Two community college programs provide pathway to reentry

Eric Gentry

The first priority of many people leaving prison is to get a job. But going to college may provide a better way to reenter society. Just ask Eric Gentry.

Gentry runs two unique community college programs geared to those in reentry. He’s convinced that education is the key to helping turn lives around. It certainly was for him.

Growing up in Vallejo, Calif., in a gang-involved family, Gentry had cousins, uncles and parents with felony convictions. Many were in prison. Gentry dropped out of high school. And, at 18, he and his brother were involved in a murder case, resulting in a six-year sentence for manslaughter. After being released in 2010 and home for only two months, Gentry was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and got two years.

A love of reading led to college

Never much of a student, Gentry read his first book in the county jail – and discovered that he loved reading. He devoured everything from Harry Potter to Noam Chomsky. A girlfriend he reconnected with while home for two months had enrolled at Cal State East Bay and often talked to him about college.

“I learned that I liked to read as an escape mechanism,” Gentry says. “She was saying ‘you like to read books? That’s a lot of what college is.’”

In spite of her encouragement, he took a job at a warehouse in downtown San Francisco after release. “I was there for three months and was in some of the same behaviors I had on the inside. I had an altercation with the manager and got fired,” he says.

It was following that brief job experience that Gentry decided to enroll in community college. He then went on to Cal State East Bay, graduating summa cum laude. After graduation he got a job as a case worker with an Oakland nonprofit, but at the beginning of this year was recruited to do work that will help those in reentry find their way back into society through education.

Community college programs for those in reentry

Solano Community College in Vallejo, Calif., where Gentry went to school, asked him to cofound a new initiative known as S.O.A.R., Students Overcoming Adversity and Recidivism. And this summer, he found out about another program, R.I.S.E., Restorative Integrative Self-Education, at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif, and is now working with that one as well.

Although they have slight differences, both programs are quite similar. In essence, they promote higher education to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Here’s how they work. “Someone shows up straight home from Santa Rita (Alameda County Jail in Dublin, Calif.), and I’m telling them that I’m the first step,” says Gentry. “I’ll sit them down on the computer and open applications for college and the promise grant (the California College Promise Grant that allows enrollment fees to be waived). I’ll also help them fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

In addition to helping them get into college and procure financial aid, Gentry assists students in finding jobs. That way they will be able to cover some or all of their living expenses as well. He also helps those at Chabot get bus passes. The programs provide snacks in the S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. offices, so they become places to hang out, where students can meet others participating in the programs.

S.O.A.R. currently has 22 student participants. R.I.S.E. has 50, with nine more starting in the spring.

Why go to college

Why should people coming out of prison go to college?

“I feel like that a lot of us coming home carry chips on our shoulder. We’re aggressive. We come from an environment where you’ve got to defend yourself. And you carry that out to the community,” Gentry says. “I came out and got a job right away, but I wasn’t ready to transition from a Level 4 prison to a job. You try to throw somebody into a work environment where you have to cooperate. And it doesn’t work. You need a transitional period, and college provides that.”

College offers a fresh start and a chance for those in reentry to get away from their prison background.

“The jobs that are offered to us are a lot of low-level jobs. And the workers are former prisoners,” he says. “At college nobody asked me where I’m from. Or where I went to prison. College allowed me to leave that life behind.”

For Gentry, the knowledge he gained from what he learned became powerful. “It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before. It was invigorating to go to college and to get a degree.”

And now he can offer that opportunity to others through the programs he works in.

There are few programs like S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. that Gentry knows about, but he’d like to see more of them.

For those colleges that might be interested in starting a similar program, Gentry has advice:

“Colleges need a lot of campus support. They need people willing to do the work, he says. “Everybody doesn’t have to like you or the work you do or the people you represent. Just don’t let them stand in your way.”

“Every campus has equity programs. If you say you’re for equity, this program is the most equity program you can have on campus. And if you’re going to start a program, have a space where people can come and be with other students who are facing similar challenges.”

For programs in other areas

To locate other programs, check directly with your local community colleges, state colleges and universities. You can also search the internet for community college or college programs for those in reentry, followed by your state. You may also want to contact the American Association of Community Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report highlights second-chance employment

U.S. Chamber of Commerce FoundationWhen the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation issues a special report on second chance hiring, you know that the issue has entered the mainstream.

