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 [email protected] or by phone at  (202) 503-1531