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Understanding the Context of Reentry

Think about all the factors that are in play when a person is released from prison. If you’ve had decades of dysfunctional living and antisocial thinking and then are placed in a facility for another decade or two that is populated with similar dysfunctional and antisocial people, why would we expect change to occur? Then we inform these individuals upon release that there are conditions they will need to follow, conditions that they’ve now had a long history of not following, and we implore them to please go and be pro-social, get a job, keep the job, manage relationships, drive legally, and stay clean. Again, all things they’ve not had much success at in the past. The system is not paid to care or to make all this happen. They are paid to oversee compliance with these standards and to enforce the law in the name of public safety. It is unrealistic to expect people to successfully reenter society given the circumstances.

The Standard

This has been the standard for as long as I have been involved in reentry (32 years now) and I don’t see things changing much in the years to come. What has changed though is my perspective on how to improve outcomes when it comes to recidivism. For years I thought that the system was broken and that we just needed to change or fix it. I now realize that the system does exactly what it is designed to do and I shouldn’t expect it to change. What I can do is bring knowledge, experience, and social connections that the system does not have. It would be unrealistic to expect change without the impact that the private sector can offer. This is what mentors do. Let’s consider a few ways we influence the system for good.

  • Mentors give the different players within the system an opportunity to develop empathy.

    • This happens when we send in reports, discuss our mentees in the pre-court meeting, dialogue with PO’s, judges, attorney’s through emails and phone calls. Details become known and the “client” becomes more of a “person” as we progress through the 12 months.

  • Mentors give the participants an opportunity to view the system in another light.

    • This is pretty much what’s happening in the previous point but in reverse. I see this happen when I explain to my mentee that I’m going to help them navigate probation and this court program. I try to emphasize that these people are real and that this opportunity is real. Whenever another participant talks about the help they received I make sure to emphasize it for the sake of establishing trust.

The two simple points here are great examples of how the public (mentors) can get involved and make real change.

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