This summer the foundation released “America Working Forward, Hidden Workforce.” In the introduction to the 44-page report, Carolyn Cawley, the Chamber’s president, said, “(The issue is) important because right now – for the first time ever – there are more open jobs than people without jobs. Can ex-offenders help fill this gap? Employers are beginning to think so, and they have a lot of questions about how to engage this “hidden workforce.”

The foundation spent a year getting to know people and organizations that are establishing innovative approaches to reentry throughout the United States in order to help answer those questions. Some of these organizations are already familiar names to us. Others are new.

Organizations and businesses it highlighted
  • Dave’s Killer Bread in Milwaukee, Oregon was founded by David Dahl, who has a record of his own. Dave’s Killer Bread is one of the largest bakers of organic bread in the nation. And the majority of its 230 employees are formerly incarcerated individuals. The company operates its own foundation that helps other companies become second chance employers.
  • Edwins, a nonprofit upscale restaurant in Cleveland, runs a prerelease program in 13 Ohio prisons and a six-month training program to teach formerly incarcerated individuals how to operate a restaurant. More than 400 people have graduated from the organization’s pre-release program and more than 285 have been trained at the restaurant.
  • Café Momentum, another nonprofit restaurant, trains Dallas-area young people who are leaving juvenile detention to work in the restaurant business. Those who complete the organization’s comprehensive, paid 12-month internship program are offered a job with one of its community partners. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of Café Momentum’s employees are young workers with juvenile records.
  • Conbody was created by Coss Marte, who was arrested nine times between the ages of 13 to 27. As an overweight inmate, he lost 70 lbs. while incarcerated – through exercise within his cell – and helped his fellow prisoners get in shape as well. After release he created a prison-style fitness boot camp that hires formerly incarcerated trainers to teach fitness classes. His goal goes beyond mere fitness training, however, to bring young professionals together with people who’ve been in prison.
  • Late last year, Google announced that it was giving nonprofit The Last Mile a $2 million grant. The organization, which was founded in 2010 to teach computing coding to inmates in San Quentin prison outside San Francisco, now operates programs in five states – California, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana and Michigan – with plans to have 17 programs in six states by the end of this year.
  • As part of Arizona’s Second Chance program, private employers have been setting up training programs in three of the state’s prisons for jobs that are needed. Among these employers are members of the Central Arizona Homebuilders Association, who are teaching inmates construction skills that are currently in great demand. Inmate trainees must be within 60 days of release, and 50 percent of those who complete the training get jobs once they’re out.

In addition to the above-mentioned report, other resources may be found at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation website. These include all of the organizations and businesses highlighted and other second chance resources.

Manpower employment agency offers new GED program to qualified workers

ManpowerWould you like to work in a temp job and receive help with attaining your high school equivalency GED at the same time?

If so, you may want to look into applying for a position at Manpower. The Manpower employment agency is part of the ManpowerGroup, the world’s third largest staffing firm with 2,600 offices in 80 countries.

The company has begun a program to offer GEDs to qualified employees in collaboration with educational content provider Pearson. According to ManpowerGroup, 70 percent of all jobs require a high school diploma or higher, and getting a GED is a way to remove barriers to employment for those who may have difficulty securing employment.

“Employers cannot find skilled workers across all sectors of the U.S. economy from transport and trade to manufacturing and sales, and the problem won’t fix itself,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America. “We know the biggest obstacle to learning is time, and this program offers our associates the ability to earn while they learn.”

The way the program works

Each participant is assigned an advisor, who they will meet with virtually at a time that fits into their schedule. Manpower employees will have online access to preparation and study materials for each of the four GED subjects, as well as practice tests and assessments. The four subjects that need to be mastered to earn a GED are social studies, science, mathematical reasoning, and reasoning through language arts.

The program is free to those employees who meet the qualifications, but they need to have access to a phone, computer and the internet to participate. It is also available in Spanish.

To be eligible, workers need to be on a current contract assignment with a participating ManpowerGroup office and assigned to a position which does not specify that a high school diploma or GED is required.

