Here’s something hopeful: Today is Reentry Advocacy Day in New York.
That’s right. For the fourth year in a row a group of 100-plus advocates and ex-prisoners from New York City will head to Albany to promote policy initiatives to assist the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into the workforce and their home communities. In addition to other legislators, the group will meet with Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey,who is heading attempts to reform the rigid sentencing guidelines of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The group also hopes to address voting rights and employer access to criminal records, two other hot-button issues.
The event is sponsored by The Community Service Society of New York, in cooperation with The Fortune Society‘s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy and The Bronx Defenders. The advocates are part of CSS’s New York City Reentry Roundtable, which meets monthly to discuss issues and challenges facing the formerly incarcerated. Currently, there are 63,000 inmates in New York State prisons, many of whom will find difficulties adjusting upon their release. While New York is more progressive then many states in some areas, notes CSS’s Tracy Munford, “there’s still a lot to be done.”
Reentry Advocacy Day makes me grateful that so many organizations like CSS are doing work on behalf of ex-offenders.
It’s also a good reminder that there are a few things ex-offenders themselves can be doing to advocate on their own behalf . Many members of the CSS group going to Albany were formerly incarcerated. But even those who can’t go, can do their part in the following ways:
1. Follow up on job leads. If someone — your P.O., mentor, employment counselor, whoever — gives you a contact for a job or sets up an interview with an employer, by all means follow it up! These referrals aren’t given lightly and they won’t be given more than once if you prove yourself unreliable. People will help you, but only if you help yourself.
2. Remember that, like it or not, when you’re employed and an ex-offender, you’re representative of ALL ex-offenders. If you stop coming to work or flake out on the job, it makes it that much harder for the next person looking to start over to get their foot in the door.
3. Tell your story. If you’ve gotten a break and can share it with others who have a criminal record in their past, it really helps. Probably the number one request I get in my classes — after the usual “find us all a job” — is “can we talk to someone who’s been through this and come out successfully on the other side?”
So on this Reentry Advocacy Day, go ahead and be thankful for the help. But remember that your future is primarily in your hands.