What we’re doing: Echo staff member Nina Ruff and I are diving into the lives of individuals who have been formerly incarcerated to see how the stigma of being an ex-offender has affected their lives and how they have found success (or not) once released.
What we’re learning: Our quest began by reaching out to Teamwork Englewood, an organization that aims to bring positive change to the Englewood community. Teamwork Englewood provides special services to the Englewood community that promote healthy lifestyles, safety, and community change. The program has a special sector focused on re-entry services that help those that have been incarcerated successfully transition from imprisonment to freedom. The first person we talked to was Maanasi Laird, the Intake Case Manager at Teamwork Englewood. She referred us to a co-worker named Mark M. Mitchell, the Program Manager for Re-Entry at Teamwork Englewood. After meeting with Mr. Mitchell, we found that he had been incarcerated several times throughout his life. Once he was free, he worked effortlessly to turn his life around so he could help those who were formerly incarcerated. Through Mr. Mitchell, Nina and I were afforded the opportunity to meet with numerous people who have formerly been incarcerated. We learned their stories and the hardships they encountered on their journeys toward freedom. It was amazing to hear how they each conquered the stigma of being label a convicted felon and worked twice as hard to find success in the workforce. What was most shocking to me was their drive and passion for giving back to those that are in similar predicaments as they once were. Though our journey isn’t over, what we have learned so far has truly been eye opening.
What we’ve learned: Our goal for this story has evolved tremendously. Initially, we thought we could shine a light on success stories, but after talking with Mr. Mitchell, we quickly realized that approach would be dishonest. Even though there are re-entry services available for ex-offenders, many still get caught up between recidivism and not doing much of anything just to avoid getting into trouble again. The handful of ex-offenders we met is most likely the exception, rather than the rule. From the start, we knew we wanted a diverse group of real people with real stories that we could tell honestly and with integrity; acknowledging the fact that the prison and justice systems have long term, often negative, effects on offenders and their lives outside of prison has been imperative. Even as we were knee-deep into reporting, our actual story was forming itself from the hard truths we were getting from our sources.
What we’re doing: Moving forward, we plan to include a couple of others who are newly released and navigating their re-entry themselves or seeking formal re-entry services elsewhere. While our participants from Teamwork Englewood make a good, honest sample, we want to give as broad and as truthful a look at this issue as possible.
Find out more about how ex-offenders transition back into the workforce in our upcoming issue of ECHO. Photo courtesy of Nina Ruff.