It takes less than three months

Obtaining a GED can be accomplished in one to three months. The assigned advisor will contact participants weekly by email or phone to check up on their progress and offer any needed support.

Doing temp assignments and participating in the program can be an excellent opportunity to get some work experience, establish an employment record and get a GED, all at the same time.

If you think you might be interested, visit your nearest Manpower branch office.

RAND Corp. research finds incentives can encourage hiring of workers with nonviolent felony convictions

nonviolent felonyEmployers are more likely to hire those with nonviolent felony convictions if they are given financial incentives to do so. At least that’s according to research conducted by the RAND Corp.

In its report – Breaking Down Barriers: Experiments into Policies That Might Incentive Employers to Hire Ex-Offendersreleased last year, the nonprofit institution published the results of a survey of 107 employers from 34 states. Most were from smaller companies of less than 100 employees. The majority – 58 percent – of respondents were owners or managers, with human resource professionals making up 21 percent.

Although the response rate to the number of surveys sent out was low – just 3.4 percent – it gave insight into methods that may help encourage companies to hire more formerly incarcerated job seekers.

The survey began by telling the story of two job seekers, each with a nonviolent felony conviction and the technical skills required to do the entry-level job being applied for. Although they have similar qualifications, each comes with the support of a different form of financial incentive if  hired. One candidate would provide the benefit of a tax incentive and the other an employment agency discount.

Respondents ranked the “applicants” based on whether they would advance the applicant to the next level in the hiring process or opt out and not consider them for employment. The survey also gave a list of issues that might cause concern in the hiring of someone with a criminal record and asked that these be ranked as well.

Two types of hiring incentives

Let’s introduce the two job seekers, what incentives they bring, and how these incentives would entice employers:

Applicant with a tax incentive   This incentive would offer employers a tax credit for 25 percent of an employee’s wages – up to $2,500, an amount similar to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The tax credit would be applicable after the person worked 120 hours. Based on that scenario, 59 percent of the employers surveyed would be willing to consider hiring a person with a nonviolent felony conviction. If the tax credit were doubled to an amount of up to $5,000, or 40 percent of the person’s wages, the percentage of willing employers would rise to 77 percent.

Applicant with an employment agency discount fee   Since employment agencies are one way that companies hire entry level workers, RAND Corp. offered an employment agency discount fee as a second option. Forty-three percent of employers who were guaranteed a staffing fee that was discounted by 25 percent of the candidate’s hourly wage were likely to consider hiring a candidate with a nonviolent felony conviction. Raising the discount to 50 percent increased the number of willing employers to 60 percent. If the agency initiated a guaranteed worker replacement program, whereby it replaced an employee who didn’t work out with another one, the percentage of willing employers rose to 72.5 percent.

Employer concerns about hiring someone with a felony

As part of the survey, employers were also asked to rank seven concerns they might have about hiring workers with a felony conviction. These were, in order of the highest concern:

  • That the candidate might have had a violent felony conviction
  • Whether they had the skills necessary for the job
  • If there would be any workplace liability issues
  • The amount of time that had passed since the felony conviction
  • How the person will interact with clients
  • How they will interact with the company’s staff
  • The candidate’s ability to perform the work in a timely manner
Recommendations to improve hiring chances

As a result of what they learned, the RAND Corp. researchers offered recommendations to improve the chances of employment for those with felonies on their record. These recommendations are geared toward policymakers, employment agencies and organizations dealing with those in reentry.

  • Urge job seekers with felony convictions to use employment agencies that guarantee to replace candidates who don’t work out. Many agencies around the country have this guarantee in place and is something that employers surveyed were very interested in. The cost of losing an employee in terms of productivity and the effort to hire a replacement could be more than any savings offered as an incentive.
  • State governments should provide a way for employers to get information about a candidate’s former job performance. Companies often limit access to this knowledge, based on fears of a law suit. Especially in the case of those with criminal records, however, potential employers want and need information on the work performance and history of those they are considering.
  • Government agencies should reduce the amount of paperwork required to get a tax credit. The researchers determined that one of the ways to do this would be to have the forms prepared and submitted by a state government employment agency (like the California Employment Development Department, for example).
  • Ensure transportation to job sites. Employment agencies, reentry programs and probation and parole departments should work to make sure that employees have a way to get to work, since this is often a problem among this population.

