A felony conviction is not an easy thing to overcome. The effects are often far longer lasting than ever intended by judicial law. Years after a conviction – individuals have difficulty finding any sort of stability. These effects actually factor back in toward high rates of recidivism. In essence, the system feeds itself after a certain point – recycling the chewed up bits of humanity for second and third servings. Or, at least, it can feel that way.
Essential Factors in Re-entry for Returning Citizens
Some of the essential points that fail to serve returning citizens are the very things that we need the most after walking out of those huge, heavy doors.
- Safe Shelter
- Family Connections
- Social Support
Safe Shelter to Rebuild and Grow
Now, each situation and each home is different. There are halfway houses, transitional shelters, family or friends homes – all with varying levels of support, understanding, routine, and other important aspects that influence success upon release. Some are more helpful than others, and others simply aren’t helpful. Some returning citizens have no good options for their shelter at all. So, the first objective to conquer for a successful release – is to find a safe, stable shelter. It’s the first block of Maslow’s theory for a reason – a sense of physical security is absolutely necessary for everyone to succeed.
Between the changes in routines, the change in environment, and changes in support levels – it can be hard to find the right place to live while you’re getting back on your feet.
Now, friends and family might have the best of intentions – but living together can be less than ideal. Between unspoken trust issues, sometimes unwanted living arrangments, and proximity to old friends/old habits…. well, things don’t always go as planned. But, with enough determination and will power – we can pull ourselves through this obstacle (when it’s even available). Be sure to find resource guides for your local areas and if you expect changes in your living situation – be sure to reach out early to those resources and arrange something to cover your bases in a worst-case scenario.
Family Connections and Rebuilding Positive Relationships
Next up, returning citizens often need to improve their connections with family members and rebuild relationships with their families. While correctional institutions often make visitations difficult – either in the distance, time, or other factors – it doesn’t change the fact that familial support is one of the most important factors in reducing recidivism. Especially when it comes to the parents that are/have been incarcerated – these individuals will have more inspiration to push through the difficulties of collateral consequences when they have positive connections to their children.
Second Chance Employment Opportunities for Returning Citizens
Employment is the second biggest factor in maintaining a life outside of prison if you ask me. Without work and without easy access to welfare programs in every state – the options for survival on the outside quickly dwindle down. Access to simple resources is often completely dependent on access to money – which requires a form of income. Theft quickly becomes the most immediate solution to a problem – if not also a path back to three meals and an official bed inside a matrix of steel and concrete.
Now, attaining income becomes quite difficult when thousands of employers are more than ready to take a single look at the background and forget any positive qualities you might have. This sort of immediate rejection is the opposite of helpful for the returning citizen that absolutely requires some form of stability in order to stay out of trouble.
Some employers are more open to hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds though, and those of us in the re-entry industry tend to refer to these as Second Chance Employers. These guys know that there are actually benefits they can reap if they give felons a chance to work – which can include tax deductions or free short-term insurance for a new employee. (See Bonding for Jobs or Five Things Felons Need to Know for more info)
It’s a great idea to find a list of local employers that hire felons and to keep an eye out for second chance employment boards. You can also look for collateral consequence resources that might be available in your state – like the certificate of good conduct that I earned back in 2015 in my state. Some resource sites even feature felon-friendly jobs – just check out my resource list to find a few samples.
Social Support and Building a Better Reputation
Finally, while often ignored, social support is an important factor in successful reentry. While the family connection is often a larger factor for many individuals, some returning citizens may have to completely rebuild their social networks from the ground up. Old friends may still be behaving badly, or have completely moved on without you – others might be wary and unintentionally off-putting or confused about how to interact with you. When this happens, you will need to build a new support system that has your best interests in mind.
Personal experience has shown me that one of the best ways to create new connections that have seriously positive influences is to volunteer locally. I have met some of the most amazing and helpful people in the places I have volunteered my time to – both in terms of co-volunteers and the people we served together. I didn’t just find something to do with my time, I met people with positive attitudes and huge networks of people. As an incredibly awkward and introverted person – this was hugely helpful in improving my reputation in the area – and has led to increasingly interesting interactions with the community. Offers for jobs with substance abuse recovery, jobs as director of activities in shelters, and more have been made possible in my life because I found the right group of people on a similar path.
So, rehabilitation really is possible for returning citizens – we simply need a few building blocks to work with. We deserve the chance to prove we can contribute. Stay strong and keep moving forward.