On April 21, the ACT Initiative hosted the event "A Deeper Look at Second Chances" with three returning citizen panelists. It was an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation about the difficulties of coming home from incarceration and also the immense support these three individuals encountered throughout their journey. Both the setbacks and the successes have given them new opportunities to make an impact in their communities, and they are grateful for the programs in DC that have supported them in putting their best foot forward.
You can watch the full event below or on the ACT Initiative website.
Moderated by Aja Beckham, the conversation between Aaliyah Polite, Jameon Gray, and Margaret LaPell covered how the stigma of their conviction shadowed how they made friends and applied for work, how to build trust between NIMBY advocates and returning citizens, and wanting to be judged by who they are now and not the mistakes in their past.
Returning citizens are just looking for a chance to thrive. But the stigma of their incarceration doesn't give them a real second chance. 80% of people coming home experience prejudice based on their status. And that's not fair.
A Chance To Thrive is a campaign to destigmatize returning citizens and get neighbors, employers, and friends to see them as the people they are and not the label they've been given. Please take time to watch the video below of our conversation, and if you're inspired, visit www.AChanceToThrive.com to see how you can get involved.
Bailey, our summer Development Intern, sat down with Kimberly Gray, Thrive DC’s Re-entry Program Manager, and a recent graduate of the New Directions program. The New Directions Re-entry Program is designed to assist individuals who have been recently incarcerated have support on the road to becoming successful returning citizens.
Washington DC has the highest prison population in the world, with an incarceration rate of every 1,153 per 100,000. An arrest of any sort, at any point in one’s life serves as a barrier to finding housing and employment. In fact, having a criminal record reduces the likelihood of receiving a job callback or offer by 50 percent.
Studies show that returning citizens face the highest probability of being unemployed in their first two years after release. This suggests that pre- and post-release employment services are essential to reducing recidivism and providing returning citizens with a greater opportunity to successfully integrate back into society.
Thrive DC is dedicated to equipping returning citizens with the tools they need to succeed. We are going to be talking about how our New Directions program is designed to provide our clients with the tools to prosper.
Conversation with Kim, Re-entry Program Manager:
What is our New Directions program?
The New Directions program is a program that works with returning citizen women. We assist them in gaining customer service certification and additional life skills. This is a 6 week program for women who are currently reentering back into society.
What is your favorite part of leading this program?
Seeing the transition in the women, the difference between how they are coming into the program and how they are when they leave-- their image, their personality, the way they speak, and even how they dress. My favorite part of this transition is the self-discovery, they really get to discover who they are.
Is there something you wish the general population knew about individuals who are re-entering into society?
They have hearts. A lot of these individuals want to win in life, sometimes they just have taken the wrong routes. When you give them the right tools, they embrace them. They have hearts, they are people.
Conversation with a recent New Directions graduate:
What did this program mean to you?
The program really meant a lot to me. I got my customer service certification and I found out who I was. We did self-discovery which showed us we are worth it. We realized our flaws and negative thoughts. When I first came to class I was really shy and didn’t talk at all, but Ms. Gray got me to open up. I really appreciate her because if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have found out who I am. We always talked about “if you get to the little girl, you can bring out the woman.”
I learned that image means everything. If you look a certain way, you will feel a certain way. I started dressing up everyday and after this class I feel like I can do anything. I know I am going to succeed in life.
What part of this program did you enjoy the most?
Even though I did get my customer service certification, I really enjoyed the self-discovery.
Is there something you wish all women coming out of incarceration knew?
I wish every woman out there would know that they are worth it and that they can do it. I would love to work with young females, to let them know that this world is a cruel world but we have to stay positive. If you have a plan, you will succeed. What Ms. Gray did for me made me realize I can go out and do the same for others. I am the oldest of eleven and I have a daughter, and I just want my daughter to know that no matter what she goes through in life she will make it and she will succeed.
Visit our webpage to learn more about how you can get involved and donate to keep our programs accessible to the community. Contact Kimberly Gray at (202) 503-1531 or email@example.com for information on how to join New Directions.
Written by Bailey, Development Intern at Thrive DC
Bailey is a senior at Belmont University where she is majoring in Global Leadership Studies with a minor in Social Justice. As a member of the Belmont Softball team, Bailey is a representative of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) leadership team. Upon graduation, Bailey plans to serve in a community abroad as a part of the Lumos Travel Award.
A recent study done by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be homeless and some demographics are at an even higher risk; people who have been incarcerated multiple times, people recently released from prison, and people of color and women.
A vicious cycle in homelessness all starts with incarceration. Returning citizens often times have difficulty securing a job and housing after they are released due to stigma and systemic barriers. When they try to find shelter in other ways they are often arrested again for public loitering.
D.C. has the highest incarceration rate in the country, one out of 50 people are incarcerated. Since 2001, the number of women arrested has increased by 19 percent. Releases have increased, but once someone becomes incarcerated their chance of becoming homeless increases as well.