How to buy a used tattoo removal laser device

used tattoo removal laser deviceIf you’re planning to launch a free or low-cost tattoo removal program and are concerned about the expense of buying equipment, you may want to consider purchasing a pre-owned laser device.

These devices are extremely cost effective – you can save tens of thousands of dollars. And if you know how to buy one, they may work out just as well as a new one, especially for the type of tattoos most people coming out of prison have.

There are hundreds of used devices on specialized medical equipment websites like www.dotmed.com and even general sites like ebay.com that offer a marketplace for used laser devices. But buying them on one of these sites can be problematic. Laser device manufacturer Astanza recommends that you do very careful research, ask the seller for references and search online for scam reports.

A better route to take may be to buy a used laser device from what is known as a certified pre-owned dealer. Certified pre-owned dealers are companies that buy used devices and refurbish them, so they’re in top working order before they resell them to customers.

They actually have an inventory and are not brokers who many times go look for the machine after they have a paid up front order. And it’s best to buy from a certified pre-owned dealer who provides after-sales service or can at least provide a reliable resource.

Save $100,000 or more by buying a used laser device

Buying from a reseller means tremendous savings. “It’s more than half the price of a new one. We’re selling $20,000 and $30,000 lasers that would normally sell for $150,000,” says Drew Shafer, owner and president of The Laser Agent in Indianapolis. “Some of the lasers we sell are older – like 2004 lasers. But if they’re maintained properly they can do all the things that a brand new one can do. I just sold a 2005 tattoo removal laser, and it’s just as good as a 2015 laser if the parts are well kept.”

And beyond that, many of the tattoos sported by those coming out of prison don’t need the most sophisticated equipment to remove.

“I don’t see the need for a very complex system with lots of color reduction,” says Scott Carson, founder of Oscilla Lasers and several other medical device-related companies in Park City, Utah. “Most of the tattoos that come out of prison are darker and homemade. Given the lack of the complexity in the color and type of ink, you can use older and less expensive devices. The only offset would be that if you’re running it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, a newer system would work better because you’d get a service contract.”

Buying direct from the previous user can be a mistake, according to Carson. “The pre-owned industry (of private sellers) is made up of “spray and pray” (spray with Windex and pray that it works). One hundred percent of the pre-owned lasers we bring into our facility have something wrong with them. There’s some level of functionality that’s limited,” he says. They then refurbish these lasers before selling them.

Buy from a company with technicians onsite

Carson recommends working with a pre-owned device seller that has technicians on site who refurbish the instruments. Companies like The Laser Agent and Oscilla Lasers can install the devices they sell and train buyers on their use. (This is very important to ensure both the safety of tattoo removal clients and optimum treatment results.)

They will also connect buyers with technicians through their network of independent providers who can service the devices that their customers purchase. If customers go to the original manufacturer for repairs, they often have to pay a recertification fee that can cost as much as $35,000. The main reason for that, according to Shafer, is to scare people away from buying from third parties.

And, in addition, the manufacturers offer service contracts, which are also quite expensive – as much as $10,000 or $20,000 per year. Servicing of devices can be handled by independent technicians, which means lower costs overall.

In fact, Carson’s company can geolocate customers and refer them to the technicians in the area, so they can choose one to work with.

Used laser company contact info

Interested in buying a certified pre-owned tattoo removal laser device? One of these companies may be able to help you:

Oscilla Medical Lasers
1-435-731-8232
info@oscillalasers.io

The Laser Agent
317-570-0448, 317-363-5460
info@thelaseragent.com

Synergy MedSales
310-272-5824
purchase@synergymedsales.com

Astanza
800-364-9010
https://astanzalaser.com/contact-us

Astanza is one of the few tattoo removal laser device OEMs that also offers certified pre-owned devices.

 

 

Realistic job advice for those in reentry

realistic job advice

Qa’id, “Q”, Aqeel

At college commencement ceremonies across the nation each year, illustrious speakers urge graduates to “Think big. Reach for the stars. Find your purpose.” Sounds good, but in today’s world, they may be unrealistic ideas, especially for those leaving prison.

It’s important, actually, to think smaller, to take those initial steps that will get you on your way to reestablishing yourself in society.

