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Men and Women in Reentry

Making assumptions from a middle-class perspective

One of the most interesting parts of my job is facilitating classes in prison for both men and women. Often, we will present a particular set of material to men at one facility and then later give the same content to women at another facility. What you hear and observe within that one day is incredibly interesting and helpful for those of us trying to tailor topics and information for specific audiences in prison.

Part of evidence-based practices within the criminal justice system is to recognize Risk through assessment, Needs determined by the results of the assessment, and proper Responsivity to those needs (RNR) so that we administer appropriate programing and the right amount of it. RNR is great in theory, but what happens is that many systems tend to ignore the N and the R after doing a risk assessment. Once you hit the halfway house, all that RNR stuff goes out the window. Hopefully, I get some feedback from people telling me how they follow through with this and that I don't know what I'm talking about…. we'll see.

What we hear and observe in our classes is how individuals from both genders tend to react to the same material. I mentioned in a recent post that we had shown a 40-minute video that followed four recently released individuals that were part of a new early release parole program. One of the subjects had a daughter that was having her tenth birthday, and he promised he would be there this time. It didn't happen because he ran out of patience (grit) with all the rules at the halfway house, bought a few bundles of dope with his last check, and then met his daughter at a store so he could buy her a pair of tennis shoes before he absconded. At this point in the video, the majority of our men reacted with disgust. They were visibly upset with the value placed on the bag of dope and hitting the f'it button as opposed to showing some grit and toughing it out so he could be there for his daughter's birthday party. When we got to this point with our women's group, there were a fair amount of ladies that thought this guy truly loved his daughter. When we asked why they thought this, they answered, "Because he bought her the shoes." This surprised me!

One of the topics we cover in class is the three stages of relationships. Child: pleasure and pain, adolescence: everything is transactional, adult: you do certain things just because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of what you get out of it. Transactional relationships can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on the level of manipulation. I believe several women in our class were stuck in an adolescent understanding of relationships and therefore interpreted the buying of shoes as love. And on further review, I guess it only makes sense to view it this way if you've grown up in a context where change is not the requirement, but instead, forgiveness and penance are what takes place. Life resumes, and you take what you can get each time something happens. I'm not judging character here because I know there are a lot of contributing factors. Still, I am suggesting that there could be a different way to view relationships that may have better outcomes for everyone involved. I also recognize that the system will try your patience, and if you have little or no coping skills or a plan to stick to, hitting the f'it button then makes perfect sense. Some of the ladies admired this guy's assessment of things being totally f...ed up so he might as well just run. I guess this reaction isn't assigned to a specific gender.

In the end, we are always learning. Maintaining an open mindset is a must if you're ever going to make some progress in this challenging field. The skill of active listening and just plain paying attention has served me well. And for a guy, that's saying a lot.

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