In the PPI study, four recommendations regarding to policy are given as a way to end this cycle:
Here at Thrive DC, we believe re-entry programs are vital to helping individuals get back on their feet—especially women. In a recent study, 45.6% of incarcerated women in D.C. said they had at least a high school education. In another study, 40% of women in prisons had no job prior to being incarcerated. Most who had a job never made above $6.50 an hour.
Thrive DC is dedicated to helping individuals overcome this cycle.
The New Directions Re-entry Program assists people who are formerly incarcerated get back on track in five key components: Case Management, Basic Needs Assistance, Life Skills Education, Access to Sobriety Maintenance Assistance and Support, and Employment Assistance.
Within the Employment Assistance component, clients are able to take part in one of two sub- programs: Customer Service Training and Certification or Real Opportunity Job Training. Both options give clients work experience and knowledge about certain career fields that boost their chances of being hired full time. In addition, clients gain support in their journey to integrating back into their community which is critical to success.
By Cayley, Development & Communications Intern at Thrive DC
Cayley is a senior at Oklahoma State University studying Agricultural Communications. She has a passion for helping others and hope her words can inspire others to feel the same.
Community Relations Manager Greg Rockwell recently sat down with Pam, Thrive DC's Re-Entry Program Manager, to talk about what it's really like for men and women after prison.
My name is Pam Pyles-Walker and I am the Re-entry Program Manager. I oversee our New Directions program.
New Directions is our program to support returning citizens. There are two parts: one is open to all returning citizens (someone who has been charged and convicted with a crime) and one that focuses on women.
Women have a lot of additional needs and barriers after incarceration. Usually, they are the primary caretakers of children, and many have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Not that those things don’t happen to men as well – but it’s much more prevalent among female returning citizens.
Forgiving themselves. There’s a lot of regret over the heartbreak they caused, the family members who had to visit them behind bars, and the crimes that they committed.
Especially if they’re a parent – for many of our clients the time that they lost with their kids is a big hole in their lives, and getting their kids to forgive them is really important.
Specifically for women, there’s a cultural expectation of them as caregivers and being the family’s center. For them, to reintegrate with their families after having “failed” in that role, and having someone else raise their kids – there’s a lot of anxiety that they’re dealing with.
With New Directions we spend the first six weeks focusing on life skills – Interpersonal Relationships, Communications Skills, Expressing Emotions, and Making Connections and Staying Healthy.
Being able to say thank you is a big one. We work on saying thank you to the people and organizations who are supporting our clients because none of this is owed to them. Helping returning citizens be grateful gives them a sense of community and helps them understand that it’s not them against the world – they’re a part of something.
I also spend a lot of time with our clients helping them focus on taking care of themselves. It’s like they tell you on the airplane – first put the oxygen mask on yourself and then focus on others.
A lot of our clients come in with expectations from their family that they’re immediately going to pitch in and help – that they’ll walk out of prison and immediately have a job, that they’ll have money to share, that they’ll have all the time in the world…but the reality is that they have court-ordered obligations and varying skill sets and barriers that may make it hard to get employed.
They can choose a training program: Real Opportunity Training Program, Customer Service, or Customer Service – Front of the House.
The goal is to give our returning citizens practical, useful training in jobs that they can immediately get and that we have connections in. It’s easier to get a job when you have a job – and our clients do better when they have momentum in their lives and structure. It’s incredible. Once our clients start seeing success, they want more of it.
All of our clients have access to Thrive DC’s emergency food program, substance abuse counseling, employment assistance, and referrals to our nonprofit network.
Someone who is tired of their old lifestyle, and is ready to change.
Someone who accepts that they deserve a second chance.
And someone who is willing to demand both change and success from themselves.
The person who isn’t doing it for themselves. If a client is in our program because someone else said to do it – whether it’s a corrections officer, a parent, a friend – there will come a point where it gets hard.
And if they don’t have the drive to push through then they won’t.
Another barrier for our clients is distraction. It’s really easy to fall back into old habits, old hangouts, old friends…the same things that got you into trouble in the first place. If you can’t avoid those distractions, or find a way to manage them, it makes this process much, much harder.
Besides themselves – getting society to forgive them, and a lack of a whole lot of things: education, work experience, support, and knowledge of the resources available to them.
Money is a big one. Without money, our returning citizens can’t get housing, can’t eat, can’t take the bus or clothe themselves. They can’t participate in anything because of costs.
Oddly enough, not knowing how to spend their leisure time is a significant problem for returning citizens. Because of their barriers and distractions, there is a whole lot we tell them they can’t do – can’t go to the bar, can’t hang out with friends – so what are they supposed to do?
That’s why we also do assessments to figure out what their interests are and what hobbies they might enjoy. We want to replace negative behaviors with positive ones.
We need to remember that they are humans. They are adult human beings who have paid their debts to society. And they really come out of prison full of hope.