The title of a mixtape by Nipsey Hussle, “The Marathon Continues,” reminds us that it’s a long race, and you need to run it slow. For those in reentry it’s best to not rush and put too much pressure on yourself, as that could be a setup for failure and returning to the old ways and landing back in prison.  And, of course, take your time doesn’t mean drag your feet, but rather realize that things take as long as they take and usually can’t be rushed.

Marty Nemko, a well-known Oakland, Calif.-based career coach wrote an insightful article in Psychology Today (its video version here) on a more honest commencement address with realistic job advice. He says that because of offshoring, outsourcing, automation and an ever-increasing demand for skills and requirements, solid careers that pay well are more difficult to achieve than in the past.

Take any job, and use it as a launchpad

As a result, he writes that “unless you’re quite a star, you’d be wise to take whatever job drops in your lap.” And instead of spending months looking for the perfect job, take a job, any job and use that as a launchpad for something better.

He uses the example of a gravedigger, not something most people would consider. But he writes that when you’re not digging graves, you could spend your time talking to the funeral director, the landscaper and the person who makes the monuments. Ask them for advice and get to know them. They might even have a job for you somewhere down the line. Then, if you get it, become an expert at that job, and you might very well succeed, since so few people consider that type of career.

Nemko provides the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that will give you an advantage in today’s marketplace, especially if you have been out of the official workforce for a while and are a bit rusty on your skills.

And Qa’id, “Q”, Aqeel, the post-release program manager of Defy NorCal, has similar realistic job advice. He comes into daily contact with people who face incredible challenges.

“I’m working with people who are lifers, who did 25+ years. When they come out they have all this excitement. It’s a brave new world,” he says. “They don’t understand that the world has changed drastically. When they come out you have people who say they can do this, they can do that. They don’t know which way to go.”

The direction Aqeel recommends is to start with the very basics, like obtaining a social security card, birth certificate and driver’s license. Take advantage of transitional housing and have a base to begin searching for a job.

Take the ABC approach

“Get a job, any job, so you can be able to save money to use when it’s time to exit transitional housing,” he says. “When people come out, there’s a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, so you have to curb their enthusiasm, so they’re not in a rush. They’re still acclimating to society. It takes some time.”

As for looking for a job, Aqueel’s philosophy is ABC. That stands for any job, a better job, a career.

“We have to have realistic expectations,” he says. “They don’t have a work history. You’ve got to get a job so you can have a work history and references. You have to start establishing a foundation.”

Take your time; don’t rush, but focus and finish.

San Francisco foundation helps ex-offenders gain apprenticeships

Anders and Anders

Joshua Shane Worstell is one of more than 2,000 people helped by the foundation operated by Terry Anders.

For many leaving prison getting an apprenticeship can be a great way to reenter society. And Anders and Anders, a small San Francisco foundation, is helping those in reentry do just that in a big way.

It would be difficult to find someone more qualified than the founder, Terry Anders. Formerly incarcerated himself, he robbed seven banks to support an addiction to alcohol and cocaine. But that was a long time ago – another lifetime. (He got out of prison at age 27.)

“I was over on the other side for many years. Then I got into the ironworkers Local 377, and they were very instrumental in turning my life around,” Anders says.

Trades give sense of self-worth

“All I knew was the street and jails and the penitentiary. But having a trade and getting a job that was very meaningful gave me a sense of self-worth that I could be something. I could do something that’s larger than myself. Not one person puts up a building. I learned to work with others in a meaningful positive way. The trades gave me a foundation that I cherish.”

Anders got into the trades in the early 1970s and spent many years with the iron workers union. But he was always thinking about what he could do to give back to society.

Breaking the cycle of recidivism with jobs

“I created Anders and Anders in 2005, because I saw the opportunity to help ex-offenders, particularly people of color in marginalized neighborhoods who needed a support system to do something with their lives. I want to break the cycle of recidivism with job opportunities. It gives me the possibility to get beyond myself and help people in meaningful ways like the union did for me,” he says.

Anders says his goal now is to help people that he identifies with. He wants to support those who don’t have a particular job or trade and works in what he calls marginal neighborhoods of San Francisco, like Hunters Point and Visitation Valley, Potrero Hill, the Fillmore and certain pockets of Chinatown.

