homage to Voices for Racial Justice for giving us a platform to be heard and for reassuring incarcerated men like me that we have a community of support awaiting our return.

Mario Davis is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to info@voicesforracialjustice.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.