I came upon great article about a community program in Enid, Oklahoma that helps ex-offenders get back on their feet. Like most reentry organizations, this one aims to assist newly released individuals in getting their documents in order and obtaining housing and employment.
What’s unique about the Enid Community Re-entry Initiative Committee is the way they’re trying to achieve this. Their goal is to have a mentor for every returning felon. By providing one-on-one support, notes, EEOC supervising case manager Mitzi Maddox, these mentors could play a direct role in helping reduce recidivism. This would also go a way towards reducing the stigma of incarceration.
“Instead of being scared (of the inmates), we want the community to get the idea of helping them,” Maddox said.
Personally, I love this idea of matching people one to one. Obviously, it wouldn’t work in every case — people have to want to change. But given that we have 9 million ex-offenders being released from jail annually and 700,000 offenders coming out of state and federal prisons, imagine the impact even a little success would have.
At OAR Fairfax, the non-profit where I volunteer, caseworkers have found that “without employment and supportive relationships, an ex-offender’s likelihood of success is greatly limited. ” I’ve met some of these offenders in my classes; people whose relationships are unhealthy or abusive, people who have lost contact with their family, or been ostracized by them, people who never have visitors and are terrified of their release because they have nowhere to go and no one to support them. Many times, these individuals seek out mentor relationships while they’re still serving their sentences. Until recently, the OAR mentor program only extended through the course of the person’s stay in the adult detention center, but now OAR is extending the mentoring relationship so that it continues for the first year after release.
I think that can only help. In my classes I encourage students to seek out mentors, wherever possible. I’ve also had the privilege of being a mentor, and can tell anyone considering volunteering in this way that it is extremely rewarding. I still keep in touch with my mentee on an informal basis and value our relationship.
In previous posts, former offenders have commented on the loneliness offenders feel upon release and the sense of being different — an attitude that can if taken to an extreme lead to isolation, depression and too often, re-offending. Ernest McNear, a pastor in Philadelphia, summed up the value of a mentor best when talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“If you are going to have successful reentry you have to have someone welcoming you into the community, not just a program.”