“Anders and Anders can show you, can walk you through the process, can give you the understanding that if you do this, this and this, this, this and this will happen for you,” Anders says. “I give a lot of my personal money today, because the grant money I have working with the city is very limited.”

Helps people enter unions

Anders helps people get into unions and get jobs through CityBuild, a San Francisco workforce development construction training program. He also has been a community monitor, visiting worksites to make sure there are workers from different Zip Codes and different genders. “When I go to a job site, I look at not those who are working but those who are not working there,” he says.

In the 14 years since he started his San Francisco foundation, Anders has helped more than 2,000 people. “What’s more important instead of the quantitative number, however, is that I have helped that one who had lost their way along the way. That way I can focus,” Anders says. “I do what I do because I’m glad that I can do that. Because I remember when I wouldn’t cross the street for another human being. It was all about take, take, take, because I had been abused and refused.”

The story of one who Anders helped

One of the people he has helped is Joshua Shane Worstell, and Joshua’s story shows how far Anders will go to make sure some people succeed.

Worstell was a lifer, incarcerated for 20 years. While in prison he did everything he could to improve himself, including learning how to weld. After finding Anders’ address in the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” Worstell wrote to him. Anders started writing to the parole board and said he would get Joshua into the union.

“When I got out I gave him a call,” Worstell says. “Mr. Anders came and picked me up. We’d go for a run and talk about what I needed to do. He took me to the various stores to get the tools I needed and got me into the union. And he took me to go get things to eat and called me to make sure things were all right. He really welcomed me back into the community. When I got into a job and needed some tools I didn’t have, he went to the store and got them and brought them to me at lunch.”

Anders and Anders went beyond being just a San Francisco foundation. Terry Anders became Joshua Worstell’s friend.

Homeboy Global Network Gathering brings together agents of change from around the world

Homeboy Global Network Gathering

Attendees at the Homeboy Global Network Gathering.

We attended the 2019 Homeboy Global Network gathering for the fourth time earlier this month. The sixth annual event brought together 320 attendees from 85 organizations, seven countries, 30 states and 72 cities.

Six years ago, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles decided to create a network that would bring together nonprofit change agents from around the world and encourage them to take aspects of  Homeboy Industry’s program back to their own communities. And that network gets together every August. During the two-day event members can share ideas, learn best practices and get to know each other.

Why we became involved in the Homeboy Global Network

We’ve been impressed by Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and reentry organization, for many years, so when we first heard about the gathering we decided to attend. And we’ve kept going back.

“The reasons we attend the Homeboy Global Network Gathering are many. A key reason, however, is that we want to get together with people who are working with the same population we are. We want to learn as much as we can to improve our core work — serving those coming out of prison by being a resource for their healing and for their success in adjusting to life on the outside,” says Mark Drevno, Jails to Jobs founder and executive director. “At the gathering, there were people from around the world. We wanted to see what they are doing and learn from their successes and mistakes. It’s good for us to share our successes and mistakes, as well. It’s a process that can help us improve our offering just that much faster.”

The Homeboy Global Network Gathering consisted of two days of workshops given by Homeboy and other HGN members. Topics ranged from partnering with other organizations and fundraising to creating a social enterprise and establishing healthy communities. Panel discussions and technical support sessions were also offered. Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s charismatic founder, delivered opening and closing remarks and was participating and available throughout the gathering.

Impressive HGN members

Some of the HGN member organizations we were particularly impressed with:

  • Astanza Laser – a laser equipment supplier that generously extends substantial discounts with special pricing on both equipment and service contracts to nonprofits that offer free or low-cost tattoo removal. Three of the four– and the newest – machines Homeboy owns are Astanza.
  • The Other Side Academy – a vocational training school for people age 18-64 in Salt Lake City with a two-year program that some students attend instead of being incarcerated.
  • Mod Pizza – a second-chance employer with more than 400 locations across the U.S. and in the U.K.
  • Our Father’s Table – a San Capistrano, Calif., faith-based organization that gets to know the homeless people in the community and guides them to the services they need.
  • Generation Diamond – an Omaha-based organization that helps youth find purpose in their lives and reach their full potential.
  • Underground Grit – a nonprofit organization in Orange, Calif., that promotes change in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities by providing innovative services within institutions and to those in reentry.
  • Project 180 turns lives around through innovative, wraparound services that keep people out of jails and prisons and in their communities.
Father Greg inspires attendees

Beyond the organizations and the workshops, however, was the presence and inspiration of Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. Being with him and hearing his teachings is the main reason we attend, according to Drevno.

