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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.

Panelists:

You can watch the full event below or on the ACT Initiative website.

Meet Spencer Imbach, a recent returning citizen who is running a 50k ultra marathon on December 11th of this year. He has teamed with Thrive DC to create a fundraiser for his race to donate towards their “New Directions” program which assists those who have been recently incarcerated and/or released from jail or prison, and helps them get back on track towards becoming successful returning citizens and avoiding recidivism. New Directions does this by offering case management, basic needs assistance (meals, toiletries, clothing etc.), life skills education, job training, and access to sobriety maintenance assistance and support.
This is personal for him, because from 2017 to 2019 he was incarcerated four times, kicked out of homeless shelters, and living on the streets for a period of time. Being incarcerated significantly impacts your mental health and well-being by creating new mental health issues and worsening pre-existing conditions. He is beyond grateful to have found fitness as a productive outlet to clear his mind, build character, and strengthen his mindset, which is why he has chosen to use this opportunity as a way to give back to those who feel helpless, suicidal, or are lacking their sense of purpose after being released from incarceration.
To learn more about Spencer and why he's creating this fundraiser, we have asked him a few questions to hear more about his personal story and overall mission.

Why Thrive DC for your fundraiser? What should others know about it?

I knew I wanted to donate to an organization that helps with reentry since this is something I struggled with tremendously.  I like Thrive DC because they are local to me so it was a great opportunity to give back to my immediate community. Also, after reaching out to the staff they were incredibly genuine and sincere in working with me and supporting this venture. This organization, rooted in good will, truly represents a humane approach towards making positive changes in society. They do this by working to address issues like homelessness and recidivism, which are often overlooked by those unaffected, and as someone who has experienced both it is both appreciated and inspiring beyond words.

What was it like coming home after incarceration? What was it like socially and professionally for you?

I came home with a completely new perspective on my life and focused much of my energy on maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook. In one way, it was somewhat refreshing to be back at square one with nothing more to lose, however I quickly faced many hurdles socially and professionally. Incarceration was extremely traumatic on several levels, and having no way to explain this to someone who can't relate, I learned to focus on what was within my control and prioritized my mental health. I still experience judgements from others about my past, but as my overall mental health has improved I now recognize the trauma as a necessary part of my journey that made me a stronger man today. I choose to remain patient and grateful, rather than resentful or frustrated. In addition, I am still facing professional obstacles as I was recently offered a financial advisor career but could not pass the background check. My reaction was to let this motivate me to stay resilient and to get more creative in regards to a career path.

What do you have to say to others who may be facing the same challenges?

We are not defined by our past, and no human is perfect. Give yourself time to heal, practice patience and remain consistent in striving for your goals. View your adversity as a gift, not a hindrance, and use that to propel your life forward- whether that be by improving your morale, serving others, offering your experience in a way that benefits society, etc. Focus on progression and your overall direction rather than your pace, slow and steady wins the race.

Why has exercise/running helped you overcome? How can it help others?

Running has revealed to me that we are capable of much more than our mind tells us. It has also taught me the value of consistency and allows me to practice patience. I think running can help others by showing them the importance of self discipline, and how integrating that into your life will develop traits like confidence, perseverance, and grit, which are all major components required to be successful in life because no matter how low your bottom is life will continue to test you.
To learn more about Spencer's story and his acquired love of running, check the story below:
https://www.thrivedc.org/spencer/

On June 24th, Thrive DC co-hosted with Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop an open conversation about what life after incarceration was really like.

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.

“Once they found out that label everything changed.” - Margaret

“It isn’t fair to say Not In My Backyard. How long has it been your backyard?” - Aaliyah

“Empathy is definitely a big word, and especially when a person has went through a traumatic experience, and is trying to get over that experience, and then turn that experience to the better for themselves.” - Jameon

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 kimberly@thrivedc.org 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:

  1. States should have systems in place to help released individuals a fair chance at finding housing.
  2. Protect individuals from being immediately excluded by their record. Instead, evaluate each applicant as an individual.
  3.  Stop categorizing homelessness as a crime.
  4. Expand social services to assist individuals in becoming successful returning citizens.

Here at Thrive DC, we believe re-entry programs are vital to helping individuals get back on their feetespecially 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.

New Directions Program Interview with Pam

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.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Pam Pyles-Walker and I am the Re-entry Program Manager. I oversee our New Directions program.

What is New Directions?

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.

Why do women need their own program?

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.

What is the biggest thing that men and women struggle with after incarceration?

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.

How does New Directions work?

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.

That’s the first six weeks. What happens after that?

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.

What else? If someone is in New Directions, what other resources can they access?

All of our clients have access to Thrive DC’s emergency food program, substance abuse counseling, employment assistance, and referrals to our nonprofit network.

What kind of person succeeds in New Directions?

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.

What kind of person doesn’t succeed?

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.

What is working against returning citizens finding success?

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.

What else? What else do we need to know about returning citizens and their reintegration?

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.

For more information: on the WIND program please visit us at www.thrivedc.org/programs/windPam can be reached by email at Pamela@thrivedc.org or by phone at  (202) 503-1531

1525 Newton St NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 737-9311

Client Hours:
Tuesday - Friday
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM | 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Staff Hours: 
Monday – Friday
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
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