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Working with campers (part two)

In our last session, we talked about the complex mix of "campers" in a federal prison camp. In this article, I'd like to focus on another issue that brings this mix a little closer towards an understanding that their specific needs are very similar even though they’ve come from different backgrounds, facilities, neighborhoods, beliefs, and values. The term “network” is useful in this setting and usually provides a pathway to identifying issues that need to be discussed.

We like to break things down into three categories that we feel every individual will have to address to some degree, Internal Motivation, Self-Regulation, and Social Support. When we bring up the topic of a person’s past or present network that is in place on the outside (Social Support) we find a couple of interesting dynamics that exist. One group, usually the long term inmates that have worked their way down the custody chain, have a network waiting for them on the outside but reconnecting with them upon release would most likely lead to thoughts and activity that they’re trying to avoid. The other group (white collar) have a network that they want to reconnect with, but the network will not have them. This network views them as tainted, and they can't afford the negative associations within their social circles and the effect it may have on their bottom line. Both groups have a network issue.

The common piece here then is the need to rebuild a network of social support. Using the term social capital seems to offer a neutral point of entry on this topic and also communicates value. We could use the phrase pro-social because that's what it is, but it doesn't seem to connect with our group. The thought of reaching out and making new connections is a bit scary for most guys especially if you're carrying some guilt, and the idea of rejection is still fresh from when you started on this journey, but it’s something that must be done. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a strategy for accomplishing this once you hit the streets, which brings me to our next topic, how to do this.

One of the things Montage Reentry Solutions provides is one on one mentoring for the Federal reentry court here in our district. Mentoring individuals coming out of prison has proven to be a critical factor in reducing recidivism because it assists people with this vital need to reestablish a positive network in the community. A well-trained mentor can help with navigating probation, employment strategies, social networking, and self-awareness. The criminal justice system (at every level) assumes individuals can do significant time behind bars and then walk out a "pro-social" being that is dialed in on compliance. This is completely unrealistic. Educated and trained mentors are one way of addressing this problem. Our approach is not only to recognize the issue (the easy part) but to also take action and provide a solution.

Another great thing to do is get connected with a local recreational league and get on a team. I mention this often in our classes and also in reentry court, and I get the strangest looks. Most people I work with have never been on a team, so this is way outside of their comfort zone, which is precisely what they need. If you are not doing something different, something that stretches you, and will require an open mindset, then you are destined to repeat what you always do. So what do I mean by a recreational league? Here are some examples of what I recommend and how I approach this. Softball, bowling (the shirt is a bonus), handball, basketball, running (Mile in my shoes), there's no end to what's out there. And if there's a concern about what others might think once they figure out your past – nobody cares! Get over it! Be you in this new context. Remember, you're the one making adjustments, not them. Nobody needs to "get you" you need to get them.

So, we have our work cut out for us. And of course, it all depends on whether the individual wants to try something different (change). But when they do, and you have an opportunity to participate in the process – it's a beautiful thing. Happy camping!

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