“You leave there with a lot of hope and feeling revitalized,” he says. “Through his storytelling and sense of humor, Father Greg had many beautiful ways to remind us of what’s most important. And what’s most important is that you need to lead with your heart and that we belong to each other.”

Father Greg Boyle

In his closing remarks, Father Greg tells the gathering that:

“We are always on the lookout for the hidden wholeness that’s been there all along. Unshakable goodness. We help each other find our way home to have full and free access to our own undeniable goodness, our essential dignity. It is never in question, only our access to it.

In our Network, it is never about choosing. It’s about finding. If damaged people damage people, and if traumatized people cause trauma, then people who have experienced love and tenderness will extend that into the world. We believe all of us that cherished people will cherish people and in this we all inhabit our own mystical dignity. So this is the truth of who you are as we leave our time together. You are mystics, and you have chosen to speak the whole language. Don’t stop. May you continue to be fluent in extravagant tenderness.

Members look ahead

The Homeboy Global Network is sold out every year, and we feel that it would be nice if it could be more than an annual gathering. As a start, a private LinkedIn group for members was proposed. This group  will hopefully provide a common forum for conversation and offer a chance to get to know other member organizations. That way, we can all continue to learn from each other and improve what we do to further encompass the ideals of Father Greg.

Reentry simulation educates participants on what it’s like to come out of prison

Reentry simulation

Participants in a reentry simulation in Roseburg, Ore., perform the tasks required to begin their new lives.

Want to know what it’s like to leave prison and begin to reintegrate into society? Is it possible to really understand the difficulties and challenges involved? Now at least people can get a basic understanding of the process by attending one of the reentry simulation programs popping up around the country.

Each program, whether offered by a church, nonprofit or government agency, is a bit different but all have the same goal – to walk in the shoes of those in reentry. And it’s much more difficult than anyone could ever imagine.

Participants take on new identity

Reentry simulations replicate in an hour or two what returning citizens must accomplish during their first month back in society. Participants take on the identity of someone who was incarcerated and are given information on their offence(s), living situation, work details, if any, and anything else they need to know. They also receive a list of tasks to complete.

The events take place in a large meeting room lined with tables. Each table is supported by a volunteer who represents a service that the reentry participants will need to access. These include probation, the court, an employer, treatment, DMV, housing, job training, social security, transportation and a community support organization. Volunteers are given instructions on how to serve the people who come to their table and told to not be accommodating.

Participants must go through the various tasks, and if they can’t complete them, they’re out.

What actually happens in a reentry simulation

Christy Grammon is executive director of True North Star Ministries in Roseburg, Ore. and now also organizes reentry simulations. She talks about her first experience.

“I was Amber. I had a part time job, six bus tickets, $200 in cash, a couple of things to pawn and was in transitional housing. Although I didn’t have a state I.D., I had a social security card,” she says. “You had to have a bus ticket to get services. I had six tickets for that week. There was a bus terminal to buy more.”

She went through a few of the initial tasks. “Then I picked a card at the treatment table that said I didn’t pass and had to have treatment. By then I was running out of time, and I had to get to my job. There was a long line at my job to fill out the entry paper work. So I decided to leave work and to go the probation office, but I didn’t have a bus ticket. So I was out the first week.”

Experience can make participants shocked and angry

Daniel Dinan, sales manager at DNS Call Centers in Roseburg, Ore., was a participant in Grammon’s reentry simulation. Like many others, the experience made him shocked and angry.

“Participants were saying, “Oh my gosh, this is what really goes on? Why are we doing this to people? Why do we make it so difficult?,” he says. “It’s a mixture of frustration. A mixture of disgust for why we treat people like this. People were thinking ‘Look what we’re missing in our community. We’re creating a cycle for this to continue, and I’m part of it.’”

