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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, February 27, 2017

Re-entry: It’s About the People

By Wesley Perdue, MS, MAC

When it comes to the topic of reentry, into the mainstream of life, there is abundant discussion of programs and the research that drives their development. This is important because it encourages continual evolution in programming that can reduce recidivism, lower costs, and hopefully rehabilitate those who participate in those programs.

But, reentry is really about the men and women going through the process, and what would make the biggest difference in their lives. What each person needs is unique, but there are many commonalities, too. They will want to make sure they can consistently take care of their most basic needs. They will want and need communities to create reasonably accessible avenues to kickstart and support their reentry to the community. They will face assumptions and stigma that threaten to keep them locked in a mind-set of antisocial thoughts and behaviors. Many will have unresolved trauma of varying degrees. Some which pre-dates incarceration, and some the result of it.

The Staggering Numbers

At the close of 2010, there were more than 1.6 million prisoners in state and federal facilities — about one out of every 200 U.S. residents was incarcerated. That’s an incredible number of lives directly impacted by incarceration, and countless other lives impacted in other ways. In the same year, 708,677 prisoners were released from state and federal prisons. Every day, these women and men of all ages and walks of life, begin the process of reentering the community and face significant challenges. 

They are two to four times likely to have a serious mental illness, and three-fourths have a history of substance abuse. They will face major challenges finding adequate and stable employment and housing, due to a criminal history. Many will have health problems in need of ongoing medical attention. And far too often, they lack a high school diploma or equivalent, while others will struggle with basic literacy. (NRCC Facts and Trends. https://csgjusticecenter.org/nrrc/facts-and-trends.)

These statistics underscore both the complexity and importance of reentry…it touches hundreds of thousands of lives each year, all of them in unique ways. 

What is Reentry?

“Reentry” is the term used to describe the very complex process of an individual returning to the community, following incarceration. While this process is unique to each individual and his or her network of intrinsic talents, skills, opportunities and resources, what is common among them is the necessity they become able to meet their needs in effective, legal, sustainable, and healthy ways. 

Those who are unable to achieve this, or who consistently struggle to do so, are likely to become part of the recidivism statistics…those who return to prison. 

Many do find ways of meeting their needs in socially responsible ways, and with the right kind of support, many become successful and self-reliant.

In thinking about what will make the process of reentry successful for any individual, it is important to consider what it is that each individual needs in order to be happy, healthy and whole.

In Choice Theory, William Glasser identified that all humans share five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun. 

Successful reintegration into the community, and the restoration of one’s life, must ensure these needs are met, at least in a basic way. But, it is important to remember many of these women and men may not have the necessary skills to master these challenges, which likely played a role in them becoming involved in the justice system. Still others have learned criminal lifestyles and tactics from early ages as a means of survival, or as part of the community in which they lived. For these reasons, reentry is also often the intersection at which individuals are faced with the decision to return to what is familiar, or create something new for themselves and those important to them.

This is where healthy family members, supportive communities and their members, and agencies and programs play an important role. As these individuals begin settling back into their communities they need places to live, jobs to earn a living, and resources for addressing health care needs, mental heath concerns and substance abuse treatment. Communities must work collaboratively to create accessible avenues for them to obtain housing, employment and healthcare, irrespective of their criminal history. Programs and supports that require mutual effort from the individual tend to be the most effective in teaching skills, maintaining engagement, and creating change that is sustainable so that supports can gradually decrease over time. In the absence of avenues that address these concerns, individuals will have very difficult times moving toward self-sufficiency. 

How Arizona is Helping

One initiative Arizona has taken through the Department of Corrections, is to create a Residential Community Behavioral Modification (RCBM) program. Through this program, they have partnered with Vivre Recovery Housing to provide a 90 to 120-day residential program that provides housing utilizing a structured sober living model, and treatment for substance use and mental health issues, through a partnership with Building Blocks Counseling

In addition to housing and treatment, residents receive case management services that assist them to link to employment opportunities and training, and also to other community supports that they can access long-term. A creative element to this program is that its funding comes from the Spirit Tax (tax on alcoholic beverages). This is just one such example of how communities and community agencies can play an important and supportive role in this important process of helping people to regain happy and healthy lives.

Another common barrier these returning citizens face is stigma from the community, media and even their families and other loved ones. Damaging, and often inaccurate assumptions are made about who these citizens are. 

Assumptions tend to be worst-case scenarios of crimes they may have committed, and what they might do next. In reality, many of these individuals have not committed dangerous offenses.
And even those who have, with the right kind of supervision, support and treatment, can be healthy and productive members of the communities in which they live. 

It is normal for people to have questions and concerns, and to want to feel a sense of safety in their homes and neighborhoods. By welcoming these returning citizens, and supporting them as they create a new life, communities make themselves immeasurably safer. When people establish roots and become involved in the schools, religious centers, markets and social environment they become a part of the community. Inclusion — feeling a part of something — naturally reduces the likelihood of one acting in ways that would cause harm or disruption.

Unresolved Trauma

Incarceration can have traumatic impacts from the loss of freedom and privacy, facing potential threats to personal safety, to separation from loved ones. All have a devastating impact on the mental wellness of anyone, regardless of how long they are incarcerated. 

For many, the reentry period involves having to re-learn and re-sensitize themselves to a different set of social norms and cues. There can often be a hypervigilance that presents challenges to interacting in appropriate ways in family, social and work-related settings. 

There are effective ways of treating trauma, which can make significant improvement in day-to-day living and personal relationships. Not everyone needs therapy, but it will be important to be patient with the process and talk constructively and transparently about concerns or fears.

It’s important to note that hope, and a belief that change is possible, is critical. The problem is often these returning people struggle to have this kind of hope for themselves, and therefore, can benefit from drawing this hope from others. There are many ways to empower and support them as they build their own sense of value and worth, which can become the internal motivation to propel them forward.
These are our neighbors, and deserving of happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Wesley Perdue comes to Building Blocks with more than 15 years’ experience working in the field of mental health and substance abuse treatment. He holds both Master’s and Bachelor’s Degrees in Counseling, from the University of North Texas; and a Minor in Criminal Justice. Throughout his career, Wesley has had the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience working with people from a wide range of backgrounds and personal experiences, and across various types of clinics and agencies. In addition to providing direct clinical services to clients, he has also served as a clinical director, program manager and a practitioner in private practice.As the Program Director for Building Blocks Counseling, Wesley serves as the liaison between the clinical and housing programs, works to continually develop and refine the programs being offered, addresses any needs and concerns related to providing quality services, and provides direct services to residents and clients.
 Contact Wes at 602-626-8112, email wes.perdue@bbcaz.com, and visit www.bbcaz.com