Dinan,  reflecting on his experience, says, “You understand that there’s a problem, but you don’t understand how difficult it is. Once you live in their moment, you walk in their shoes, it’s very powerful.”

Do your own reentry simulation program

Anyone interested in doing a program for their company or organization can check out the website of the United States Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of West Virginia. It explains the agency’s reentry simulation program and allows anyone who would like to do their own program to download the materials they will need.

Those interested can also contact Grammon, who is considering conducting her reentry simulation programs throughout the U.S. “Invite us to come train you. We need to equip every state to do this. Even the Rotary Club and the chambers of commerce. And I’d like to see the larger businesses do it for their staff,” she says. Grammon can be reached at tnsministries@gmail.com.

The Homecoming Project offers first-of-its-kind housing program for those in reentry

The Homecoming Project

Jason Jones with hosts Tamiko Panzella and Joe Klein. Photo courtesy of Impact Justice

Leaving prison and having no place to call home is an all too typical scenario for those in reentry. But one California nonprofit has created The Homecoming Project, a unique program to deal with this challenge.

That nonprofit is the Oakland, Calif.-based Impact Justice, a national organization working on justice reform. The idea: Have local residents rent a room to someone in reentry. The program not only provides a home to people who desperately need one but also offers hosts that participate a unique opportunity.

Impact Justice’s pilot project was launched last August, and 12 people have been placed in homes in Alameda County (where Oakland is located) so far. The first set of hosts came from the faith community and prison-based organizations, but a host recruiter is doing outreach to expand awareness of the program.

Much more than just a housing program

The Homecoming Project goes beyond providing just a place to live. It also offers support to both participants and hosts.

Each of the participants works with a community navigator on an individual reentry plan. “The reentry plan requires assignments – attending job fairs, getting their documents, receiving long term housing counseling and doing technology advancement, along with dealing with budgeting and financing,” says Terah Lawyer, project coordinator for The Homecoming Project.

“They can come up with their own personal goals whether it’s reuniting with a child, becoming involved in their community or educational goals. Anything that is pertinent to their success. The community navigator will connect them to resources to help them achieve those goals.”

The hosts make a commitment as well. They first must attend host readiness school to determine whether they are ready to host a particular individual. “We do an assessment. We look at what is their profession, what is their community involvement. In addition, we look at their home and their neighborhood to make sure it’s OK to live in,” says Lawyer.

The program lasts for six months, and the hosts are paid a stipend of $750 per month during that time. They attend host sessions every 45 days with their returnees that focus on a variety of topics. These include parole conditions, conflict resolution, and budgeting and financing.

Although still a bit of an experiment, the program is achieving success. “We are bringing the community together and building relationships. People coming home from prison can really reintegrate,” says Lawyer.

One of those relationships has been established between Tamiko Panzella and her boyfriend, Joe Klein, who have welcomed 35-year-old Jason Jones to share their Oakland apartment. And for them it’s been a very positive experience.

The best thing about being a host

The best thing is having a relationship,” Panzella says. “Each host is really different. We live in a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot place, so we’re really close. Others have separate living quarters, and it’s more like a tenant situation. We were looking for someone to be a friend and part of the family.”

And they got what they were looking for. “Jason brings a different perspective. He went through crisis counseling while incarcerated. He did a lot of restorative justice training, so he brings emotional intelligence. We have a really strong friendship. He’s close with our whole family, with my mom,” she adds.

Panzella and Klein have been so happy with the situation that Jones has stayed beyond the six months. Although he’s looking for a place of his own, they’re in no hurry for him to leave. She says that they’re really happy they decided to be hosts. And other people who might consider doing the same can be assured that they will be supported.

“If people are feeling nervous, we have more protection than getting a roommate off of Craigslist,” Panzella says. “They came in with suggested house rules. They came in with a lot of support at the beginning to help get it set up. It’s been really rewarding. We’ve gotten to meet a lot of people we wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths with. We have new friends.”

Meanwhile, Impact Justice is hoping to expand The Homecoming Project. Although currently operating only in Alameda County, the organization plans to include neighboring Contra Costa County, provided it can get the funding. “We hope to go around the country and train other organizations on how to implement this in the community,” Lawyer says.